Diagnosing ADHD in Adults: Recognizing the Symptoms

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Was the ADHD always there?

Adults with ADHD tend to only consider the possibility that they may have the disorder when they see similar symptoms in one of their children. Perhaps they have a child who is hyperactive or inattentive and they begin to connect the dots to their own childhood experience. This connection is perfectly valid and serves as an ideal first step in diagnosing ADHD in adults. As a genetic neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD tends to run in families, affects brain development and is not an adult onset disorder.

Scientists have discovered that individuals with ADHD have repeating or missing segments on their DNA which is passed genetically through a family. These genetic differences cause individuals with ADHD to have varying levels of some brain chemicals which results in the many common symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, irritability and difficulty focusing.

Individuals who discover they have ADHD as adults, have had the condition their whole lives, regardless of when or if it was ever diagnosed.

Which symptoms to look for?

Doctors rely heavily on a checklist of symptoms to help them with diagnosing ADHD in adults. They may choose a variety of test styles such as a questionnaire or multiple choice questions to help evaluate a particular person’s condition, but the common symptoms they are looking for are always the same.

ADHD symptoms in adults are as follows:

  • Forgetfulness and difficulty with attention to details in projects both at work and at home
  • Frequently losing or misplacing items of importance such as keys, glasses, wallet due to a lack of routine
  • Chronic tardiness and difficulty remembering appointments, despite a desire to be present and timely
  • Procrastination, particularly in regard to projects or activities that require sustained attention and organizational thinking
  • Poor organizational abilities with materials and in following the necessary steps required for larger projects especially those with deadlines and schedules
  • Mood swings, irritability and trouble controlling temper often appearing as if the individual has a short fuse and little self-control
  • Substance abuse and/or addiction. The physical high of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and addictive activities can be especially enticing to individuals with ADHD
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating, especially when the subject does not interest them
  • Impulsivity. This may include blurting out responses during meetings, an inability to control themselves in appropriate ways physically or may even involve an interest in extreme sports activities. In the case of extreme sports, thrill seeking adults with ADHD are attempting to meet an internal chemical need for pleasing endorphins through their activities
  • Chronic boredom combined with a desperate need to find an outlet for excess energy
  • Chronic tapping, fidgeting, and movement. This is an expression of hyperactivity that is common to both children and adults
  • Easily distracted by external and internal stimuli when trying to listen during meetings and social engagements. This often proves detrimental in both business and social settings.
  • Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem are often the result of an individual’s lack of success at work and in their relationships due to their ADHD
  • Hyper-focusing. This is the ability to over focus on a specific area of interest and neglect or ignore other areas of importance. In the work environment this may present as majoring over a minor detail or aspect of a larger project. Outside of work, an individual with ADHD may choose to read, watch television or play video games instead of tending to other responsibilities.

What ADHD looks like in adults

The above symptoms may also be reflected in some of the following scenarios and experiences:

  • A childhood history of poor educational performance, a need for frequent disciplinary actions during school, being held back and having to repeat a grade, and/or dropping out of school prior to completion
  • A job history which includes short stints in a variety of jobs for reasons such as quitting from lack of interest or being fired for tardiness, lack of organizational skills, lack of attention to detail, anger management, procrastination or substance abuse. This history of job hopping may also be marked by significant shifts in interests as boredom affects desire and commitment in a specific field. It may also be affected by a lack of promotability in any given position due to lack of education
  • Separation, divorce and multiple marriages are also common among adults with ADHD. Partners may initiate divorce or separation due to frustration with an ADHD individual’s mood swings, impulsivity, substance abuse, anger issues, procrastination, and difficulty with organizational abilities and details. Similarly, a string of failed relationships is common, as individuals with ADHD may become bored in one relationship and crave the emotional high of a new relationship.

Getting the Answers

If the symptoms listed here strike a note of familiarity, it is important to get a diagnosis from a trained medical professional. A variety of treatment options are available and can help reduce the symptoms and impact of ADHD.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: ADHD in Adult https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-adults

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) Test https://psychcentral.com/addquiz.htm

ADHD is a Genetic Neurodevelopmental Disorder, Scientists Reveal https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/202997.php