ADHD: symptoms, causes and treatments

Everything you need to know about ADHD, including how the disorder can be managed effectively.

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This page was reviewed by Dr Samir Shah (MBBS, FRCPsych, MSc), Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Hospital Altrincham, in June 2022.

Update on national shortage of medication to manage ADHD symptoms

Please be aware that there is a national shortage in the supply of medication that helps to manage ADHD symptoms. This is due to manufacturing issues and an increase in global demand for the medication.

This shortage means we cannot prescribe medication to new patients until stocks are available. If you're currently taking medication as part of your ADHD treatment plan, please contact your prescriber for further advice.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a developmental disorder that can affect both children and adults. The condition is typically characterised by difficulties in concentrating, problems with speech and actions (known as hyperactivity), and impulsive behaviour.

What are adult ADHD symptoms?

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

  • 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 and in some cases, are too early for appointments due to worries of missing the appointment.

  • Prioritising tasks

They may focus on smaller and easier 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.

  • Procrastination

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.

  • 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. They may get easily distracted by sounds, moving objects and activities outside the window, and struggle to get their focus back to the task at hand.

  • Forgetfulness

A person with ADHD can have difficulties with their 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.

  • Restlessness

While an adult with ADHD may not be as hyperactive as a child, they might find it difficult to relax. They may struggle to sit in one place without being fidgety, or their mind racing with thoughts or other activities to do.

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

They may seem to have difficulties listening in conversations or engaging in meaningful conversation that requires focus and attention.

  • Mood swings, irritability and extreme impatience

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

  • 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.

  • 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, persistent, causing problems in everyday life and can be traced back to childhood, this could be a sign of ADHD.

The signs of ADHD in children can vary slightly compared to adults, which is why it's not always noticeable during childhood and why many people get an adult diagnosis.

What causes ADHD?

While the exact cause of ADHD isn’t yet fully understood, there are a number of factors that are believed to contribute to someone developing the disorder. These include:


Studies have shown that family genetics may have a role to play in the development of ADHD, with patterns of the disorder sometimes found across generations. However, the complexity of the condition isn’t believed to be related to a specific genetic fault.

Brain structure

If your child has ADHD, it may be due to their brains operating differently to children without the condition, with research suggesting that it may take an average of 2 to 3 years longer for the brain to mature in children with the disorder than in children without ADHD.

Birth and pregnancy complications

Circumstances around your child’s birth may also have an impact, with low birthweight and premature birth suggested as being factors of ADHD development. Substance abuse during pregnancy may also increase the chances of your child developing the condition.

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

We understand that ADHD can have real consequences for people living with the disorder. Therefore, it's 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 ADHD diagnoses and offer treatment.

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

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

ADHD treatment options

While there's currently no cure for ADHD, Priory’s nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres offer specialist child, adolescent and adult outpatient services to help manage the symptoms of ADHD.

Highly experienced consultant psychiatrists and therapists can devise bespoke ADHD treatment, tailored to you. We will aim to reduce your symptoms through a variety of evidence-based treatment methods.

Treatment plans for ADHD will often include medication, group therapy, family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They can also include certain medications for other co-occurring conditions, depending on individual experiences and age. Children with ADHD may have slightly different treatment plans compared to adults.

Therapy for ADHD

Group therapy for ADHD

Group therapy will involve a therapist and co-therapist working across groups of 6 to 12 people. The aim of group therapy is to provide valuable insight into the progress and coping mechanisms of others with the condition. This can help people to understand their own ADHD, within an open and supportive environment. Group therapy will encourage someone to work on more positive patterns of thinking that can help to alleviate unwanted symptoms of the disorder.

Group therapy is an appropriate method that can be used for both adults and children experiencing ADHD symptoms.


Depending on age, an ADHD treatment plan may include CBT, which is a problem-solving talking therapy that can help manage thoughts and behaviours more effectively.

CBT can help you, in simple terms, to ‘re-programme’ your brain and change the patterns of negative thinking that are associated with the disorder, helping you to manage the symptoms of ADHD better. This type of therapy is not often used with young children, but can be used with teens and adults.

Family therapy for ADHD

Family therapy helps the whole family unit come together to understand ADHD and how symptoms can impact everyone’s lives. Family therapy will help explore ways in which you can support someone with ADHD as well as teach someone with ADHD about the thoughts and feelings of family members.

For adults, family therapy may also include marriage counselling, discussing relationships and responsibilities. The therapy will aim to open lines of communication and improve ways of dealing with challenges. Sometimes, the ADHD symptoms women experience may differ to what a man might experience, so opening these lines of communication helps one another understand the condition more.

ADHD coaching

This is an approach to supporting ADHD that's based on individual strengths and teaching people to use their strengths to overcome weaknesses. This is a highly practical approach to managing the challenges of ADHD in daily life.

ADHD medication

Depending on a person's symptoms, medication could be recommended to help manage ADHD symptoms.

There are mainly two types of medications used in ADHD – stimulants and non-stimulants. Both types of medications work by increasing dopamine levels in the frontal lobes of the brain.

The following licensed medication can be used in treating ADHD:

  • Methylphenidate: commonly used, increasing activity in the part of the brain that controls attention and behaviour
  • Dexamfetamine: works in a similar way to methylphenidate and is taken as a tablet once or twice a day
  • Lisdexamfetamine: used in children over the age of 6, and can even be taken into adulthood
  • Atomoxetine: works differently to other ADHD medications in that it's known as a selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which helps concentration and controls impulses
  • Guanfacine: improves attention and reduces blood pressure, and can be used in children and teenagers

Treatment for ADHD at Priory

Treatment for adult ADHD can include medication and counselling. The treatment that people receive will be based on their own circumstances, to make sure that it's 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 ADHD coaching and CBT, so that you're able to choose the best for you.

At Priory, our therapy gives people the opportunity to develop skills related to organisation, time-management and problem solving. It also helps with managing 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.

Private medical insurance

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers. All of the services we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in their fields of treatment. Whatever your requirements, we're committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

ADHD treatment near me

We support people with ADHD throughout the country, meaning that you can access the support you need in a convenient location. To find your nearest ADHD treatment centre, please search below.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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