adult adhd symptoms

By Tammy Preston, MS

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.


Barkley RA and Brown TE, Unrecognized attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults presenting with other psychiatric disorders, CNS Spectr. 2008 Nov;13(11):977-84.

Wender PH, Wolf LE, Wasserstein J., Adults with ADHD. An overview, Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Jun;931:1-16.

Margaret Weiss, MD, PhD; Robert Bailey, MD, Advances in the Treatment of Adult ADHD — Landmark Findings in Nonstimulant Therapy,


  1. Lynette Ryan says

    Are there ‘degrees’ of this disorder? Reading this over, I find I have some of the symptoms, but not every one….?

    Is there such a thing as ‘aging out’? I am 63 and have learned to live with this agrivating ‘brain- rippleing’ (my word). I adjust for the mood swings. I have had moments of absoult clearity. Insights on to how things work, quickly grasping abstract concepts…..but an inability to understand the proper sequence of how my very simple cell phone works.


  2. Rachel Coutermarsh says

    The article above describes me to a T. I asked my GP and he said no I did’nt have it. Should I seek another opinion? I just hate forgetting things so much and talking with someone and not being able to concentrate on what their saying just getting bits and pieces. My papers always came home from school Rachel daydreams a lot and I was very shy so not hyper but I have read that that can be a sign too for ADD. I do have social anxiety and am on klonapin.

  3. I borrowed a computer to look up symptoms of this dissorder. I was always labled bypolar and given anti anxiety and depression meds. Could it be possible to work on this and maybe get off of the antidepressents? My mind is a bowl of alphabet soup and concentration, rational thinking is only a longing desire. I never feel like I can fit in with anyone. relationships come and go. I have made a complete mess of my life skipping from one thing to another. Is there really hope for me?

  4. Deb, I am in the same spot that you are. I am so over this mental mind game I feel like is playing. I sometimes feel like I am lost….. Just barely making it through my day with no real relationships formed…. Always being handed meds for depression only because I could never find the right words for people to understand how I was feeling….. I hope things get easier for you.

  5. I haven’t been actually tested yet, my doc. prescribed Adderal and it works. I also am on Zoloft for depression.I just found this website last night and feel like I am not alone with this condition. I am very frustrated because i constantly feel overwhelmed. I have a husband and two kids who are pretty messy and for me, i can’t keep up with the clutter. I work full time and feel like a bad housewife since I can’t keep a tidy house. I sometimes just go shopping or for a walk instead of finding a direction to go in as far as organizing my home. I am not very successful with any relationships. I am hyper-active and envy people who are calm and predictable. I do think counseling or a support group is a good idea. Does anyone else feel extremely intelligent yet come across as an air head like me?

  6. I have been batteling with myself all my lifei have all the symtoms and it just hit me that all these years lost and i have to been diagnosed as bi polar manic
    The meds that i have been put on have never worked. I have jumped job to job tried to attend college but couldnt concentrate. I feel like i have wasted my life i am 50a yrs old. I cant even have a normal relationship with my family. My husband does everything cause i cant handle it. I dont know how or what to say to my doctor to get him to treat for adhd. Can someone help me! I have a friend that gave me some of her meds. To see how it worked and WOW i was amazed on how clear everything became. I just want to feel normal. HELP!

  7. I am married to someone who I think has ADHD we just read all the symptoms and it seems like it was talking about him but I really need help to deal with what he has I really do love but I marriage is falling apart because of the ADHD so if anyone who can help us he don’t like to take medicine but he will use other stuff and I can’t take it any more we just need to get some help but we don’t know where to start so please help us

  8. I still don’t know, if I fit into ADHD definition. Did great at school and college,ranked among top in state throughout in all subjects. But after that all 3 companies I have worked, I have failed miserably. Labelled lazy, doesnt finish work on time, moody when it comes to work. True, I switch between tasks due to boredom without finishing either, unable to organise work, idling away browing internet during office hours. But given any specific task, I complete before time and accurately. This career concern has got me into mild depression with sleep issues and latenight/early morning panic attacks. In my country/society, it is a taboo to visit a shrink, let alone take meds for the same. May be anonymity of this site is just right fit for me. Anybody to guide me here.

  9. I was diagnosed when I was 5 and took ritalin until I was 8. I made a huge effort to try and control myself so I could stop taking the medication. The medication had terrible side effects with the most traumatizing one being anorexia. Obviously, I didn’t have body issues at 6 but the medication literally made the look of food stomach turning and I was so weak and underweight some days I couldn’t get out of bed… sometimes, I would pass out. But gosh darn it, I could sit still at my desk! Since then, I have avoided taking any medications for any reason… almost to the point of silliness– My medicine cabinet is completely empty.. not even Advil.

    But now I am 26 and can see the effects of my disorder taking control of my life. Does anyone have natural remedies or take medication? I am thinking of seeing a psychiatrist for treatment. I already see a therapist at my university and I disclosed my ADHD history with them, but they claim they don’t treat ADHD on campus because crazy students abuse ADHD medication. They are treating me for anxiety but I am so, so certain that my anxiety stems from ADHD. I feel anxious because I can not concentrate on my school work and I know that I will fail if I don’t study.. I still have difficulty in large groups of people.. the embarrassment of stuttering in front of people when my mouth can’t keep up with my racing brain… that makes me anxious– and so on. I am kind of at a brick wall and no one understands what I go through, I am hoping someone here will steer me in the right direction before I crash and burn.

  10. I can relate to you all and for those of u who ask a general practioner cant diagnose it go to a shrink they will help i was told many times growing up i had add adhd my mum did not get me help i was in 9th grade three times yet my iq test is high all of the symptoms descibed i have now that i have kids i wamt to be normal for them i am 35 now i. Am hetting my second script of adderall tomarrow this month while on it i dont talk over others i made a friend read organized an lost weight from organizing and going outside with kids.please dont live with this we have but one life we need to live each day as if it were our last happy and free from adult add adhd!!!!!!!:)*

  11. I have been on Adderal for two weeks now and everything I couldn’t do before I can do now (so far) and although I had absolutely no symptoms while I was young and seemed to just “aquire” these symptoms over the past fifteen years and I am 53 now. I’ve not been able to finish ANY project I start, I’m the queen of procrastination, doctors always try to tell me I am bi-polar and like most doctors; they are right and don’t want to hear anything pertinent to your symptoms. I have been seeing the same dr. for not quite two years and I have ALWAYS had anxiety but had NO symptoms of adhd as a child. I loved school and excelled beyond my parent’s wildest dreams although they never pushed us to get A’s, I just aced everything through school and wanted to go to college to pursue becoming a Spanish teacher, engineer, writer, art teacher or artist – I could have easily achieved any of these “goals” – but right out of school I got a job that I loved and the pay was fantastic: I became a directory assistance operator with Ma Bell, transferred from the Midwest to Southern California after getting married and excelled so well at the job, many days I was put in the back in a little office doing artwork for the different supervisor’s bulletin boards, even the office manager (this was quite an honor) but I never tried or showed any interest in moving up in the company like my beloved father. I was very happy to sit on my butt for seven and a half hours a day with two paid fifteen minute breaks, free dental, medical (I had two children and it never cost me a dime). I loved my job so much I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to quit saying the job was too stressful. I was a great mother, still read books compulsively, ran around, enjoying everything San Diego had to offer. Things happened, my husband started cheating on me and I ended up moving to freezing Fargo, ND with him and my little darlings, got divorced, started having serious mental problems: depression, anxiety (which I Always had; self medicating with marijuana which worked fine and I continued using marijuana until I started using Adderal. I am already on Prozac for depression, klonipin (sic) for panic attacks and anxiety, ambien for insomnia but during all this time I slowly began having trouble concentrating on ANYTHING, finishing anything, starting anything, keeping up with my hygiene and basically just sat around doing nothing but smoking cigarettes and watching television, in a deep depression and terrible anxiety (no loud noises could I handle, no disagreements with my husband, loss of interest in sex and I gained a lot of weight by being inactive so I tried smoking marijuana again after a thirteen year hiatus and seriously, it really helped ALL my symptoms as I also suffer from recurrent bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia (my husband doesn’t understand how badly I hurt, especially when the weather changes) and due to my mental dysfunctions, chronic pain, inability to work with the “stupid” public and would just cringe when I heard someone speak with the grammar of a total idiot (LOVE JUDGE JUDY), couldn’t read a book, had ordered the Rosetta Stone Latin learning program but never started it although it’s a language I have always wanted to know right and left and up and down. I have been impulsively buying
    cute little do-dads, dolls, anything Hello Kitty and purses and shoes like crazy and my obsession with feeding all the feral cats in the neighborhood takes almost all my disability check every month but I do not think it is a problem; it just shows I care about and love animals more than people as they are mean, judgemental, stupid, uneducated and complacent and people, I am sorry to say, even now when I feel like a new person, that I meet or see, observe, whatever; it amazes me they even know how to turn on the lights in their homes, rudeness infuriates me still but I am finishing projects, no longer put off tasks I despise, I clean the house now instead of sitting on my butt, I don’t have as bad as anxiety as I did as I was determined my dr. should “up” my klonopin and am doing fine on my old dose. I still take my Prozac, ambien and hormone replacement pills – meds I have been taking for over twenty years and I do not feel “jumpy”, irritable or have any of the side effects I have read about and all I can say is that I feel like a new, much better person. When I filled out the adhd questionnaire (sic) it was like someone observed me and made out the form based on MY symptoms alone. As yet, I have no desire to take more medicine than prescribed and don’t think I will since I don’t feel “high” from the medicine – I just feel “normal” and cannot thank my dr. enough for trying me on the adderal.

  12. Here, Here, to those that suffer, or think they suffer from ADHD I really don’t need to into too many details about my life with ADHD. I fit ALL the descriptions above for the diagnosis. You can imagine how bad I have it since I was diagnosed at a very unpopular time in history. When I was diagnosed only a very small percentage of the population was diagnosed with it. Generally speaking to figure out the count, you count how many classmates you have in your classroom, and you divide that number by the one or two kids that seem to always be the class clown, the disruptor, the paper straw spitter, run around the room while the teachers aren’t looking, the restless chair sitter, then when the ADHD child is thinks he/she is having a “good” day he/she is calling out all the answers. Amazingly, this child is right almost all the time. This kind of one on one behavior makes it difficult for the teacher to work with the other student’s mostly because she is too busy with the attention seeking ADHD child(s) in the classroom.
    Okay, as I mentioned above, if you want to know what the percentage of ADHD children, the same for adults even if psychological evaluations were remiss in your school and they didn’t’ diagnose you but you recognize yourself by those above behaviors, because ADHD is rooted from childhood against the majority of students that single you out, then there is a good possibility you have it. Remember, you had to have it in childhood to have it now.
    Okay, the overall average and most popular percentage I’ve seen for the comparison of ADHD to the general population at large on different sites for those that have ADHD is 4%. Now, that is a lot more in comparison to the general population at large and BIPOLAR DISORDER which I have seen anywhere between, not more, not less, 1% – 2%. The popular misdiagnosis BIG TIME (we will get to that, and how to take a stance against or in conjunction/comorbity with it). So, as I was saying 4%. Well, you can come up pretty close to this percentage yourself. Okay, go back in your mind to about the second grade when you were 7 years old (this is the determinative age for diagnosis for ADHD because all children by this age have settled down into the brain health that they will carry on for the rest of their life notwithstanding incidents of illnesses of mental health disorders that have higher developmental ages of onset, usually late teens to early twenties (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, unipolar depression). So, yes, ADHD children can also pick up a major mental disorder as well. Imagine the percentage for that? Look it up because I can’t figure in my head what the percentage of4 % or 3.3% x 1% or 2% would be.
    Anyway, let me clean everything up here so I don’t sap my energy out for the work I am supposed to be doing

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