What is adult ADHD?

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What is Adult ADHD? Introduction

Adult ADHD is often misunderstood, but a definition of just what is adult ADHD, is relatively straightforward. It is a neurobehavioral development disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to focus or pay attention as they have trouble with internal controls such as self discipline.

The condition starts in childhood and is often carried over into adulthood. Most researchers believe it starts in childhood for everyone, but for some it is often not diagnosed until much later in life. Often when a child is diagnosed, the parent realizes he or she also has the condition.

Children do at times outgrow ADHD, but more often than not, it continues and can even get worse as a person ages. Some children are better able to adjust to the condition, so it does not show up until adulthood when life gets more complicated.


The principle symptoms of ADHD are inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. They can be difficult to diagnose because a person can have any of these symptoms for many other reasons.

There are three basic types of ADHD:

  • ADHD: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type
  • ADHD: predominantly inattentive type (sometimes called ADD)
  • ADHD: combined type (a combination of the previous types)

A person must have at least two of the major symptoms in two or more settings - such as work and home - in order to receive an ADHD diagnosis. The symptoms must also be the point that they interfere with a person’s life.

People with adult ADHD may tend to zone out without realizing it, be very distractible, have trouble paying attention or finishing tasks, have a tendency to overlook details and have poor listening skills. The person may or may not have hyperactivity.


Scientists believe the primary cause to be genetics, but there are other contributing factors. For example, brain injury at an early age and other impediments to normal brain activity can also cause or make the condition worse. Exposure to lead, maternal smoking, malnourishment, and illnesses such as meningitis or encephalitis are also believed to either cause the condition or make it worse.

While the symptoms are understood, exactly what is happening inside the brain to create those symptoms is not as well known. Researchers believe a chemical imbalance, or a low level of dopamine, could be the culprit, and that this interferes with communication inside the brain.

In terms of genetics the prevailing belief is that a group of genes (as opposed to a specific one) are responsible for a predisposition to ADHD.

People with ADHD also tend to have a slightly smaller brain, which interferes with executive function, and produces some of the symptoms.

There are some Positives

There are clearly some difficulties associated with ADHD. Inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity can cause problems at work, school or at home. There are however, some positives to the condition. People with ADHD tend to be more creative and often are very intelligent.

While trouble focusing is considered a negative quality, when an ADHD person does focus on something they tend to stay focused no matter what, even in a fast paced environment that might be stressful to most.