Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Adult ADHD can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other problems.
Though it's called adult ADHD, symptoms start in early childhood and continue into adulthood. In some cases, ADHD is not recognized or diagnosed until the person is an adult. Adult ADHD symptoms may not be as clear as ADHD symptoms in children. In adults, hyperactivity may decrease, but struggles with impulsiveness, restlessness and difficulty paying attention may continue.
Treatment for adult ADHD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD. Adult ADHD treatment includes medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with ADHD.
Some people with ADHD have fewer symptoms as they age, but some adults continue to have major symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. In adults, the main features of ADHD may include difficulty paying attention, impulsiveness and restlessness. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Many adults with ADHD aren't aware they have it — they just know that everyday tasks can be a challenge. Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic to mood swings and outbursts of anger.
Adult ADHD symptoms may include:
Almost everyone has some symptoms similar to ADHD at some point in their lives. If your difficulties are recent or occurred only occasionally in the past, you probably don't have ADHD. ADHD is diagnosed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of your life. These persistent and disruptive symptoms can be traced back to early childhood.
Diagnosis of ADHD in adults can be difficult because certain ADHD symptoms are similar to those caused by other conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. And many adults with ADHD also have at least one other mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.
If any of the symptoms listed above continually disrupt your life, talk to your doctor about whether you might have ADHD.
Different types of health care professionals may diagnose and supervise treatment for ADHD. Seek a provider who has training and experience in caring for adults with ADHD.
While the exact cause of ADHD is not clear, research efforts continue. Factors that may be involved in the development of ADHD include:
Risk of ADHD may increase if:
ADHD can make life difficult for you. ADHD has been linked to:
Although ADHD doesn't cause other psychological or developmental problems, other disorders often occur along with ADHD and make treatment more challenging. These include:
Signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults can be hard to spot. However, core symptoms start early in life — before age 12 — and continue into adulthood, creating major problems.
No single test can confirm the diagnosis. Making the diagnosis will likely include:
Some medical conditions or treatments may cause signs and symptoms similar to those of ADHD. Examples include:
Standard treatments for ADHD in adults typically involve medication, education, skills training and psychological counseling. A combination of these is often the most effective treatment. These treatments can help manage many symptoms of ADHD, but they don't cure it. It may take some time to determine what works best for you.
Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of any medications.
The right medication and the right dose vary among individuals, so it may take time to find out what's right for you. Tell your doctor about any side effects.
Counseling for adult ADHD generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy), education about the disorder and learning skills to help you be successful.
Psychotherapy may help you:
Common types of psychotherapy for ADHD include:
If you're like many adults with ADHD, you may be unpredictable and forget appointments, miss deadlines, and make impulsive or irrational decisions. These behaviors can strain the patience of the most forgiving co-worker, friend or partner.
Therapy that focuses on these issues and ways to better monitor your behavior can be very helpful. So can classes to improve communication and develop conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. Couples therapy and classes in which family members learn more about ADHD may significantly improve your relationships.
Because ADHD is a complex disorder and each person is unique, it's hard to make recommendations for all adults who have ADHD. But some of these suggestions may help:
There's little research to indicate that alternative medicine treatments can reduce ADHD symptoms. However, studies indicate that mindfulness meditation may help improve mood and attention in adults who have ADHD, as well as those who don't have ADHD.
Before using alternative interventions for ADHD, talk with your doctor about risks and possible benefits.
While treatment can make a big difference with ADHD, taking other steps can help you understand ADHD and learn to manage it. Some resources that may help you are listed below. Ask your health care team for more advice on resources.
You're likely to start by first talking to your primary care provider. Depending on the results of the initial evaluation, he or she may refer you to a specialist, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
To prepare for your appointment, make a list of:
Bring any past evaluations and results of formal testing with you, if you have them.
Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime you don't understand something.
Be ready to answer questions your doctor may ask, such as:
Your doctor or mental health professional will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time with the doctor.