ADHD in Adults: The 3 Types you Need to Know

Impulsive? Forgetful? Here’s how to tell if it could be adult ADHD.

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We all forget our keys, multitask more than we should, or accidentally interrupt an overly talkative colleague from time to time. If it tends to happen often, though, you might stop to think: Wait, could I have adult ADHD?

“[Adult ADHD is] a different flavor altogether than just being a highly efficient multitasker,” says Susan Samuels, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine. “There are people that are just always on the go, and they’re constantly multitasking, but if somebody has ADHD, mistakes are being made, things are being missed, and people around you are oftentimes getting very frustrated.”

Symptoms of adult ADHD are not always quite so clear in adults, especially if they weren’t formally diagnosed as children. For these reasons, many adults don’t realize they have ADHD until it starts taking a significant toll on their ability to work or manage their personal life. That’s why identifying and treating adult ADHD as soon as possible is important—and could be life-changing.

Understanding the 3 Types of ADHD

There are three kinds of ADHD: hyperactive, inattentive, and combined.

Inattentive ADHD

A person who’s predominantly inattentive may be easily distracted, and have a hard time focusing, or following conversations. “Someone with ADHD inattentive type might be that daydreamer,” says Dr. Samuels. “They’re sitting at their desk and looking off and not really focusing on what’s going on in front of them.”

This sort of behavior can significantly affect on a person’s life if left untreated. “If it impacts your work, if it impacts your home life—paying bills, losing car keys, getting locked out of the house—it really can wreak havoc on your life,” says Khadijah Watkins, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD

“Hyperactivity as an adult could look like typical hyperactivity, excessive energy, always needing to be on the go,” says Dr. Watkins. “It could also look like someone who gets bored easily, so they’re shifting from topic to topic.”

An adult who’s impulsive may interrupt people a lot, which can affect their social relationships. “The inability to be able to have delayed gratification, could also impact their finances, with excessive, impulsive spending,” says Dr. Watkins.

Combined ADHD

If a person has combined ADHD, they not only show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, but also inattentiveness. “So you get a little of the spaciness, with a little bit of the energy, and it’s hard for them to follow through and stay focused and stay in the moment,” says Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD, a psychologist in New York City.


Treating ADHD in Adults

“It is not true that adults can be diagnosed with ADHD, for the first time, never having had symptoms before,” says Dr. Samuels. “They might get the diagnosis as an adult, but they they look back and realize that they had problems with hyperactivity or impulsivity and or inattention when they were younger in an elementary school.” Here’s more about this common adult ADHD myth.

If an adult is diagnosed with ADHD after doing a comprehensive assessment, treatment typically includes a combination of medication and therapy.

The two types of medications that treat ADHD are stimulants (which target dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain) and non-stimulants (which work with other brain chemicals). Besides medication, adults with ADHD may also benefit from psychotherapy and organizational skills therapy.

Treatment for ADHD can have life-changing results and help you take control of your daily living. If you show signs of ADHD, reach out to a doctor to learn what steps to take.