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Ten common signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults

Many adult responsibilities require focus, organisation and composure, as a person is expected to juggle different tasks to effectively manage their career, family and home.

An adult with undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can struggle with some of these responsibilities. For example, they may underperform academically and professionally or have trouble maintaining relationships. These issues can then leave a person battling with low self-esteem as they question why they encounter such difficulties when other people don’t seem to.

If you think that someone you’re close to has undiagnosed ADHD, or if you are looking to get information for yourself, we have listed the common symptoms of ADHD in adults, and outlined the steps a person needs to take to receive a diagnosis and any necessary support.

What are the signs of adulthood ADHD?

While symptoms of ADHD typically start in early childhood, it is possible for an adult with ADHD to go undiagnosed for many years. Adults may experience subtler symptoms than children, some of which can be:

1. Struggling to stay organised

A person with ADHD can find it difficult to manage their responsibilities, so they may not keep to deadlines or pay their bills on time. They may also struggle to be punctual for diarised meetings or social plans. They are often late for appointments.

2. Prioritising tasks

They may focus on smaller and lesser tasks rather than important, lengthier projects. For example, they may spend a morning answering emails or voicemails rather than getting on with a longer, more significant piece of work

3. Procrastinating

Difficult and complex tasks are put off. At times, a person with ADHD will work all night to meet a deadline, while many tasks are never completed.

4. Difficulties focusing

They may find it hard to concentrate in a busy or noisy environment and struggle to stay focused during long meetings or appointments

5. Forgetfulness

A person with ADHD can have an impaired short term memory. They may forget social plans, overlook parts of a task or forget to run errands. They may also frequently misplace things like their car keys or house keys

6. Restlessness

While an adult with ADHD won’t be as hyperactive as a child, they may find it difficult to relax

7. Speaking out of turn, interrupting others and finding it difficult to keep quiet

They may seem to have difficulties listening in conversations

8. Mood swings, irritability and extreme impatience

As they have difficulties controlling their emotions, a person’s mood can flare up and then subside rapidly

9. Struggling to cope with stress

The ongoing challenges of ADHD can be so overwhelming without the correct treatment that it can cause a person to suffer from constant stress

10. Taking risks and having a reduced sense of danger

These can range from showing up late to important appointments to dangerous driving and substance abuse

While most people will struggle with some of these symptoms, if they are ongoing, causing problems in everyday life and can be traced back to childhood, this could be a sign of ADHD.

Steps to take for an adult who is showing the signs of ADHD

We understand that ADHD can have real consequences for people living with the disorder. Therefore, it is important to know that when symptoms are managed well, they have much less of an impact on daily life.

If you think that you or someone you care about has ADHD, and the symptoms are disrupting everyday life, an initial assessment with a specialist is recommended. Priory has numerous practitioners who are able to make diagnoses and offer treatment.

The specialist will carry out a full clinical assessment to determine whether ADHD is the correct diagnoses. They will also look for other problems such as anxiety and depression.

As part of the assessment, they will typically ask if symptoms have been apparent since childhood, as it is thought that ADHD can’t develop in adulthood. Discussing this with parents and other family members while also looking at old school reports can help a person to determine this.

Treatment for adult ADHD at Priory

Treatment for adult ADHD can include medication and counselling. The treatment that a person receives will be based on their own circumstances, to make sure that it is as effective as possible.

A specialist will discuss the medications with you, explain how they work and tell you about adverse effects. They will also explain all treatment options, which can include coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy, so that you are able to choose the best for you. 

At Priory, our therapy gives people the opportunity with develop skills related to organisation, time-management and problem solving. It also helps with the management of impulsive behaviours and anger, while boosting self-esteem and improving relationships with family, friends and co-workers.

Couples and family therapy sessions can also be provided at Priory to help those living with someone who has ADHD.

Blog reviewed by Dr Leon Rozewicz (MBBS, FRCPsych, MRCGP, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Priory Hospital North London

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