ADHD in adults

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. It affects approximately 4% of adults in the US and more than 6.1 million children. Despite this, it is one of the most under-diagnosed and under-treated mental illnesses for adults.

ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that it impacts the neurological system and your brain. Though ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood and is often considered a childhood disorder, it is possible for adults to have ADHD. 

Even if a person isn’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood, they can often remember the symptoms starting as early as childhood or adolescence. While many children who receive the diagnosis “outgrow” it, about 60% continue to have ADHD as an adult.

Can adults have ADHD symptoms?

Adults can absolutely experience symptoms of ADHD! However, the symptoms that adults experience can be a little different than the symptoms experienced by children. Struggles with hyperactivity symptoms become less frequent. Hyperactivity symptoms usually include things like fidgeting, squirming, pacing, or simply struggling to stay still. However, other symptoms like impulsive behavior, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating are more common. 

Because the condition presents itself differently in adults and is stereotyped as a childhood disorder, you may struggle with ADHD without being aware. This can often impact your daily functioning and relationships.

How is adult ADHD diagnosed?

Getting a diagnosis can be challenging. Some ADHD symptoms are also associated with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. Other symptoms can even occasionally be considered “normal” if they’re not disruptive to your life. Even with a diagnosis, many individuals who are diagnosed as children drop out of treatment over time because receiving access to mental health resources as an adult can be more difficult. 

However, if you experience several of the below symptoms, you may have adult ADHD.

Because it is a neurological disorder, adult ADHD impacts executive functions, which include: judgment, decision making, and memory.

Adults most often experience these ADHD symptoms:

  • impulsiveness
  • disorganization and/or forgetfulness
  • poor planning and difficulty prioritizing (e.g. procrastination)
  • difficulty multitasking
  • difficulty focusing 
  • excessive activity or restlessness
  • outbursts of anger
  • frequent mood swings
  • difficulty coping with stress

Who is at risk of having ADHD?

Many different factors can put you at risk of developing ADHD. The most common ones include:

  • Genetics. Like most other mental health conditions, ADHD tends to run in families. Risk is also higher if a family member has any other type of mental health conditions.
  • Environment. Certain environmental factors, such as exposure to lead as a child, to nicotine in the womb, or to alcohol while your mother was pregnant, can increase risk.
  • Development. Premature birth or problems with nervous system development have been shown to increase risk for ADHD.

What other conditions are linked with ADHD?

ADHD is linked with other mental health conditions because it affects specific areas of the brain. However, symptoms of ADHD can often be confused with other common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. This is why speaking with a professional to receive a proper diagnosis is so critical.

The most common mental health disorders that ADHD is associated with include:

How is adult ADHD treated?

Adult ADHD is most often treated with medication, with stimulants being considered the standard. A stimulant may sometimes be used in combination with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) if you also experience an anxiety disorder.

Treatment sometimes also includes non-stimulant drugs, especially when you might experience other mental health conditions. For adults with a history of a substance use disorder, atomoxetine is usually used. For adults with co-occurring depression, treatment with bupropion is considered most effective. 

Common stimulant medications that treat ADHD include:

  • Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) 
  • Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) 
  • Adderall, Adderall XR (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) 
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) 
  • Concerta, Daytrana, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin, Quillivant XR (methylphenidate)

Common non-stimulant medications that treat ADHD include:

  • Strattera (atomoxetine) (brand name: Strattera)
  • Kapvay (clonidine)
  • Intuniv (guanfacine) 

Treatment for adult ADHD may also involve some therapy and psychoeducation. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common and most successful therapy for ADHD. CBT can help with self-esteem, setting priorities, and working on organization and time management skills. Psychoeducation also helps empower you to better understand your condition and choose the treatment that works best for you.

How does Cerebral treat ADHD?

Cerebral’s online collaborative model provides both behavioral and medication management treatment of ADHD. Unlike with traditional care, our prescribers, counselors, therapists, and account coordinators can communicate directly with one another to make sure you’re getting the best care possible. It’s affordable and convenient, with custom treatment plans that can work for you.

Cerebral care is 100% online. That means you can get high-quality, affordable ADHD care, wherever and whenever you want it!

Medically reviewed by: David Mou, MD, MBA

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  • If you are in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
    Call 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line:
    Text Home to 741-741
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