ADHD in Adults: How ADHD Shows Up in Adulthood

Identifying and treating adult ADHD can be life-changing.

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Signs of ADHD in children might be more obvious (can’t sit still in class, can’t focus on doing homework, acts like a non-stop ball of energy), but it’s easy to forget that many children with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD. Symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder are not quite so clear in adults, especially if they weren’t formally diagnosed as children.

Adults might have use coping strategies to help them deal with the ways ADHD takes a toll on their lives, such as relying on an assistant at work to maintain appointments, using a cleaning service at home, or delegating certain organizational tasks (food shopping, budgeting, etc.) to a partner. 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. It’s not uncommon, in fact, for some adults not to be diagnosed until their child gets an ADHD diagnosis and they then recognize the symptoms in themself.

“When adults are diagnosed with ADHD, it is often a sense of ‘aha!’,” says psychiatrist Khadijah Watkins, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine. Learning you have ADHD as an adult often answers questions about why they may have struggled in school, with relationships, succeeding at work, or managing their home.

Recognizing the Signs of Adult ADHD

There are three types of ADHD with different symptoms.

  • Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD: Classic symptoms include feeling fidgety, being unable to sit still, and jumping from topic to topic. Impulsivity in adults often show up as making rash decisions or exhibiting risky behavior.
  • Inattentive ADHD: This lesser-known type of ADHD causes difficulty focusing and paying attention. (Learn more about inattentive ADHD here.)
  • Combined ADHD: This third type of ADHD has symptoms of both hyperactive and inattentive ADHD.


Treating Adult ADHD

If an adult is diagnosed with ADHD after doing a comprehensive assessment, treatment typically includes a combination of medication and therapy. Doctors treat ADHD by targeting neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine and norepinephrine, according to Susan Samuels, MD, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine.

The two types of medications that treat ADHD are stimulants (which target dopamine and norepinephrine) and non-stimulants (which work with other neurotransmitters). Besides medication, adults with ADHD may also benefit from psychotherapy and organization 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.