Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

Recognize and minimize the impact of adult ADHD in your everyday life.

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that often starts in childhood. And as you grow into adulthood, the symptoms typically follow. But as an adult, ADHD symptoms create very different challenges. Symptoms of ADHD in adults like inattention, hyperactivity, and forgetfulness become more than obstacles to be overcome at school. Those symptoms can start to seriously disrupt every aspect of day-to-day adult life, tripping you up at home, at work, in relationships, and in other areas.

Just how does ADHD manifest in adult life? Read our story of Susan, a profile we've created to represent a typical adult dealing with adult ADHD. Do you see yourself in any of her struggles?

Morning Mad Dash . . .
It's 6:00 a.m. when Susan's alarm goes off. She has to get up and get to work by 8:00, but somehow she's always late. She showers and gets dressed. But she's late getting out the door because she can't find anything. She forgot to wash clothes last night, so she struggles to find something presentable to wear. She can't find the sales brief she worked on the night before, or the bill she needs to mail. Or her keys. And she needs to stop and get gas on the way to work. The clock is ticking, and Susan feels rushed. She grabs some spare keys and heads out the door. While driving to work, she listens to the radio and thinks about her to-do list. Her cell phone rings, startling her deep reverie, and a driver honks when she drifts momentarily into his lane. Her thoughts are racing, and she feels distracted the whole drive to work.

Driven to Distraction
Susan suffers from some classic symptoms of ADHD in adults. Chronic lateness, inattentiveness, and frequent distractibility are hallmark signs of adult ADHD. And Susan is definitely distracted and forgetful. Disorganization and inattention to detail make it hard for her to get ready and be on time for work and other obligations. She's typically late and misplaces things. And her mind wanders while she's driving -- which can be dangerous. Together, all of Susan's ADHD symptoms mean that her mornings get off to a rocky start.

A Difficult Workday . . .
It's Monday afternoon in the office, and Susan has a meeting soon. She can't find the sales figures she's supposed to take. Her desk is cluttered and disorganized. In the meeting, Susan has a hard time paying attention when others are speaking. The manager asks her a question, but she doesn't hear, because she's lost in her thoughts. Her mind wanders, and she fidgets. Her inner restlessness is worse than usual. When the manager starts talking about the sales figures, Susan interrupts to ask a question about something else. By the end of the day, Susan feels bad for not getting more done.

Fidgety and Restless
Susan's symptoms are typical of an adult living with ADHD. She is distracted and disorganized and has trouble listening and paying attention. Although she knows a lot about her job and the market her company competes in, Susan's symptoms make sitting through and contributing to a work meeting difficult. Fidgeting and interrupting when others are speaking can be symptoms of adult ADHD. So can inner restlessness, especially when it's so strong that it's impossible to concentrate and sit still. Adults are less likely than kids to be hyperactive. Instead, they may feel restless, on edge, and unable to relax.

Beyond the Job . . .
Susan packs up at the end of the day and prepares to go home. She stops at the grocery store to pick up the ingredients her husband needs to make dinner. Walking up and down the aisles, Susan loads her cart with sales items she just can't pass up. She checks out and heads home. When she gets there, her husband notices that she forgot several things he needs to make dinner. He also asks why she bought so many things on sale that they don't really need. The couple is in debt from Susan's overspending. Susan gets angry and defensive but then feels bad about it later.

Impulsive and Emotional
Susan forgot what she went shopping for, yet came home with a bunch of things she didn't need. Trouble remembering things, like a shopping list, and overspending are two additional common outcomes of ADHD symptoms. The ADHD symptom of impulsivity can manifest as impulse shopping -- and lead to financial troubles. And emotional reactivity is often a feature of ADHD in adults. Irritability, sensitivity to criticism, and low self-esteem may go hand in hand with the disorder.

Taking Back Control
You might think that you've gotten used to the symptoms of ADHD. But if you recognize some part of yourself in the story of Susan, you know just how much ADHD symptoms can interfere with everyday adult life. In general, ADHD symptoms in adults are more varied and less clear cut than ADHD symptoms in children. Also, unlike children, adults carry a heavy burden of responsibilities. The stress of these duties coupled with adult ADHD symptoms can lead to serious problems at home and at work. But the good news is that once you see how your ADHD symptoms are manifesting in your everyday life, you can begin to take steps toward controlling and managing them. Start taking control right now! Find out about the latest treatments for ADHD.

And get some quick tips on living with ADHD as an adult.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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