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Understanding Adult ADHD

written by Vidya Sury January 9, 2014
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ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is now recognized as a medical disorder, and can affect men, women and children, regardless of age and ethnicity.  ADHD is linked with other health conditions and diseases and the good news is it can be treated, helping the person live a good quality life.

It is important to remember that ADHD is not an outcome of bad behavior or bad parenting. Since ADHD is usually attributed to children, symptoms of adult ADHD can often be ignored. The fact is, children diagnosed with the condition continue to suffer from it as they grow into adulthood. During adolescence, the hyperactivity and impulsiveness may improve, but the inability to focus becomes worse.

ADHD is considered genetic and has an effect on the way the brain functions. There is no cure for it. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help manage ADHD so that the individual can lead a meaningful life that is successful and happy.

What causes ADHD?

Contrary to common belief, ADHD is not an outcome of laziness or too much sugar. It is a neurological condition.  When there is a shortage of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, the brain is unable to transmit these chemicals to its neurons.  This causes ADHD.

Adult ADHD Vidya Sury

Adult ADHD

People with adult ADHD have a hard time managing their mess, being punctual and completing anything they start doing. (I just realized that sounds like me these days!) You’ll see them constantly butting in on others or say things without thinking. If they’re driving, they are distracted. They can’t focus. If they’re reading, they can’t keep at it. Whatever they do, they can’t stay with it till they’re done. Naturally this behavior interferes with their performance and damages their relationships.

What do adult ADHD symptoms look like?

Adult ADHD can be categorized into:

  • inattentiveness
  • hyperactivity or a tendency to be impulsive

It is possible to belong to one or both categories. A diagnosis of ADHD must bring up at least five symptoms in each cateogory before the person turns 12 years old. It has to be chronic.

(Want to do a quick self test to see if you or someone you know has Adult ADHD? Take the test below)

Being hyperactive or impulsive

Generally, teenagers and adults with ADHD have their energy under control and don’t look hyperactive.But you will often see them looking restless and unable to relax. They can become impulsive shoppers, get into intimate relationships or eat and drink impulsively.

Being inattentive 

Those with inattentive or combined type ADHD are often seen making silly mistakes and can’t stay organized or finish their projects. You can see them going off at a tangent when they talk or get distracted by unexpected things. If you talk to them on a one on one basis, they just tune you out.


Adults with ADHD are hyperfocused – they get stuck to their favorite projects and lose track of time and place.  They cannot concentrate on tasks that bore them and if these tasks happen to be routine things like doing laundry, making sure bills are paid on time or remembering where their keys are, life can become quite tough for them.

Executive Dysfunction
ADHD adults have a problem with executive functions like planning for the future, time management, organizing themselves, focusing on a task and keeping themselves motivated. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which matures at the time of puberty, processes these “Executive Functions”  and in most people with adult ADHD, the symptoms clash with the impairment of this function.

ADHDers’ executive functions—planning ahead, getting organized, managing time, concentrating on a task, and being motivated—are often impaired. EFs are processed in the prefrontal cortex, which matures around the time of puberty. In most cases, ADHD symptoms coincide with executive-function loss.

Adult ADHD Vidya Sury

Diagnosing adult ADHD

Adult ADHD cannot be diagnosed with a single test.The physician must get a full background on the patient with their medical history, old school report cards and teachers’ comments. They must meet with the adult’s parents before they can reach a diagnosis. If the doctor suspects additional conditions like learning disabilities neuropsychological tests may be prescribed.

Some facts about ADHD:

  • It is genetic – runs in the family
  •  ADHD children have at least one close family member with ADHD.
  • Studies show that one-third of men who had ADHD as children have ADHD children
  • Adult ADHD can be linked to other conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and sensory integration disorder,whose symptoms resemble ADHD symptoms.
  • Almost 50% of people with ADHD also have other disorders and this makes diagnosis very critical to find out what the problem is.

The thing with adult ADHD is, there is no black and white result, as in positive or negative. Diagnosis must identify symptoms that are severe and get in the way of the person’s daily routine both at home and at work.

Free Download: 7 facts you should know about ADHD

Adult ADHD Treatment


While treatment usually involves prescription medication, there is no drug that can cure ADHD. However, specific medication can help the individual manage their basic symptoms and lead a fruitful life. Studies indicate that medication can relieve symptoms in a majority of people diagnosed with adult ADHD. The effect of the medicine can be seen less than a couple of hours after the medication is given. As the dose wears off – which can be anything from four to twelve hours – the symptoms revert.

Coaching adults with ADHD

Although medication works, ADHD adults can have a difficult time with poor habits and low self-esteem. Coaching can help overcome these. Unlike psychiatrists, coaches focus on practical goal-oriented activity that  help the patient improve their lives, their relationships and progress professionally. The coaching begins with a free consultation to gauge whether they can work together.


It is a myth that ADHD is caused by too much sugar. However, a healthy diet can be beneficial to manage the symptoms of ADHD.  For example, Omega 3 supplements provide healthy fats to improve focus. Protein rich foods help adults manage their symptoms better. Fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables and legumes balance their energy levels.

Adult ADHD – Outlook

The thing with adult ADHD is, although there are various issues with those diagnosed with this condition, many of these people excel in their chosen fields. When they find their passion, they do very well. Their ability to hyperfocus can fuel their creativity and this can be a major asset in the profession they choose. In fact, with the right skills training, education and awareness, adult ADHD symptoms like restlessness, curiosity, resilience and their inborn sense of adventure and ability to multitask can be leveraged and turned into strengths. Here is a list of famous people with ADHD

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Elle January 10, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Okay Vidya, I can definitely relate to some of these things and I see many adults with similar habits. Especially the procrastinating, not finishing every project in a timely way, and I get bored really quickly sitting at traffic lights!

Great info as always my friend.

Corinne Rodrigues January 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm

I can honestly say that I didn’t know ADHD existed in adults, Vidya! Having the information alone could make a world of difference to a sufferer! Sharing.

LindySez January 18, 2014 at 1:18 am

Wow, very informative article!

Cher @ Designs by Studio C January 18, 2014 at 5:24 am

Fabulous information, Vidya! I answered Yes to a few of those questions! Thank you for sharing!

Jessica January 18, 2014 at 5:29 am

This is such an informative post! I often hear about ADHD in children but never in adults.

Asha January 20, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Very interesting information Vidya ! I already feel I am one though 😉

Alele September 5, 2018 at 8:53 pm

There are a few things I disagree with in this article. Impulsiveness does not always go away in adulthood. Many people are diagnosed in adulthood, not all ways before they are 12 years old.
Hyperfocus is common among people with ADHD. We with the disorder can actually read a whole book. The thing is, we may not do anything else until is is a completed task. This happens when we are extremely interested in something. Etc…

Vidya Sury September 5, 2018 at 9:34 pm

Thank you for your insights, Alele. The article is based on general research and I understand that ADHD is a spectrum, and symptoms/behaviors manifest differently in different individuals. Thanks for stopping by!

Jazlyn December 20, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Our daughter was diagnosed ADHD with hyperactivity, just started Middle School. Focusing on writing is really hard for her. So grateful to have discovered the “INK for All” productivity tool, it’s intended to be distraction-free


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