How do I know if I have ADHD as an adult?

The most powerful sign that you may have ADHD as an adult is unexplained underachievement, as well as a lack of focus and disorganization. In this video, ADHD specialist Edward Hallowell, MD, discusses these symptoms, and how to find a specialist.

A diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) requires a series of evaluations that are done by a physician or qualified mental healthcare clinician.

There are three myths about ADHD that make diagnosis confusing. First, is the myth that a positive clinical response to stimulants confirms the diagnosis. In fact, stimulants can improve the ability to focus in both ADHD and normal people. Second, is the myth that ADHD will be outgrown, and therefore it is a disorder of childhood. In fact, it seems clear that teenagers and adults with ADHD continue to benefit from stimulant medication, and long-term follow-up studies seem to indicate that a significant number of children with ADHD continue to have symptomatology of the disorder as adults (although research into the long-term effects of stimulants on the brain and the heart are severely limited). The third myth is that, if the child does not exhibit the signs of ADHD in the physician's office, the child must not have ADHD. Because of the prevalence of these myths, the diagnosis has not even been considered in adults until recent years.

Other diagnostic problems include the frequent co-occurrence of ADHD with other disorders (this is called comorbidity), such as conduct disorder, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse, and the overlap of ADHD symptoms with those of other disorders.

It is helpful to think of attention regulation on a spectrum. The attention spectrum may range from impaired ability to sustain focus (excessive distractibility and attention to extraneous stimuli) on one end, to hyper-focusing (inadequate disengagement of attention, such as uncontrolled obsession and stereotypical ritualized behavior) on the other end. Given this model, I think of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) under the heading of "disorders of attention". You should be aware, however, that DSM-IV classifies ADHD under "disorders usually diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence" and OCD under "anxiety disorders."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.