By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 27 May 2008)
Anywhere from 30-70% of childhood ADHD sufferers continue to have symptoms as adults. Most adults who have the disorder are unaware of it. They know that they lack organizational abilities and have trouble keeping appointments, showing up on time for work, and staying focused on the task at hand, but many do not link these problems with ADHD.
With the increasing availability of information on the Internet, many adults have begun to question whether they might have the disorder, particularly in cases where their own children have been diagnosed with ADHD, as the disorder has a strong genetic component. However, it is far more difficult to diagnose ADHD in adults than it is in children, and many healthcare professionals remain sceptical about the existence of ADHD in adults. Also, the hyperactivity that draws attention to the problem in children is usually diminished in adulthood.
Commonly Occurring Conditions in Adults with ADHD
Diagnosing adults with ADHD is complicated by the fact that they often seek medical care for other conditions that may be caused by or exacerbated by ADHD. Common complaints among adults who have ADHD include:
- Attacks of rage and anger control problems
- Mood instability
- Depression or anxiety
- Addiction to substances
Traits of Adults with ADHD
Adults with ADHD have some of the same traits as children with the condition, but there are also a number of traits that are unique to adulthood. Adults with ADHD usually have many of the following traits:
- Erratic behaviour
- Extreme procrastination
- A tendency to hyperfocus on activities of interest, losing track of time and surroundings
- Excessive talkativeness with a tendency to interrupt others and/or speak too loudly
- Difficulties in establishing stable household routines
- Problems with managing money such as overspending and not paying bills or doing taxes
- Substance abuse
- Having accidents more often than most people
- Difficulty completing work or university assignments
- Bad driving record, with a history of speeding tickets or other problems (adolescents with ADHD cause almost four times as many car accidents and receive three times as many speeding citations as their non-ADHD peers; car accidents also tend to be more serious, with a greater likelihood of bodily injury)
Because many of those diagnosed as adults are female, it is possible that girls are underdiagnosed during their school years, perhaps because they are less likely to present the disciplinary problems that attract so much attention among boys with ADHD.
ADHD versus Normal
Many people who do not have ADHD will manifest some of the symptoms of ADHD at various times in their lives, particularly when under stress or as a result of substance abuse, overwork or illness. However, in the case of ADHD, there are many symptoms present and they occur continuously over the person’s lifetime, beginning in early childhood.
Some adults are relieved to receive a diagnosis of ADHD. Such individuals are aware of their history of problematic behavior and having an explanation can be helpful, as it enables them to look into the broad array of treatment options available for controlling the disorder and improving their attention, focus, organizational abilities, and interpersonal relationships.
For more information about ADHD, including causes, treatments, and related conditions, see the main ADHD page.
- Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance. (n.d.). “What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Caddra.ca.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). “Symptoms of ADHD.” Cdc.gov.
- National Institutes of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Nimh.Nih.gov.
- Silver, L., MD. (2007). “Diagnosing Related Conditions in ADHD Children and Adults.” ADDITUDE: Living Well with ADHD and Learning Disabilities. Additudemag.com.