Adults with even severe forms of this disorder tend to be under-diagnosed and under-treated due to several factors. The symptoms of ADHD can become more subtle, shifting from hyperactivity and impulsivity in childhood to inattention, restlessness, and impairments in executive function in adults. Another factor occurs when comorbid disorders may be diagnosed as the one and only disorder in patients. Additionally, stigma still exists in seeking help for psychiatric disorders.
Severe ADHD symptoms can be compared to “typical" ADHD with tendencies to become easily distracted by external stimuli, in starting or stopping activities or behavior when requested, and in sustaining attention on tasks or other activities. Individuals also have difficulties planning and organizing tasks and activities. With severe ADHD, these more intense symptoms impair every area of daily life. Adults with these severe symptoms have great impairments maintaining relationships, finding and keeping employment, and managing emotions.
The more severe an individual’s ADHD symptoms are, the more likely they are to be underachievers and have high rates of absenteeism at work if they are employed. Adults with more severe forms of the disorder are more prone to driving accidents and other potentially harmful accidents, such as animal bites or burns. These people display more behaviors associated with unhealthy lifestyles, with smoking, drinking, using other drugs, participating in risky sexual activity, and experiencing the effects of chronic sleep problems. Individuals with severe ADHD have significantly higher rates of arrests, convictions, and incarcerations, too.
Parents with severe symptoms have more difficulties in relationships with their children, who have a genetic predisposition to this disorder. Due to inattention problems at work, employees often cannot compete for promotions, even with coworkers with similar cognitive abilities, and therefore may have limited financial resources. Severe ADHD can additionally lead to loneliness and social isolation, and can result in increased levels of anxiety and depression.