This page was reviewed by Dr Samir Shah (MBBS, FRCPsych, MSc), Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Hospital Altrincham, in June 2022.
As an adult, individuals have many roles and responsibilities. An adult is expected to juggle different tasks and effectively manage their career, family and home. Many such responsibilities require focus, attention, organisation and composure.
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 and/or confidence issues 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 is ADHD?
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 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:
- 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, easier 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.
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, activities outside the window etc. and struggle to get their focus back to the task at hand.
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.
While an adult with ADHD may not be as hyperactive as a child, they may 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 a 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.
Diagnosing ADHD can be a difficult and lengthy process, so only mental health professionals who are experienced and trained can assess and diagnose the symptoms.
To diagnose ADHD, you will have to undergo an ADHD assessment.
Before the assessment, you and a family member, partner or close friend will usually be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your behaviours, some things you may struggle with, and how you go about daily tasks.
A mental health professional will look at your questionnaire to understand a little bit about you and then do a psychiatric assessment. These can sometimes be done in two parts before they come to a conclusive diagnosis, but it's nothing to worry about.
The assessment will focus a lot on your school years, as well as adulthood. It will look at how you function and process things, and look at how symptoms impact you day to day.
Other Disorders Associated with ADHD
There are a number of other mental health conditions that can co-occur alongside ADHD in adults. These include but are not limited to:
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
The symptoms of ADHD can often leave an adult feeling frustrated, confused, and irritable, which can also lead to other mental health conditions. A commonly linked condition is depression as some symptoms overlap, including restlessness and limited concentration. If someone is struggling with depression and ADHD, this will be picked up in the ADHD assessment and treatment to tackle both conditions can be discussed. If you're concerned about any other conditions, talk about them with a GP or when at the assessment.
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 diagnosis. 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 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.
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 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 ADHD coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), so that you are 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 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.
Get in Touch Today
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here
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