Some people think ADHD is a childhood problem and one that resolves once a kid becomes a “responsible” adult. Not necessarily so. In fact, 60% or more of kids diagnosed with ADHD also have it as an adult. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is by no means an uncommon problem. In fact, 4% of all adults suffer with ADHD. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that’s not always recognized so that treatment can be offered. Why is this the case? Adult ADHD can co-exist with other mental health problems like substance abuse, anxiety and mood disorder, and the ADHD component may go unrecognized. That means there are a number of adults with ADHD who aren’t being adequately treated for this life-disruptive problem.
ADHD Signs and Symptoms Manifest Differently in Adults
ADHD is easier to recognize in children since children are more likely to “act out” their symptoms by being hyperactive and inattentive in the classroom, talking out of turn and being unable to sit still. In adults, the symptoms may be more subtle – a history of underachievement, moving from job to job, reckless spending, substance abuse, a poor driving record or encounters with the law. Despite this, an adult with these problems is more likely to be seen as “lazy” or “irresponsible” rather than a victim of ADHD. Only when you dig deeper do you see the roots of the problem extend back to childhood. There’s also a genetic component to ADHD, so other family members with the disorder should raise a red flag.
The Subtle and Not So Subtle Signs and Symptoms of Adult ADHD
Adults with ADHD have a diverse array of symptoms that can impact all aspects of their life – school, work, home life, and social life. They may have problems in any or all of these areas, making it difficult to hold down a job, achieve goals or have successful relationships with other people. Some adults with ADHD, out of necessity, find ways to focus at work but carry their symptoms home where it creates marital problems.
At home, an adult with ADHD may be disorganized, forgetful, lazy, impulsive or chronically restless – not exactly a recipe for marital bliss. The spouse with ADHD may have problems focusing long enough to do even simple tasks like paying the bills on time or feeding the dog, so the “healthy” spouse has the burden of running the house solo. Not surprisingly, marriages where one of the partners has adult ADHD have a higher rate of divorce. It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to be in multiple failed marriages.
When ADHD Goes to Work
Some adults with ADHD are unable to maintain a job long-term. Problems with focus, distractibility, poor attention to detail, habitual lateness, missed deadlines, disorganization, carelessness, and impulsiveness create problems in the workplace and lead to poor job performance and bad evaluations. It may not be a boss forcing an ADHDer out of the workplace. Adults with ADHD are usually restless and rapidly become bored doing the same tasks every day. A pattern of frequently switching jobs, repeated firings and poor job performance can all be signs of adult ADHD.
Adults with ADHD typically have problems achieving educational goals that would help them advance in the job world. Not only do they have problems setting goals and planning how to reach them, they are rarely able to see them through. Despite being bright, they lack the focus, organizational capabilities and time management skills to excel academically and are typically underachievers from an educational and occupational standpoint. They often move from one course or project to the next, never completing what they set out to do.
ADHD and Thrill-Seeking Behavior
Like a bored child, people with ADHD need to be constantly stimulated. Combine that with a high degree of impulsivity, and it’s not surprising that people with this disorder may be thrill-seekers and take part in risky or dangerous behaviors. They’re more likely than the average population to engage in extreme sports, have casual sex or sex outside of marriage, abuse alcohol, gamble excessively or get repeated citations for speeding or driving recklessly. They’re also more likely to be cigarette smokers. This type of reckless behavior may date back to childhood when the ADHD sufferer was the class daredevil or the one who always picked fights with other kids. This type of behavior may follow them into adulthood where it manifests as other forms of destructive or high-risk behavior like binge drinking or drug use.
The Core Symptoms of ADHD
The signs and symptoms of ADHD stem from a group of core symptoms that are characteristic of the disorder – difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, impulsivity, sensitivity to stress and fluctuating changes in mood. These core symptoms may manifest in subtle ways, making the diagnosis more difficult. For example, difficulty with focus may manifest as inability to complete projects, chronic forgetfulness and problems with organization. Interrupting conversations, reckless spending or making inappropriate comments may be examples of ADHD impulsivity. A person with ADHD may appear anxious or depressed or be mistakenly diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they experience repeated fluctuations in mood.
The fact that these signs and symptoms are common with other mental disorders and even some physical disorders like an overactive thyroid gland makes the diagnosis more challenging. The majority of people who have adult ADHD had it as a child, even if the diagnosis wasn’t made at the time. You can usually look back and see a pattern of hyperactivity, impulsivity and poor academic performance during childhood. If none of these were present, it raises questions as to whether the current symptoms are related adult ADHD. Certain personality disorders and mood disorders are linked with hyperactivity and impulsivity as well.
The Bottom Line?
The signs and symptoms of adult ADHD are diverse and not everyone manifests all of them. Not all ADHDers are thrill seekers or risk takers. Some adults with this disorder are withdrawn and have difficulty interacting socially with others. Others appear relatively normal but never seem to be able to achieve their goals or advance in the job world. ADHD symptoms are just as diverse as the people who experience them. Fortunately, there’s more awareness of this condition in adults than there has been in the past, so there’s a greater chance that they’ll be recognized and successfully treated.