What Does ADHD Looks Like in Adults?

What Does ADHD Looks Like in Adults?

What Is ADHD in Adults?

According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is “a highly genetic syndrome that has to do with the regulation of a particular set of brain functions and related behaviors.”

The compromised brain function has to do with executive function skills which control things like concentration, memory, attention, motivation, organization, and hyperactivity.

An adult with ADHD may show inconsistent performance at work, and struggle with daily responsibilities. They can harbor feelings of frustration, guilt, or shame.

I felt a deep and personal shame for behaviors that I did not understand and seemed to have no control over. My lack of organization, forgetfulness, procrastination, and inability to prioritize left me feeling that I could not do what every other “normal” person on the planet could do. I was ashamed of my shortcomings because I did not understand them and had built no coping skills to manage them.

I zoned out when people were talking; I didn’t mean to. I lacked basic organizational skills. I knew how to do things, but could not make myself do them. Things that came quickly to others were tasks I could only manage with great difficulty.

Something as simple as cleaning house could be incredibly frustrating, as I had a difficult time with finding a natural order to do things. I often started tasks in the middle or went from one thing to another without ever finishing anything. I would start in one room and then realize I was doing something entirely different, or that I’d moved to another room altogether.


By the time I reached adulthood, I was convinced I was stupid, lazy, and unworthy. It would be a few more years before I would put the pieces together and start seeing these things as symptoms of something greater.

What Are the Symptoms of Adult ADHD?

In some cases of ADHD, symptoms may begin in childhood and continue into adulthood. Some of the symptoms of adult ADHD may include:

  • Disorganization
  • Impulsiveness
  • Not being able to manage one’s time
  • Difficulty multi-tasking
  • Problems with focus
  • Restlessness
  • Poor planning skills
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty with follow through and completion of tasks
  • Volatile temper; anger
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Difficulty coping with “normal” stress

ADHD is diagnosed when these symptoms are beyond what is in the normal range. Everyone experiences these symptoms at times, but if ADHD symptoms are severe, ever-present, and interfere with daily life, it could point to ADHD.

Discovering You Have Adult ADHD

Every adult’s road to diagnosis is slightly different. For those that do not get a diagnosis in childhood, the journey can be a painful one, marked with inappropriate coping mechanisms and a feeling that something has never been right, but have no idea what is wrong.

Many adults receive their first clue that they might have ADHD through the lens of watching their own child struggle with symptoms that are all too familiar. It is not uncommon for an adult to seek professional help after having a child diagnosed.

When my daughter was a toddler, she was definitely a hyperactive ball of energy. But what toddlers aren’t? It wasn’t anything that I saw as excessive. While she walked and talked early, as she grew she had trouble with things like learning to tie her shoes.

As a few more years passed, I noticed more and more similarities between her behaviors and the constant chaos that had been in my own head for as long as I could remember. When she was tested for ADHD, I studied the subject to learn all I could, and as I filled out all her paperwork, I couldn’t help but apply all those same questions to myself. It was my “a-hah!” moment.

When I sought a diagnosis in my thirties, it was like a weight had been lifted. All the “problems” and “quirks” I’d always exhibited and felt; all the feelings of doing everything wrong, were suddenly given a name. I was grateful.

My diagnosis was relatively easy, but that isn’t always the case. Other mental and mood disorders share the symptoms of ADHD, and depression and anxiety are also commonly associated with the disorder. It is important to find a doctor that does not rush a diagnosis.

Treatment for Adult ADHD

If a person thinks they might have ADHD, it is important to seek help from a medical professional who is familiar with the disorder. No definitive test can prove ADHD is present, but diagnosis can be made from carefully reviewing all symptoms and medical history, as well as ruling out other mental or mood disorders.

Treatment options are similar for both children and adults with ADHD.

A combination of medication, psychotherapy, and treatment for any co-existing mental or mood disorders is recommended.

There can be controversy over the treatment of ADHD, especially around the use of medications. Ultimately, each adult has to do what is right for them. We must take the information we learn and decide what is best for ourselves.

I do not take ADHD medication, but my daughter does. I would absolutely use medication in the future if necessary. Sometimes I struggle with symptoms and it is hard to deal with the daily demands of life, but I work to learn and apply the strategies that make things as easy as they can be.

We’ve all heard it said that ADHD is not a curse, but a gift. I can see it both ways sometimes. The struggle with daily activities is a real one, but at the same time, I’m blessed with a curiosity and love for trying new things, as well as creativity.

While I don’t enjoy last minute changes of plans or not being in control, I also tend to not worry about the little things.

With proper treatment and perhaps a good sense of humor, adult ADHD is definitely manageable.


National Institute for Mental Health (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

CHADD (Adults with ADHD)

Mayo Clinic (Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADD.org (ADHD: The Facts)

Up next:
What Is ADHD?

Understanding What ADHD Is (and Isn’t)

What is ADHD? If you or a loved one have ADHD, this complete guide has the answers you need to understand what ADHD is and isn't.
by Alexander Beiga on July 5, 2018
Click here to see comments