Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults: what you need to know (2023)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults: what you need to know (1)

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Have you experienced problems with concentration, impulsivity, restlessness and organization throughout your life? Have you ever wondered if you might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Although ADHD is widely known as a condition that affects children, many adults also suffer from it. ADHD can be detrimental to a person's social relationships and performance at work and school, but effective treatments are available to manage ADHD symptoms. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of ADHD and when to discuss them with your healthcare provider.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a developmental disorder associated with a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity. ADHD symptoms can significantly affect a person's daily activities and relationships. ADHD begins in childhood and can continue into adolescence and adulthood.

What Are the Symptoms of ADHD?

People with ADHD display a continuous pattern of the following types of symptoms:

  • Inattention – Difficulty paying attention
  • Hyperactivity – having too much energy or moving and talking a lot
  • Impulsivity – acting without thinking or problems with self-control

Some people with ADHD mainly have symptoms of inattention. Others usually have symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity. Some people have both types of symptoms.

Signs of inattention can include problems with:

  • Paying close attention to details or making seemingly careless mistakes at work or in other activities
  • Stay focused on long tasks like preparing reports, filling out forms, or reviewing large documents
  • Listen carefully when we speak directly
  • Following instructions and completing tasks in the workplace
  • Organization of tasks and activities and time management
  • Performing tasks that require constant attention
  • Losing things like keys, wallets, and phones
  • Easily distracted by irrelevant thoughts or stimuli
  • Being forgetful in everyday activities, such as paying bills, keeping appointments, or calling back

Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity can include:

  • Experiences extreme restlessness, has difficulty sitting still for long periods of time and/or burdening others with activities
  • Shaking or flapping the arms or legs or squirming in the chair
  • Inability to quietly participate in leisure activities
  • Talking too much
  • Answering questions before they are fully asked
  • He has trouble waiting his turn, just like when he's waiting in line
  • Interrupting or interfering with others

Other mental disorderscan occur with ADHD, including anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders.

How Is Adult ADHD Diagnosed?

ADHD is a disorder that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. Adults diagnosed with ADHD developed several ADHD symptoms before age 12. If adults currently have at least five persistent symptoms of inattention and/or five persistent symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity. These symptoms must be present in two or more environments (e.g., at home, at work or school, with friends or family, in other activities) and interfere with or diminish the quality of social, school, or occupational functioning.

Adults who think they have ADHD should talk to their healthcare provider. Primary care providers routinely diagnose and treat ADHD and may refer individuals to mental health professionals. If you need help starting the conversation, check out NIMHsTips for talking to your healthcare provider.

Anxiety, other mental health issues, and physical conditions or illnesses can cause symptoms similar to those of ADHD. Therefore, a thorough evaluation by a healthcare provider or mental health professional is necessary to determine the cause of the symptoms and identify effective treatments. During this evaluation, the health care provider or mental health professional will consider factors such as the person's mood, medical history, and whether he or she is dealing with other problems, such as alcohol or substance abuse.

A thorough evaluation also includes looking at the individual's childhood behavioral history and school experiences. To obtain this information, an individual's healthcare provider may request permission to talk to partners, family members, close friends, and others who know the individual well. A health care provider or mental health professional can use standardized behavioral assessment scales or ADHD symptom checklists to determine if an adult meets the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD. A person may complete psychological tests that examine working memory, executive function (skills such as planning and decision-making), visual and spatial (related to space), or reasoning (thinking) skills. Such tests can help identify psychological or cognitive (thinking-related) strengths and challenges, and can be used to identify or rule out potential learning disabilities.

How Does ADHD Affect Adults?

Some adults with ADHD don't know they have it. These adults may find it impossible to organize, stick to a task, or keep an appointment. Daily tasks such as waking up in the morning, getting ready for work, arriving at work on time, and being productive at work can be especially demanding for adults with undiagnosed ADHD. These adults may have a history of problems with school, work, and relationships. Adults with ADHD may seem restless and try to do many things at once, most of them unsuccessfully. Sometimes they prefer quick fixes rather than taking the steps necessary to earn bigger rewards.

A person may not be diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood because teachers or family didn't recognize the condition at a younger age, had a mild form of ADHD, or were doing well enough until they experienced the demands of adulthood, especially at school. work. Sometimes young adults with undiagnosed ADHD have academic difficulties in college due to the intense concentration required for college courses.

It's never too late to seek diagnosis and treatment for ADHD and any other mental illness associated with it. Effective treatment can make everyday life easier for many adults and their families.

What Causes ADHD?

Researchers aren't sure what causes ADHD, though many studies suggest genes play a big role. Like many other disorders, ADHD is likely due to a combination of factors. In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors that may increase the risk of developing ADHD, and are studying how brain injury, diet, and the social environment may play a role in ADHD.

What Are the Treatments for ADHD?

Treatment for ADHD includes medication, therapy, and other behavioral treatments, or a combination of methods.

Medication

Stimulants are the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. Research shows that these drugs can be extremely effective. Like all medications, they can have side effects and require a person's healthcare provider to monitor how he or she is responding to the drug. Non-stimulant medications are also available. Health care providers may sometimes prescribe antidepressants to treat adults with ADHD, although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not specifically approved these medications to treat ADHD.

As with all prescriptions, individuals should disclose other medications they are taking when discussing potential ADHD medications with a healthcare provider. Medicines for common adult health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression, can interact with stimulants. In this case, a healthcare provider may suggest other drug options.

For general information on stimulants and other medications used to treat mental disorders, seeNIMH Mental Health Medication Website. OfFDA-websitehas the latest information on drug approvals, alerts and patient information guides.

Psychotherapy and support

Research shows that therapy may not be effective in treating the core symptoms of ADHD. However, adding therapy to an ADHD treatment plan can help people better cope with everyday challenges. Treatment is especially helpful if ADHD coexists with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, can help an adult with ADHD become more aware of attention and concentration problems and work on skills to improve organization and use of time to complete daily tasks. For example, they can help people break big tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Psychotherapy can also help adults with ADHD gain self-confidence and control impulsive and risky behaviors. Some adults may also find it helpful to get support from a professional life coach or ADHD coach who can help with various skills to improve daily functioning.

Complementary health approaches

Some people may be exploring complementary health approaches, such as natural products, to manage ADHD symptoms. Unlike specific psychotherapy and drug treatments that have been scientifically proven to improve ADHD symptoms and disorders, complementary health approaches to ADHD have generally not been found to improve ADHD symptoms and do not qualify as evidence-supported interventions. For more information, please visitWebsite of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

How can I find help?

De Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) biedt deBehavioral health treatment services finder, an online tool for finding mental health services and treatment programs in your state. For more resources, visitNIMH Mental Illness Help Site.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger or is considering harming themselves, call themNational Suicide Prevention Lifelinetoll free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or use Lifeline Chat atNational Suicide Prevention LifelineWebsite.

How can I help myself?

Therapy and medication are the most effective treatments for ADHD. In addition to these treatments, other strategies may help manage symptoms:

  • Exercise regularly, especially if you feel hyperactive or anxious.
  • Eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Get a lot of sleep. Try to turn off the screens at least 1 hour before bed and get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Work on time management and organization. Prioritize time-sensitive tasks and jot down tasks, messages, appointments, and important thoughts.
  • Connect with people and maintain relationships. Plan activities with friends, especially supportive people who understand your issues with ADHD.
  • Take medications as prescribed and avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drug use.

Who can I turn to if I feel alone with my ADHD diagnosis?

Adults with ADHD can gain social support and better coping skills by talking about their diagnosis with family, friends, and colleagues. If the people in your life know about your diagnosis, they will understand your behavior better. Psychotherapy for families and couples can help with relationship problems and teach everyone involved about ADHD. There are also support groups for adults with ADHD.

What should I know about participating in clinical trials?

Clinical trials are research studies that test new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. While individuals may benefit from participating in a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others can be better served in the future.

Researchers at the NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your healthcare provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information visitNIMH Clinical Trials-website.

Where can I find more information about ADHD?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the nation's premier health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency. For more information on ADHD symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options, as well as additional resources for families and caregivers, visitCDC-website over ADHD.

Reprints

The information in this publication is public and may be reused or copied without permission. However, you may not reuse or copy the images in the message. If you use our materials, we ask you toreports the National Institute of Mental Health. For more information on using NIMH publications, seeNIMH Guidelines for Reprinting.

For more information

Medline Plus(National Library of Medicine) (in Spanish)

ClinicalTrials.gov(in Spanish)

US DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
National Health Institutes
NIH Publication No. 21-MH-3572
Revised in 2021

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