ADHD in Adults: Understanding, Diagnosis & Effective Management

Stereotypically, ADHD is seen as a condition exclusively affecting children, with the misconception that it will naturally disappear as they grow up. But the truth is far from this. ADHD can affect anyone at any age, including adults. In fact, we now know that ADHD can stick around as people get older. This neurodevelopmental condition, characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention, impacts an individual’s socialization, communication, and focus, and it isn’t just a childhood thing.

What is ADHD in Adults?

When you think of ADHD, a stereotypical image of a hyperactive kid comes to mind. This belief is deeply rooted in society and has left adults without a diagnosis for a prolonged period. Research shows that 60-70% of children with ADHD retain the symptoms of ADHD into adulthood. However, your symptoms might differ in childhood and adulthood. As you age, you develop a robust coping mechanism to adapt to society. It’s all due to the fear of ostracization by society, and you hide your truest self behind the facade.

Types of ADHD in Adults

ADHD can present in various ways, and it doesn’t always manifest in the same manner as it does in children. Remember that ADHD is not a One-Size-Fits-All condition; different people exhibit different symptoms. There are three main types of ADHD in adults, each with unique challenges:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Type (formerly known as ADD): Adults with this type of ADHD primarily struggle with attention and organization. Common symptoms include forgetfulness, distractibility, losing items frequently, and difficulty with time management.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive and Impulsive Type: Imagine a whirlwind of energy that is difficult to contain. It’s what life is like for an individual with hyperactive and impulsive symptoms. This type of ADHD in adults is characterized by a significant presence of hyperactive and impulsive behaviours. While being hyperactive and impulsive may be more prominent, they may also experience some inattentive symptoms.
  • Combined Type: Individuals with combined type ADHD exhibit inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive symptoms. According to the National Library of Medicine, 62% of adults suffer from combined subtypes. To be diagnosed with combined-type ADHD, an individual must exhibit at least six symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity and six symptoms of inattention. However, this does not necessarily indicate that combined ADHD is more severe than other subtypes.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes and risk factors which trigger ADHD still remain a mystery. However, researchers believe genetics, environment, neurological differences, and brain injury can significantly contribute to ADHD.

What Causes ADHD in Adults?

  • Genetics
    ADHD is a genetic condition passing through generations in a family. If your parent has it, you’re prone to develop this condition.
  • Environment
    The stressful environment and traumas you may have experienced during childhood can elevate the risk of ADHD. With that, ADHD is also associated with exposure to toxins, smoking, alcohol consumption and drug abuse during pregnancy.
  • Neurological Differences
    Neurological differences, including dysregulation of neurotransmitters like dopamine, structural and functional variations in certain brain regions, genetic factors, neurodevelopmental influences, and abnormalities in neurotransmitter receptors, significantly contribute to the development of ADHD in adults.
  • Brain Injury
    Brain injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries or strokes, can lead to ADHD-like symptoms in adults. These injuries can disrupt brain structures and chemical balances, affecting attention, impulse control, and executive functions. Additionally, secondary effects of brain injuries, like sleep disturbances and mood changes, can mimic ADHD symptoms.

How Can I Tell if I Have ADHD or Not?

Whether you have ADHD or not is ultimately determined by a thorough evaluation and diagnosis by a mental healthcare professional.  Self-diagnosis is not recommended, as ADHD shares symptoms with others. However, you can take some initial steps such as self-assessment, journaling your symptoms, seeking input and preparing for a discussion with a healthcare provider.

1. Self-assessment and reflection

If you suspect you might have ADHD, a good starting point is to conduct a self-assessment. Take some time to reflect on your behaviour and experiences and see if any of the symptoms associated with ADHD apply to you. It’s important to consider whether these symptoms have been persistent and impacted your daily life. If you find they have, consult a professional for further evaluation and guidance.

2. Keeping a symptom journal

Document your symptoms related to ADHD. Note when these signs and symptoms occur, what triggers them, and how they interfere with your daily functioning. Maintaining a symptom journal can provide patterns you can discuss with a counsellor during an evaluation. Maintain a journal where you document instances of symptoms related to ADHD. 

3. Seeking input from trusted individuals

Talk to trusted friends, family members, or colleagues who are familiar with your behaviour. Ask for their observations and inquire whether they’ve noticed any consistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity in you. Their input can provide an external perspective on your symptoms.

Way Forwards 

ADHD is manageable, but it’s important to remember that experiencing one or more symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have it. The process of diagnosing ADHD is complex and requires careful evaluation by a professional. To start, you can take a self-assessment to reflect on your behaviours. However, seeking guidance from a professional is crucial to receiving proper support for managing ADHD. 

1. Taking the “Do I have ADHD” Quiz

Taking online ADHD quizzes can be a useful starting point for self-reflection and gaining initial insights into whether you might have ADHD symptoms. These quizzes can prompt you to consider your behaviour and experiences in a structured way. However, they should not be used as a definitive diagnostic tool and do not rely solely on it.

2. Talk to a Mental Health Professional

The most reliable way to determine if you have ADHD is to seek a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or ADHD specialist. They can conduct thorough assessments, including interviews, questionnaires, and behavioural observations, to provide an accurate diagnosis.

3. Strategies for ADHD Management

If you strongly feel that you have ADHD, implementing strategies can help you manage symptoms of ADHD. Note that, usually, the strategies are highly individualized, and what works best for one person may not work for you. However, here are some general strategies that can help to manage ADHD: 

  • Engaging in behavioural therapy, such as  (CBT) or psychoeducation, can help you develop strategies to improve focus, organization, and time management to manage your ADHD symptoms effectively.
  • Establish a structured daily routine to help you stay organized and on track. Include specific times for tasks, meals, exercise, and relaxation.
  • Learn and practice mindfulness or meditation, which can help reduce your stress levels and improve your ability to focus and manage symptoms.
  • Reward yourself for accomplishing tasks and meeting goals. Positive reinforcement can help motivate you to stay on track and complete tasks.