Attention Deficit Disorder in Adult Women: Is Your ADD Undiagnosed or Misdiagnosed?

Not Just for Boys

Attention deficit disorder (ADD), while often associated with rambunctious boys, also affects girls. But girls often go undiagnosed. Hyperactivity may show up as talking constantly, says Dr. Patricia Quinn, co-founder and director of The Center for Girls and Women with ADHD. Often, the hyperactivity aspect is missing altogether, and the girls are considered “spacey” or daydreamers.

Because of the different social expectations and hormonal differences between girls and boys, the symptoms of attention deficit disorder manifest differently, according to psychologist Kathleen Nadeau, also co-founder of The Center. She says girls with untreated ADD are at risk of underachievement, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, as well as early smoking and teen pregnancy. As with boys, attention deficit disorder follows girls into adulthood.

Symptoms of ADD in Women

Those undiagnosed girls are now undiagnosed women who often only realize they have ADD when their children are diagnosed with it. Some symptoms of attention deficit disorder in adult women include:

  • Past history (symptoms of ADD must have been present since childhood)


  • Negative feelings (low self-esteem and chronic feelings of inadequacy, underachievement, and not living up to potential, frequently feeling overwhelmed)
  • Lack of organization (piles of clutter, trouble keeping an orderly workspace or home, frequently late or in a hurry, forgetful, frequently losing things, problems with financial management, trying to be organized but not succeeding)
  • Lack of follow-through (many projects begun but not finished, chronic procrastination, inconsistent or inefficient work performance)
  • Impulsivity (thinking before speaking, tactless, careless spending, unpredictable behavior, frequent traffic tickets, frequent job or relationship changes)
  • Distractibility (short attention span, trouble following directions, difficulty concentrating in the midst of other activity, easily bored, distracted during sex)
  • Relationship problems (trouble keeping friends or sustaining intimacy, self-centered, verbally abusive or prone to outbursts)
  • Emotional problems (difficulty controlling anger, easily frustrated, anxious, mood swings)
  • Substance abuse or addictions (smoking, drugs, alcohol, food)

Risks of Untreated ADD in Women

Untreated attention deficit disorder in adult women puts them at high risk of divorce, financial and employment troubles, substance abuse and eating disorders. It also puts them at risk of being a single parent of a child who also has ADD, according to Nadeau. In addition, women don’t normally have the same support systems as men with ADD may have, largely due to societal expectations that place women in the role of caretaker and being the support system for others.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Attention deficit disorder can only be diagnosed by a health care professional. Attention deficit disorder in adult women is often misdiagnosed as depression, according to Sari Solden, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder. If you feel you have symptoms of ADD, educate yourself—read up on it, fill out any of several online symptom checklists (if you have children with ADD, you probably already know quite a bit about it). Then, make an appointment for an evaluation with your medical doctor, psychologist, or another mental health professional who has experience treating adult ADD, and bring the checklist with you to your appointment.

You may need more than one visit before a diagnosis can be made. You may be diagnosed with another condition in addition to attention deficit disorder; it’s common to have coexistent conditions. Your doctor may prescribe medication that will help control the symptoms of ADD, but whether you take the medication is up to you. You may prefer to tackle your symptoms on your own or with the help of a psychologist. Whatever you choose, you have taken the first step toward dealing with ADD by finally obtaining an accurate diagnosis.


ADDitude: ADD Women and Girls: Late Diagnosis, Little Treatment

ADDvance: Special Issues for Women with ADD (ADHD)

American Psychological Association: ADHD: A Women’s Issue

ADDitude: Diagnosing ADHD in Women

Attention Deficit Disorder Resources: Adult ADHD Symptom Checklist

WebMD: ADHD Guide: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: ADHD in Adults

Image Credit: Bryan Gosline used under a Creative Commons License