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Adult ADHD Symptoms You're Probably Ignoring

Around 8 million U.S. adults have ADHD. Many go untreated.

When you hear ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you might think of a disruptive or inattentive child fidgeting around in a third-grade classroom. However, it is estimated that about 8 million American adults may also have ADHD, but relatively few get diagnosed or proper treatment.

ADHD symptoms can present quite differently in kids and adults, and the truth is that ADHD symptoms in adults are sometimes written off as personality quirks, like being moody, forgetful, or disorganized. Unfortunately, if untreated, adult ADHD can really disrupt important things in your life, like your reputation at the office or the success of your marriage.  Poorly managed ADHD may even lead to substance abuse.


ADHD can be easier to spot in kids because the symptoms tend to be external. Children with ADHD will do observable things like fidget or talk to their neighbors during class. Plus, parents are monitoring their children closely for developmental problems.  

For adults, the symptoms of ADHD are mostly internal: Many people describe a feeling of inner restlessness, or unhappiness, during inactive times.  This is why ADHD in adults is often confused with other conditions like depression or anxiety.

So how does ADHD translate into adulthood?  Underachieving is the word experts use to describe the primary effect on adults. In college, adults with ADHD may have a history of poor performance or they may drop out entirely.  At work, adults with ADHD may change or lose jobs frequently, have repeated bad reviews for not completing tasks, or have bad reviews for abrasive interactions with colleagues. Relationships can suffer too.  People with ADHD may have more marital problems, and have higher rates of divorce.  

Statistically, adults with ADHD are more likely to have more traffic violations, suffer from alcohol or drug addictions, and have trouble with their finances. (You can attribute many of these issues to the impulsive urges experienced by adults with ADHD.)

There can be some positives to adult ADHD if the condition is well-managed. Many adults have found ways to control it and excel at multi-tasking, problem solving or handling crisis situations. (For example, here are tips for staying organized at work and tips for time management.) Adults with ADHD are also likely better able to recognize and harness their personal strengths than children with ADHD, which can also help them cope with the disorder. 

Regardless of age, the key to managing ADHD is recognizing it and getting treatment.

Holly Atkinson, MD

This video features Holly Atkinson, MD. Dr. Atkinson specializes in internal medicine and is an award-winning medical journalist.

Duration: 3:21. Last Updated On: Nov. 8, 2017, 6:14 p.m.
Reviewed by: Suzanne Friedman, MD, Preeti Parikh, MD, . Review date: July 29, 2014
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