ADHD Symptoms in Adults: An Overview

Medically reviewed

Last update: March 19, 20227 min read

Table of contents

    Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a condition that’s usually associated with misbehaving children. And that’s for good reason; symptoms usually appear during childhood, which is when most people receive a diagnosis as well.

    But usually, kids with ADHD grow up to be adults with ADHD. Others may not have had access to treatment providers in childhood and don’t even get a diagnosis until they become adults. 

    Although it starts in childhood, ADHD is not just a childhood condition. It affects over 4% of adults in the U.S. alone.

    Some people find that their ADHD symptoms lessen over time, or that they learn how to manage them better 一 but not everyone. 

    ADHD can change how it presents over the lifespan, so its symptoms for adults may be different than the symptoms they had when they were children. Often, symptoms are less obvious for adult ADHD, which makes them harder to catch.

    Whether you’ve already received an ADHD diagnosis or not, it’s important to be aware of how this disorder presents in adults. Recognizing when ADHD is showing up in your life can improve your self-image and help you manage these challenges in a healthy way.

    10 most common symptoms of adult ADHD

    Impulsivity

    One of the most recognizable characteristics of ADHD in adults, particularly the predominantly hyperactive subtype, is impulsiveness. 

    Adults with ADHD often engage in reckless and impulsive behaviors without thinking through the consequences. These behaviors can include:

    Adults with ADHD might also show impulsive social behaviors, like interrupting someone in the middle of a conversation. Other people often blame this type of behavior on a person’s personality when it might actually be a symptom of their ADHD.

    Difficulty with Time Management

    Adults are expected to be able to manage their time. This task is necessary for so many important tasks in adulthood, from keeping appointments to meeting deadlines.

    But for adults who live with ADHD, it isn’t that simple. ADHD makes it hard to think about any time except for “what’s happening now” or “what’s next;” time as a sequence of events seems abstract and is experienced as more of a diffuse concept in adults with ADHD. Some experts refer to this as “time blindness.”

    Because of this, it’s difficult for adults with ADHD to manage their time well. If you have ADHD, it might feel impossible to accurately estimate how long something is going to take or avoid procrastinating on a boring task. Many people with ADHD are constantly running just a few minutes behind.

    This has probably led to unfortunate consequences in your life, including losing jobs.

    Disorganization

    Adults with ADHD are often disorganized in both their physical surroundings and their behavior. The ADHD brain makes it very difficult to keep things neat and tidy.

    Many adults with ADHD struggle with a messy house, office, or car 一 so much so that they’re embarrassed to invite people over. They might find it hard to maintain a system for organizing their paperwork, and constantly misplace things. It can feel to them like they’re drowning in all the “stuff” in their lives.

    If you live with ADHD, things might feel jumbled up and disorganized inside your mind, as well. You may struggle with things like keeping deadlines and meeting times straight, or have no idea where to start when you’re trying to begin a new project.

    Lack of focus

    This symptom is traditionally associated with the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD. Kids with this type of ADHD often find themselves drifting off in their minds during class 一 and adults with ADHD are no different. You might become dazed or start daydreaming during meetings or conversations. 

    Many adults with ADHD find that they need to read or listen to instructions several times, because they can’t seem to pay attention the first few times. It might feel to you like you miss the details of what people tell you, or that you lose track of the conversation even when you’re in the middle of it. People around you might comment that you always appear “spaced out.”

    Hyperfocus

    The other end of the focus spectrum for people with ADHD is hyperfocus 一 which isn’t as commonly talked about. ADHD brains have trouble regulating the amount of focus to place on a task, which means that while you may have trouble focusing on some (usually boring) tasks, you might place too much focus on others. 

    When something grabs you, it really grabs you. You might become so focused on the thing in front of you that you completely ignore anything else that’s going on around you. This can lead to problems at work and in relationships.

    Trouble relaxing

    Hyperactive kids may get up out of their chairs or run around, but for adults, hyperactivity presents differently. Many adults have trouble winding down at the end of a long day, but if you have ADHD, this restlessness might be even more intense. People with ADHD have a tendency to feel wound-up or tense almost all the time.

    You may not be jumping off the walls, but instead, simply find that it’s hard for you to relax. Even on the weekends or during vacation, your body just won’t calm down.

    Low self-esteem

    Adults with ADHD have been found to have worse self-image or self-esteem than people without ADHD. This is especially true for women with ADHD. It’s often because ADHD, at times, makes it extremely difficult to meet people’s expectations. As a child, you may have constantly been told that you “weren’t meeting your potential.” 

    If you didn’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood, then your self-image might be even worse. Not knowing about ADHD or how it affects your brain, you may have blamed yourself for things that you weren’t able to accomplish in life. You may have also always wondered why you didn’t “fit in.”

    A hot temper

    Many people don’t know that adults with ADHD can have trouble managing their anger or regulating their emotions. There is evidence that anger and negative emotions are linked genetically to ADHD. Irritability and outbursts also often occur in reaction to symptoms of ADHD, such as feeling frustrated at yourself for not being able to start or finish a task. 

    This is partly due to ADHD impulsivity. Because adults with ADHD struggle with impulsivity, they might burst out in anger over a small inconvenience. The wave of anger may subside quickly, but problems with impulse control make it difficult to not react in anger when it’s present.

    Low tolerance for boredom

    Many adults with ADHD get bored easily. Research actually shows that people with ADHD report feeling bored more often than people without ADHD. They say boredom doesn’t kill anybody, but that’s not how it feels when you live with ADHD. For adults with ADHD, boredom can feel excruciating.

    Boredom becomes a problem for adults with ADHD because it can lead to dangerous and reckless behaviors. For example, you might impulsively go spend a lot of money or have unsafe sex just to avoid feeling bored. Work or school performance can also suffer when you’re bored. Many adults with ADHD will regulalry engage in self-stimulating behaviors, also known as stimming, to deal with constant feelings of boredom. 

    Problems with procrastination or planning

    Adults with ADHD often find themselves staring at a blank page, not knowing where to begin on a project. They have a hard time prioritizing, and feel paralyzed when having to make the decision of which task to start with.

    This often leads to procrastination, or leaving things until the very last minute. If you have ADHD, you may spend the time on insignificant tasks instead of the important details. Often, people with ADHD feel like they waste a lot of time.

    Lesser-known symptoms of adult ADHD

    There are other symptoms of ADHD that are not as well-known. It’s important to be aware of these signs so you can recognize when ADHD may be causing additional problems in your life.

    • Self-harm: People with ADHD are more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors (like cutting) than people without ADHD.

    • Fatigue: Adults with ADHD often report feeling exhausted, even after getting a good night’s rest.

    • Sleep issues: Fatigue may also be due to the fact that people with ADHD have a high rate of sleep problems like insomnia.

    • Relationship problems: The symptoms of adult ADHD, like angry outbursts and impulsivity, often lead to problems in the ADHD person’s close relationships.

    • Difficulties with change: Often, adults with ADHD have developed coping mechanisms to deal with their ADHD symptoms on a day-to-day basis. When there is a big change in life, and those coping skills don’t work anymore, they may start to notice that their symptoms get a lot worse.

    • Suicidality: People with ADHD have higher rates of suicide attempts and completions than people without ADHD.

    Adult ADHD also comes with a large number of potential comorbidities; that means that having ADHD increases your risk for also having other mental health disorders.

    • Eating disorders: Having ADHD puts you at a higher risk for also having an eating disorder. 

    • Mood disorders: Up to 20% of people with ADHD also have depression; the number is around the same for bipolar disorder.

    • Substance use disorder: Many people with ADHD use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with the symptoms of ADHD. This can quickly turn to a substance abuse disorder or addiction, which can bring even more problems.

    Where to start in getting treatment for adult ADHD

    If you recognized yourself in any of these symptoms, you’re not alone. Millions of adults have ADHD and live successful and meaningful lives. ADHD doesn’t have a cure, but its symptoms can be managed to the point where they’re no longer damaging your life. Recognizing that you have ADHD is only the beginning of your journey 一 not the end.

    Treatment for adult ADHD usually includes a combination of medication, skills training, education (about ADHD), and therapy.

    However, the first step to getting treatment is to receive an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD is often misdiagnosed, and it’s possible that you haven’t gotten the correct diagnosis even if you’ve seen a mental health professional before.

    Frida offers a free screening tool that will give you essential information about whether or not you’re eligible for a diagnosis. To take this important first step on your ADHD journey, start your free 2-min ADHD assessment.




    Lisa Batten, PhD, CPT, PN1

    Lisa Batten is a clinical scientist, therapist, and writer specializing in neuroscience and clinical pharmacology. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.