Visual Guide to ADHD in Adults

a child dressed in a oversized suit

30% to 70%

Symptoms continue as adults in 30 to 70 percent of kids with ADHD. Some may develop more obvious symptoms in adulthood, causing trouble on the job or in relationships.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not limited to children -- 30% to 70% of kids with ADHD continue having symptoms when they grow up. In addition, people who were never diagnosed as kids may develop more obvious symptoms in adulthood, causing trouble on the job or in relationships. Many adults don’t realize they have ADHD, leaving them mystified about why their goals seem to slip out of reach.

cartoon figure running while looking at his watch

Running Late

Adults may realize that their tardiness is undermining their goals, but they just can't seem to be on time.

ADHD in adults follows a slightly different pattern than in children. Adults may be chronically late for work or important events. Adults may realize that their tardiness is undermining their goals, but they just can't seem to be on time.

a woman looking down at her phone while driving a car that is approaching a couple
a stick figure get fired by a bigger red stickfigure pointing to the road

Distraction

Inability to stay focused and follow through on tasks can derail careers, ambitions, and relationships.

Adults with ADHD may have trouble prioritizing, starting, and finishing tasks. They tend to be disorganized, restless, and easily distracted. Some people with ADHD have trouble concentrating while reading.

a man looking at you with two faces of his yelling outward at the side

Outburst

problems with self-control.

This can lead to:

  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Impulsive Behaviors
  • Blurting out rude or insulting thoughts

a cartoon body with his cartoon body on his head with his brain being binoculars

Hyperfocus

People with ADHD tend to put off boring tasks in favor of more enjoyable activities.

Some adults with ADHD can focus intently on things they enjoy or find interesting -- the ability to hyperfocus. But they struggle to pay attention to tasks that bore them. The trouble is that many tasks necessary for success in everyday life are dull, from making a grocery list to filing documents at work.

a clown in a suit juggles all the work that we multitask

Multitasking

They dont do to well focusing on one project while other things are going on

It may seem like everyone has ADHD these days, as we respond to text messages, email, calls, and fast-paced work environments. While all of this can be distracting, most people manage to focus on important responsibilities. In people with ADHD, distractions interfere with the completion of vital tasks at home and at work.

a doctor consolting a patient at his desk

ADHD or Something Else

Consult a Doctor, these symptoms are very common in both depression and anxiety.

If you are often restless and have trouble concentrating, don't jump to the conclusion that you have ADHD. These symptoms are also common in other conditions. Poor concentration is a classic sign of depression. Restlessness or anxiety could indicate an overactive thyroid or anxiety disorder. Your health care provider will investigate whether these conditions could be causing your symptoms instead of -- or in addition to -- ADHD.

a close up of connections in the brain

What Causes ADHD

Neurotransmitters are less active in areas of the brain that control attention.

Researchers don't know exactly what causes this chemical imbalance, but they think genes may play a role, because ADHD often runs in families. Studies have also linked ADHD to prenatal exposure to cigarettes and alcohol.

a cartoon caveman witha  bow hunting a dear

An Evolutionary Advantage?

Qualities that make it challenging to excel at a desk may have been an advantage to our ancestors.

One genetic variation that causes ADHD-like traits is more common in the world's nomadic peoples. Researchers think that traits such as impulsive behavior, novelty-seeking, and unpredictability might help nomads track down food and other resources.

a shadowed woman sits on the curve as the son goes down

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

Many adults don’t learn that they have ADHD until they get help for another problem

Discussing poor habits, troubles at work, or marital conflicts often reveals that ADHD is at fault. To confirm the diagnosis, the disorder must have been present during childhood, even if it was never diagnosed. Old report cards or talking with relatives can document childhood problems, such as poor focus and hyperactivity.

a genome sequence raising up into a person

Testing for ADHD

Some mental health professionals use neuropsychological tests.

These can include timed, computer-based tests that measure attention and problem-solving skills. Neuropsychological testing is not needed to make a diagnosis, but it can shed light on how ADHD affects a person's daily life. It can also uncover coexisting conditions, such as learning disabilities.

a hand laid over on a paper that says help with pills to one side and an empty bottle to the other

Complications of Adult ADHD

Adults with ADHD are more likely to smoke or abuse drugs.

Coping with the symptoms of adult ADHD can be frustrating in itself. At the same time, many adults with ADHD struggle with depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder. People with ADHD can limit these problems by seeking proper treatment.

a brain made up of words with ADHD being at the center

Medications for ADHD

These drugs may sharpen concentration and curb distractibility by fine-tuning brain circuits

The most common medicines for ADHD are stimulants. It may seem ironic that people who are restless or hyperactive get help from stimulants. If stimulants don't help enough, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to stabilize mood or a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, such as atomoxetine, which can help control impulsive behaviors.

a hand holding a pill out about to take it

How Effective Are ADHD Drugs?

adults taking stimulants have fewer ADHD symptoms -- and some people may feel they can concentrate better within about 30 minutes.

There have been far fewer studies of ADHD drugs in adults than in children, but the research to date is promising. Studies have shown adults taking stimulants have fewer ADHD symptoms -- and some people may feel they can concentrate better within about 30 minutes.

two hands hold up a puzzle peice that fit over a growing tree

Counseling for ADHD

cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly helpful in managing problems of daily life that are associated with ADHD.

Most adults with ADHD improve when they start medication, but they may continue to struggle with poor habits and low self-esteem. Counseling for ADHD focuses on getting organized, setting helpful routines, repairing relationships, and improving social skills.

a cartoon man running to work with a bunch of hand each doing a different task

Adult ADHD on the Job

Trouble breaking down tasks and following directions, staying organized, and making deadlines.

Holding down a job can be tough for people with ADHD. They’re also prone to tardiness and careless mistakes. In one national survey, only half of adults with ADHD were employed full time, compared to 72% of adults without the disorder. People with ADHD also tend to earn less than their peers.

a professionals desk with all their papers spread out on it

Careers for Adults with ADHD

There's not much research yet into the careers where people with ADHD are likely to thrive

But ADHD expert Russell A. Barkely, MD, says his patients have excelled in sales, acting, the military, photography, athletic coaching, and many trade professions. A person with ADHD can pursue almost any career that interests them.

two figures stand in unity looking at a target

Job Coaching for ADHD

People with ADHD may be able to boost their job performance with coaching or mentoring.

The mentor will help with organization skills, such as taking notes, keeping a daily planner and prioritizing a to-do list. A quiet workspace with few distractions may help. ADHD is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means employers must make adjustments to support a worker’s needs.

a couple sitting on a couch paying no attention to each other

Adult ADHD and Marriage

The condition makes it difficult to remember social commitments, birthdays, or anniversaries, finish household chores, and pay bills on time.

ADHD can sabotage marriage and other relationships. Adults with ADHD may lose their tempers easily or engage in reckless behavior. This leads to higher rates of separation and divorce.

a silhoutted person reaches out to another as they climb up a mountain

Life Coaching for ADHD

The mentor helps the patient put newly learned skills into practice

Like having a mentor in the workplace, some people with ADHD benefit from having a coach for everyday life. Coaching is generally a supplement to more formal psychological counseling. The mentor helps the patient put newly learned skills into practice in real-life situations, whether organizing the home or planning a trip.

the structure of a head made from a well organized shelf

Organizational Skills for ADHD

Smart phone "organizer" apps can be especially useful for people with ADHD

Use an app to create a new to-do list every night, and you'll always have it with you on your phone. Keep your list organized by using four categories: calls, emails, tasks, and errands. Other apps can help you keep your schedule up to date, so you won't miss important events.

a cartoon person with good foods falling into her head

Diet Tips for Adults with ADHD

Some experts believe foods that provide quality brain fuel could reduce symptoms of ADHD.

High-protein foods, including nuts, meat, beans, and eggs, may improve concentration. Replacing simple carbs with complex carbs, like whole-grain pasta or brown rice, can help ward off mood swings and stabilize energy levels.

a hand up to stop a spoonful of sugar

Does Sugar Worsen ADHD

Switching to a sugar substitute, such as aspartame, does not reduce symptoms of ADHD

The idea that sugar makes people hyperactive is popular, but there is no evidence that sweets cause ADHD or make its symptoms worse. Research in children indicates switching to a sugar substitute, such as aspartame, does not reduce symptoms of ADHD.

a person leaping in triumph into the ocean

Outlook for Adults With ADHD

Many learn to manage it successfully

Adults with ADHD don’t outgrow the condition, but many learn to manage it successfully. Long-term treatment can reduce problems at home and at work, bringing patients closer to their families and their professional goals.