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, though some ADHD medications approved for children are not approved for adult use. 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 â 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:
Signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults can be hard to spot. However, core symptoms start early in life â before age 12 â 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:
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:
There's little research to indicate that alternative medicine treatments can reduce ADHD symptoms. However, one recent study indicates 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.
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:
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.
Risk of ADHD may increase if: