Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition characterized by hyperactivity, trouble focusing, and being easily distracted, among other symptoms.

While symptoms often appear first in childhood, some people don’t receive a diagnosis until they’re older.

ADHD often causes disruptive behavior and cognitive patterns. This can impact every area of your life, including work, school, and relationships. The condition is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy.

Learn more about the possible signs of ADHD in adults, as well as the treatment and management strategies available to help.

How many people have ADHD?

Some of the most comprehensive data we have on ADHD diagnosis in the United States comes from the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), and two National Comorbidity Surveys from 2003 and 2004.

Here’s their insights into the prevalence of ADHD diagnosis in different age groups:

  • 11 percent of children age 4-17
  • 8.7 percent of children age 13-18
  • 4.4 percent of adults received a diagnosis at time of survey, and their lifetime prevalence of ADHD diagnosis was 8.1 percent

These statistics don’t account for people with ADHD who haven’t received a diagnosis. The overall number of people with the condition is likely greater than these numbers suggest.

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For a long time, ADHD was mostly associated with children. But while ADHD symptoms usually appear before age 12, the diagnosis can apply to people of any age.

It can take years for someone to receive an accurate diagnosis, and some people never do.

How ADHD appears in adults

Understanding how ADHD can look different in children and adults can help encourage timely diagnosis.

Some of the signs of adult ADHD may include:

  • inability to stay focused on a single task
  • difficulty concentrating
  • forgetting appointments or promises
  • habitual lateness
  • not listening when people talk, or forgetting what they say

Adult ADHD may also affect your communication style. Some adults with this condition may present with the following:

  • a compulsion to finish other people’s sentences
  • frequently interrupt others while they’re talking
  • trouble seeing someone else’s perspective during a conversation
  • impatience when waiting for something (such as in a line for groceries, or in a traffic jam)

Common misdiagnosis

Many adults with ADHD likely manifested the condition as children, even if they didn’t receive a diagnosis, or received a misdiagnosis. The median age of onset of ADHD symptoms is 6 years old. Some children with ADHD might have had milder symptoms that didn’t raise any flags to parents, doctors, or teachers.

ADHD may be mistaken for:

Depression and anxiety often accompany ADHD, as difficulty with executive brain functions can trigger both. They can also occur due to ADHD’s impacts on your quality of life, as it interferes with professional and personal obligations.

Adults with undiagnosed ADHD may not understand why they struggle with focusing, are always late, and can’t follow along in social situations. The interpersonal components of ADHD can make it hard to make friends and maintain friendships.

It’s important to get a timely diagnosis, so you can get the answers, and care, you deserve.

ADHD may be diagnosed in an adult after you suspect symptoms and report them to your doctor.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the gold standard for guiding mental health diagnosis, categorizes key ADHD symptoms into two umbrella categories:

  • inattention
  • hyperactivity and compulsivity

Each category contains a list of signs and symptoms. Children must present six or more symptoms in each category, and adults (or those older than 17 years) must present five to meet criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. Symptoms must also be present in two or more settings (such as work, school, and home).

Your doctor will likely ask:

  • What symptoms have you experienced in the past 6 months?
  • How have these symptoms affected your life?
  • Does anyone else in your family have a diagnosis of ADHD?

While only a doctor or mental health professional can make an official ADHD diagnosis, there are also self-screening tools available for you to take and bring with you to your appointment as a starting point.

Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS-5)

If you’ve experienced any of the above possible signs and symptoms of ADHD, you may consider taking the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS-5). This was updated for DSM-5 as a screening tool to help detect undiagnosed ADHD in adults.

The questionnaire includes the following six questions about your life over the past 6 months. You’ll categorize your answers as “never,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often.”

  • How often you have difficulty concentrating on what people are saying to you even when they’re speaking to you directly?
  • How often do you leave your seat in meetings or other situations in which you’re expected to remain seated?
  • How often do you have difficulty unwinding and relaxing when you have time to yourself?
  • When you’re in a conversation, how often do you find yourself finishing the sentences of the people you’re talking to before they can finish them themselves?
  • How often do you put things off until the last minute?
  • How often do you depend on others to keep your life in order and attend to details?

The ASRS-5 doesn’t replace an official diagnosis from a doctor or mental health professional. But it can be a useful way to check in with yourself, and a starting point when making an appointment.

Everyday Life Attention Scale (ELAS)

Like the ASRS-5, the Everyday Life Attention Scale (ELAS) was designed to help adults better recognize possible symptoms of ADHD.

The ELAS is also a self-reporting questionnaire, but it focuses specifically on inattention during certain situations and activities. These include:

  • reading
  • listening to a speech or lecture
  • a conversation
  • a school or work assignment
  • cleaning or other chores
  • cooking
  • watching a movie
  • driving

While adult ADHD can’t be clinically diagnosed with the ELAS alone, this is another potential tool you can use to help gather self-reporting data to discuss with your doctor.

Since ADHD affects “executive functions” of the brain, such as judgment, decision making, initiative, memory, and the ability to complete complex tasks, it can lead to the following impacts in everyday life:

  • inability to focus and complete tasks at school or work
  • difficulty with sustainable, stable relationships
  • time management difficulties, such as inability to meet deadlines
  • missing or arriving late to appointments
  • forgetting to pay bills
  • not returning emails, texts, or phone calls
  • losing important items frequently, such as your keys, phone, or wallet
  • experiencing impatience when waiting for your turn in line, or in a conversation
  • difficulty focusing when others are talking
  • constantly finishing others’ sentences or interjecting when it’s not your turn to talk

Over time, these impacts can interfere with your friendships, work, and life at home. Paying bills late or forgetting important appointments can also have financial consequences, such as late fees.

For adults, managing ADHD will likely involve a combination of medications, therapies, and lifestyle modifications.


Prescription medications can help treat ADHD in both children and adults:

  • stimulants
  • nonstimulants
  • antidepressants
  • anti-anxiety medications

Stimulants are the most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD, as they’ve proven effective at increasing alertness and focus. Brand names include Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine combined).

As with any medication, side effects can occur. Some ADHD medications are habit-forming. Always take medications as directed by your doctor.

If you take any other prescription drugs for anxiety, depression, or high blood pressure, it’s important to tell your doctor, as these may interact with stimulants.


Types of therapies used to treat ADHD in adults include the following:

Lifestyle modifications

The following changes in routine may help manage your ADHD symptoms:

  • establish a regular schedule, including waking up and going to bed at the same time each day
  • try to get enough sleep (7-9 hours is recommended for adults)
  • aim to exercise or be physically active regularly
  • incorporate relaxing activities into your routine, such as meditation and yoga, or hobbies you enjoy
  • manage stress as best as you can with regular breaks

If you’re concerned about potential ADHD symptoms and the impacts on your daily life, it’s important to talk with your doctor about a potential diagnosis, as well as your treatment options.

While ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in children, it’s never too late to seek care as an adult.

If you’ve just received a diagnosis of ADHD as an adult, consider asking your doctor the following questions:

  • What type of ADHD do I have? (predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or combined presentation)
  • Do I need any additional screenings for depression or anxiety?
  • What’s the best treatment option for me right now?
  • Will I need to take medication in the short or long term? What are the potential side effects? How do I know if the medication is working or not?
  • What type of therapy do you recommend (such as talk therapy and CBT)? Can I get a referral to a psychologist/psychiatrist?
  • Which types of lifestyle adjustments (including nutrition and exercise) may be best for me?

ADHD is a common mental health condition in children, and it can persist through adulthood in more than one-third of all cases. ADHD is clinically defined by persistent symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and compulsive behaviors in multiple situations.

If you never received a formal diagnosis of ADHD as a child, but you struggle with its symptoms, consider talking with your doctor. You can also explore self-evaluation tools as a primer.

It’s never too late to receive a diagnosis and treatment for ADHD. Treatment and management strategies can still help as an adult, leading to better experiences at work and home, and in your personal relationships.