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Could I Have Adult ADHD?

Published on March 30, 2023

post it notes on wall
Some adults compensate for their ADHD and hide their symptoms by using sticky notes often on their computer or desk and have constant or timely reminders on their cell phones.

Read Time: 5 Minutes

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is more common in children and teens, but did you know that adults can have ADHD, too?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, an estimated 8.4% of children have ADHD, while about 2.5% of adults have the mental condition.

Do adults have different ADHD symptoms than children? Can children with ADHD outgrow their condition as they get older?

Phelps Health Psychiatrist Mallikarjuna Bagewadi Ellur, MD, FAPA, answers these and other common questions about ADHD in adults.

Dr. Mallikarjuna Bagewadi Ellur
Mallikarjuna Bagewadi
Ellur, MD

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurobehavioral syndrome (a condition in the brain affecting emotions, behavior and learning) that affects a person’s ability to pay attention, stay on task and sometimes, to deal with certain impulses.

ADHD is typically diagnosed more often in children and teens, usually between the ages of 7 and 13. However, a small percentage of adults also have the disorder.

What are the different types of ADHD?

Three types of ADHD exist.

  • Inattentive type: The main symptom of this type is inattention, or when a person is not paying attention or staying focused on a task.
  • Hyperactivity/impulsivity type: This type is more commonly seen in children and teens, who may be hyperactive and unable to control their impulses. People with this type of ADHD may walk, run or jump when sitting is normally expected.
  • Combined type: This type includes symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

How is ADHD diagnosed?

ADHD is diagnosed after a behavioral or mental health professional talks to a patient about their medical history and performs an exam.

For the medical history portion, a person’s doctor or provider will review any symptoms the patient currently has or might’ve had as a child, such as how they performed in school and at work. The patient’s social relationships also will be assessed, and patients may be asked if they have any trouble doing their job.

Sometimes, people may undergo psychological or neuropsychological testing to check their attention span, organizational skills as well as their ability to recall, remember and repeat information. If a person meets certain criteria, they might be diagnosed with ADHD.

ADHD is not always obvious in adults, because some people may try to mask their symptoms.

Some adults don’t realize how they struggle with staying on task and paying attention, even with day-to-day activities like getting ready for work. ADHD can affect people’s jobs, school, relationships and social life.

How do adults mask their ADHD symptoms?

Some adults compensate for their ADHD and hide their symptoms by taking notes. They may often use sticky notes on their computer or desk and have constant or timely reminders on their cell phones.

In every human being, an urge exists to have a compensated mechanism. For example, if a person has a problem with their right lung, the left lung will try to do more work to make up for the right lung. The same goes for a cognitive task. People will use tools to help remind them and stay organized.

What are symptoms of ADHD?

Three prominent symptoms of ADHD in children are inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. As they age, children can outgrow these symptoms. Hyperactivity and impulsivity subside in about 50% of patients.

However, inattention is more prominent in adults with ADHD. Inattention could include lacking the ability to finish a job, complete a task or stay focused.

Adults with ADHD also may not be organized with time, tasks or activities, and they may lose things needed to complete a task. They may try to avoid a chore that requires sustained mental effort or attention.

Other symptoms of adults with ADHD may include not sitting still and fidgeting with their hands or feet. While these symptoms are more common in children, some adults show these signs as well, like squirming in a seat during a long meeting.

How is ADHD different in men and women?

ADHD is more often diagnosed in boys and men than in girls and women. Men with ADHD usually have symptoms, such as inattention or trouble listening to others. Men with ADHD also may lose things often or lose track of time.

In women, disorganization is a common symptom of ADHD.

Do adults with ADHD usually have other conditions?

Some adults with ADHD may have learning disorders, such as trouble with math or reading. Others may have trouble controlling their impulses. In some cases, impulse control problems can lead to substance abuse, anxiety disorders, depression or disruptive behavioral disorders.

Untreated ADHD symptoms may lead a person to become frustrated easily and have a low tolerance for stress, which can lower their self-esteem. These individuals may feel like they can’t meet deadlines or fear missing deadlines.

People with ADHD also may get symptoms of depression if they feel like they can’t perform well or see themselves as failures. Excessive worrying can develop into irrational fears, and people with ADHD may feel like something is wrong with them.

Can children who were diagnosed with ADHD outgrow this condition?

Some children outgrow their ADHD symptoms, like impulsiveness or hyperactivity, when they become adults. However, some symptoms, like inattention, may remain with adults.

As people grow, their brains develop and mature. They can learn helpful coping skills or better manage their organization and time skills. Sometimes, adults will still see remaining traits if they had ADHD as children.

How is ADHD treated in adults?

Medication is usually the first treatment for adults with ADHD. Certain ADHD medicines can help with controlling impulses. Common ADHD medications include Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin and Focalin.

Adults with ADHD also can get counseling, or psychotherapy with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common type of talk therapy aimed to reduce mental health symptoms, to help improve their organizational skills.

Are You or Someone You Know Showing Signs of ADHD?

Call Phelps Health Behavioral Health at (573) 364-2007. If you have a primary care provider, or doctor, you can ask them about a referral to see a behavioral health specialist. However, a referral is not necessary. Please bring a list of any medications you are currently taking and let your care team know if you have previously been evaluated for ADHD. You can request in-person or telehealth visits.

Found in: ADHD Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder Behavioral Health Health Wellness