Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: What You Need to Know

Challenges in making decisions are also related to the same executive functioning impairments that lead to many other symptoms of adult ADHD. Such functions allow people to plan, organize and prioritize.

A person without ADHD may be just as bored, but they can marshall their motivation and focus for long enough to slog through it. An adult with undiagnosed ADHD may simply lack that focus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the nation’s leading health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency. For more information about ADHD symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options, as well as additional resources for families and providers, visit CDC’s ADHD webpage .

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What Does Undiagnosed ADHD Look Like In Adults

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At a Glance

Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

Undiagnosed adult ADHD can seriously impact many aspects of a person’s life, including their work, friendships, and romantic relationships. Troubles regulating emotions help feed these struggles.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: What You Need to Know

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Forgetfulness is a common theme among adults who have ADHD, but these symptoms can seem particularly confusing for those who have received a diagnosis. This symptom can lead to problems like:

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Shifting Emotions

Common signs of organization problems include:

Estimates suggest that somewhere between five and seven percent of the adult population in the United States has ADHD. However, only about 20% of those individuals are ever treated for the condition.

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This also contributes to conflict with other family members, who may misinterpret the behavior as a lack of care or responsibility.

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Time Management Issues

Another common sign of undiagnosed ADHD in adults is a tendency to struggle with what feels like poor motivation. ADHD causes deficits in executive functioning, which are the mental skills needed to plan, organize, initiate, and sustain activity.

While some with ADHD may choose to go without treatment, many adults who have the condition simply don’t recognize that they even have it.

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Hyperactivity is often a major symptom of ADHD. Where in children, this symptom often manifests as an inability to sit still. In classroom settings, kids might fidget or squirm in their chairs, talk excessively, interrupt others, and always seem to be in motion.

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A person may not be diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood because teachers or family did not recognize the condition at a younger age, they had a mild form of ADHD, or they managed fairly well until they experienced the demands of adulthood, especially at work. Sometimes, young adults with undiagnosed ADHD have academic problems in college because of the intense concentration needed for college courses.

A thorough evaluation also includes looking at the person’s history of childhood behavior and school experiences. To obtain this information, an individual’s health care provider may ask for permission to talk with partners, family members, close friends, and others who know the individual well. A health care provider or mental health professional may use standardized behavior rating scales or ADHD symptom checklists to determine whether an adult meets the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD. An individual may complete psychological tests that look at working memory, executive functioning (abilities such as planning and decision-making), visual and spatial (related to space), or reasoning (thinking) skills. Such tests can help identify psychological or cognitive (thinking-related) strengths and challenges and can be used to identify or rule out possible learning disabilities.

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