Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can cause symptoms beyond a lack of focus. Discover 13 other ADHD symptoms as well as the criteria you must meet to receive a diagnosis as an adult.

ADHD affects about 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Keep reading to learn about the symptoms in adults.

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a brain disorder that often manifests in childhood. It can cause difficulty with things like attention, organization, and mood, and can lead to hyperactivity and impulsivity.

There are known differences between the brains of children with ADHD and children without the condition, particularly in the frontal lobe.

However, some people do not receive a diagnosis of ADHD until later in life.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that the number of adults with ADHD may be higher than data suggests. Many children assigned female at birth also go undiagnosed until adulthood because ADHD can present differently in females.

Untreated ADHD can significantly affect daily functioning, from work and school to relationships.

What are the traits of adults with ADHD?

The types of ADHD are predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of the two, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

That said, people can experience some or all of the following symptoms, which are important to recognize so you can get proper treatment.

Life can seem challenging for everyone sometimes. However, someone with ADHD may have more challenging life experiences than someone without ADHD. This can make it difficult for them to keep everything in the right place.

An adult with ADHD may have issues with organizational skills. This can include problems keeping track of tasks and trouble logically prioritizing them.

Adults with ADHD can often have trouble in relationships, whether they’re professional, romantic, or platonic.

Certain traits associated with ADHD may feel draining on relationships. They include:

As a result, a person with ADHD may come across as:

Lack of focus, the telltale symptom of ADHD, goes beyond simply finding it hard to pay attention. It also means:

  • being easily distracted
  • finding it hard to listen to others in a conversation
  • overlooking details
  • not completing tasks or projects

As an adult with ADHD, you may feel like your internal motor won’t shut off.

Your yearning to keep moving and doing things can lead to frustration when you can’t do something immediately. This leads to restlessness, which can lead to frustration and anxiety.

Anxiety is a very common symptom of adult ADHD, as the mind tends to replay worrisome events repeatedly.

As with children, physical signs of restlessness and anxiety in adults can include fidgeting.

An adult with ADHD may:

  • move around frequently
  • tap their hands or feet
  • shift in their seat
  • find it difficult to sit still

Life with ADHD can seem challenging, as though your emotions are constantly in flux. You can easily become bored and tend to seek excitement on a whim.

Small frustrations can seem intolerable or bring on depression and shifts in mood. If emotional concerns are left unaddressed, they may complicate your personal and professional relationships.

People with ADHD are often easily distracted. They may also have something called hyperfocus, according to a 2019 literature review.

A person with ADHD can get so engrossed in something that they can become unaware of anything else around them.

This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time and ignore those around you. This can lead to relationship misunderstandings.

This concern is similar to experiencing disorganization. Adults with ADHD often find it hard to effectively manage their time. They may:

They may have trouble focusing on the future or the past — the “now” is often more top-of-mind for people with ADHD.

It’s human to forget things occasionally, but for someone with ADHD, forgetfulness tends to occur more often. This can include routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or what important dates you need to keep.

Sometimes, forgetfulness can be bothersome but not to the point of causing serious disruptions. Other times, it can be serious.

The bottom line is that forgetfulness can affect careers and relationships.

It can easily be confused with carelessness or lack of intelligence by others if they’re not familiar with an ADHD diagnosis and its symptoms.

Learn more about the effect of ADHD on memory.

Impulsiveness in someone with ADHD can manifest in several ways, including:

Adults with ADHD are often hypercritical of themselves, which can lead to a negative self-image.

This is due in part to difficulties concentrating, as well as other symptoms that may affect school, work, and relationships.

Adults with ADHD may view these difficulties as personal failures or underachievement, which can cause them to see themselves in a negative light.

While you might be open to doing everything at once, you also may feel unmotivated.

This concern is commonly seen in children with ADHD, who often find it hard to focus on schoolwork. It can also happen with adults.

Coupled with procrastination and difficulty with organizational skills, a lack of motivation can make it hard for an adult with ADHD to finish a project. They may find it hard to focus for long periods of time.

Although this may sound surprising given that restlessness is also a symptom, fatigue is a concern for many adults with ADHD.

There could be several reasons for this, including:

  • hyperactivity
  • sleep problems that can come with ADHD
  • the constant effort to focus that ADHD may require of you
  • side effects of ADHD medications

Whatever the cause, fatigue can worsen attention difficulties.

ADHD can lead a person to neglect their physical health. ADHD symptoms that may affect your ability to maintain your physical health include:

  • disorganization
  • emotional concerns
  • impulsivity
  • lack of motivation

Stress and anxiety also have negative effects on your physical health.

Neglecting your physical health can manifest as:

  • compulsively eating an imbalanced diet
  • not exercising
  • forgoing important medication

Substance misuse may not affect every adult with ADHD, but a 2021 consensus statement showed that people with the condition are more likely than others to experience substance misuse. This may involve the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

The research isn’t clear on what the link is between substance misuse and ADHD. One theory is that people with ADHD use substances to self-medicate. They may misuse these substances in hopes of:

  • improving focus
  • improving sleep
  • relieving anxiety

To receive a diagnosis of ADHD, you need to exhibit at least five of the symptoms associated with a particular type of ADHD for at least 6 months.

So, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms commonly associated with adult ADHD to the point that it is disruptive to your life, it’s worth it to speak with a doctor for a possible diagnosis.

For example, it’s common among adults with ADHD to change employers often and have relationship issues, including divorce.

In addition, you might have few personal or work-related achievements, though this isn’t always the case. Only you know what’s typical or atypical for you.

Can you have high functioning ADHD?

The term “high functioning ADHD” is not an accepted medical term. That said, it loosely refers to mild ADHD that doesn’t cause a significant impairment in your day-to-day life.

This can mean your symptoms are mild, or you’ve developed coping strategies that work for you, but it can also mean that your ADHD affects only one aspect of your life in a significant way.

Even in mild cases, managing ADHD without proper support can take a lot of energy and psychological bandwidth.

Researchers are still trying to understand what long-term impact this might have on your psychological and physical well-being. For this reason, a diagnosis and a course of treatment can still be valuable.

There’s no one specific test designed to diagnose ADHD in everyone. Multiple screening tools are available.

Testing for adult ADHD typically involves at least two detailed interviews with a mental health professional or primary care physician.

During these interviews, they will:

  • assess whether your current symptoms meet the criteria for ADHD
  • ask questions to determine if there was evidence of ADHD symptoms in your childhood
  • assess whether you may have any comorbid or related mental health conditions that can explain your symptoms

It’s also important to know that ADHD can commonly present with other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and learning disabilities.

You may have symptoms that overlap with some of these conditions, and only a doctor can diagnose you and point you to the right treatment.

ADHD is a neurological condition that is often noticeable in childhood. It typically involves difficulty with focusing, planning, attention, and emotions, as well as hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Different people can have different degrees of difficulty in these categories.

If you think you have ADHD symptoms and you were not diagnosed as a child, it’s a good idea to be evaluated.

There are solutions available to help adults with ADHD cope with the difficulties of their condition, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), help with managing stress or eating a balanced diet, and, in many cases, medications.

To learn more about available treatment options and which ones may work well for you, talk with a healthcare professional.

Online therapy options

Read our review of the best online therapy services to find the right fit for you.

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