Not Just a Childhood Disorder: How ADHD Affects Adults

JUN. 27, 2016

By Luna Greenstein


When you hear of people living with ADHD, is your first thought of a child struggling to sit still in a classroom? Probably. But while hyperactivity usually diminishes, inattentiveness and impulsiveness will likely persist into adulthood. It’s a common misconception that ADHD is only a childhood condition and does not affect individuals after adolescence.

In fact, adults are sometimes misdiagnosed or undiagnosed because many physicians are not properly trained to identify the disorder in adults, according to Medical Daily: “About 25 percent of the time, when a child has ADHD, there's a parent that has ADHD. We realize this is a weakness in our service delivery models, because often clinicians focus on just treating the child and ignore the fact that another family member has ADHD,” said Mark Stein, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Chicago-Illinois.

Studies suggest that about 4 percent of adults are significantly affected by the symptoms of ADHD, according to Karen Weintraub, co-author of Fast Minds: How to Thrive if You Have ADHD. These individuals may have difficulty controlling what they pay attention to. For them to focus on anything uninteresting may take a large amount of effort. Poor attention can also lead to reduced memory encoding and memory problems. Adults with ADHD may also have trouble staying organized and may make impulsive decisions.

Heightened Risk for Other Problems

According to Weintraub, research suggests that people living with ADHD are more likely to have sleep problems, to eat impulsively and not to exercise routinely.

Having ADHD can lead to other issues, according to a 33-year follow-up study conducted on ADHD. The study was led by Rachel Klein, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. The abstract of the study states that, while the research doesn’t tell the whole story, participants living with ADHD tended to complete less schooling, hold lower-ranking occupations and have poorer self-esteem and social skills.

Another study measured the long-term outcomes of individuals living with ADHD in the following categories: academic, antisocial behavior, driving, non-medicinal drug use/addictive behavior, obesity, occupation, services use, self-esteem and social function. The results showed that people with ADHD had poorer long-term outcomes in all categories.

It is also important to recognize that many people function at a high level with ADHD. These individuals often master coping strategies and maximize their capacity. ADHD does confer risks as noted in these studies and developing coping tools and undergoing treatment is shown minimize these potential risks.

Treatment Methods For ADHD

According to Fast Minds: How to Thrive if You Have ADHD, adults with ADHD can take the following steps to help manage symptoms:

  1. Taking medication. Medication can be important and helpful for someone with ADHD, but shouldn’t stand alone in a treatment plan. Understanding the risks, uses and benefits of all medications for ADHD is essential.
  2. Getting organized. Being organized can help someone with ADHD maintain a healthy routine and lifestyle. An organizational or life coach may be key in achieving this.
  3. Learning to make decisions thoughtfully rather than impulsively. Before making an important decision, think through the positive and negative consequences of the choice. A therapist or supportive relationship can help improve decision-making.
  4. Finding emotional support. Many people living with ADHD have faced negative messages when their symtoms caused their actions to fall short of other people’s expectations. Emotional support is an important step in counteracting harmful experiences.
  5. Maintaining a wellness routine. Such routines include a healthy diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep.
  6. Having a solid calendar and reminder system. This can be essential when dealing with attention issues so as to not forget important occasions or deadlines.

Research has also pointed to Metacognitive therapy as a potential solution for people living with ADHD. Such therapy may help people to change how they think and understand their thinking style. A major part of this therapy is discussing how symptoms are caused and maintained and finding strategies for managing those symptoms. According to this study that aimed to measure the success of metacognitive therapy, 42 percent of participants improved on organization and ability to complete tasks, compared to only 12 percent who completed supportive therapy.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of adults who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD are actually diagnosed. This mental health condition needs to be viewed as a lifelong disorder and not something exclusive to youth and young adults alone.


SEP, 20, 2017 04:24:01 PM
I just realized that I have ADD. This post describes me so well. I have always wondered why I felt the way that I have on the inside. I have struggled since my childhood and others around me have struggled to understand me. I am now in my late 60's. What a nightmare!

APR, 23, 2017 06:20:17 AM
I was diagnosed with ADHD in fourth grade. I am now almost twenty-five, and it still blows my mind that some people are non-believers in not only adult ADHD, but the entire disorder. After years of talking with different friends I've made who have it as well, I've learned that mine also seems to be more severe than most. We need to spread our knowledge to those who are ignorant, so that people can try to understand. My hope for the future is that enough knowledge and understanding can prevent people (especially children) from experiencing the agony I did with an uncooperative and discouraging school system, and the same in several work environments. However, although ADHD is excruciatingly difficult at times, I also think of it as a super power. My observational skills are legend among my friends, I can listen to and process many different conversations at once, I can even often taste and smell things other people don't notice. So rather than being discouraged by this disorder, I allow it to empower me whenever possible. Let's make it the goal for all of us.

NOV, 07, 2016 08:40:05 AM
Karin Ziemienski
I was recently fired from a job in which processing information was a factor. The way I think was a problem. I needed to think within a certain framework which has a narrow focus and I was unable to do it. I felt bad about myself and felt that my coworkers despised me.

NOV, 06, 2016 11:31:54 PM
This article was just what I needed. diagnosed at 42 after daughters, but knew something was different since I was a child. As a teacher for 20yrs, I have seen the symptoms in students but unable to accept them for myself. Growing up I was able to control many situations to maintain an average status. When I had child after child, I was exposed...things fell apart. I was late for everything, I could no longer control my environment.
This article and NAMI have given me hope to seek support at work with accommodations found on this site.
Thank you!

AUG, 23, 2016 08:56:29 PM
I'm 47, and I was diagnosed on July 21st, 2016. I've had anxiety for a good 20+yrs, and have/had periods of depression. If I had not been honest with my doctor about what I was doing and feeling. He wouldn't have been able to put the pieces together. I think adult ADHD is vague and broad because some of us have learned to adapt, while others have not. I'm still adjusting to the new medication and I continue to read and learn as much as I can about Adult ADHD.

AUG, 15, 2016 11:00:58 PM
My husband has all the symptoms of adult ADHD, has seen multiple Psychiatrists, & has NEVER been diagnosed correctly. He also has ODD, which is very troublesome. He will probably never try to get help again due to having to pay $266.00/week for all the Psychiatrists in our area (didn't take insurance) & for getting NO HELP. I must agree, VERY FEW of the people with this horrible disorder are not being diagnosed. Saw it with my own eyes & paid dearly with the checkbook. The mental health field MUST do better than this!

AUG, 09, 2016 06:21:01 AM
Interesting! Is there hope for me?

AUG, 03, 2016 12:43:19 PM
linda dee
this blog is life changing for me. what a relief to have this info & support.

AUG, 02, 2016 03:50:36 PM
Mickie J
My daughter was diagnosed a few years ago. This article was very insightful. I now believe that I have ADHD as well.
I've been trying to keep routine in place, and life seems a little bit smoother when keeping to a daily routine and schedule, but any deviations from routine can upset the entire day. Wish I could do something more. For now just staying positive and reinforce routines, live, love, laugh and enjoy the journey. So thankful for my beautiful daughter and family.

AUG, 01, 2016 09:22:05 PM
I found this article disappointing as it really doesn't provide any specific information as to what adult ADHD symptom presentation is like other than a vague mention of inattention and organization issues. Is that it? Is that all it is? Even the embedded study didn't really give any specifics as to what a clinical picture of someone with adult ADHD is like. Is the vagueness intentional so that this diagnosis can apply to as many people as possible?

JUL, 31, 2016 01:14:18 PM
Oh how I wish I could have my younger academic years back! My junior and senior high school years (60s-70s) were academically disastrous ~ college, of course, too with some exception in classes I was interested in! I learned to "cope" by being good at living "happy" on the outside. Of course, that leads to a roller coaster ride of emotions and depression on the inside. I eventually diagnosed myself, with the help of a therapist/psychiatrist in the late 90s (and several jobs later). I had done research and was "ready" to be committed to trying drugs: combined ritalin with an effective (for me) anti-depressant. I finally "met" the real me! ADHD is a painful existence if it isn't diagnosed. Thank you for this article: wish the awareness of ADHD/ADD had been around but glad for young people and adults that it is now. I hope for all that any stigmas about this condition can be eliminated and soon!

JUL, 30, 2016 08:22:46 AM
Jessica Lavoie
I enjoyed this article because I've suffered from ADHD since as long as I can remember, I'm now 30. I recently had a new dr try to undiagnose it and take me off my meds that have primarily allowed me to function for over 15 years! All because he was a "non believer" in adult ADHD! This is helpful to me.

JUL, 29, 2016 03:48:46 AM
Amara Taylor
Thank you for this article. I was diagnosed as an adult and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I've learned how to manage my "quirks" but each day I learn something new about myself. Just a reminder to all..."Happiness is a Journey. Never Give Up."

JUL, 28, 2016 07:43:57 PM
I was the spouse of someone who got diagnosed finally at 40, but it was already to late for our marriage... thankfully though, once got an understanding of his illness, and then with proper treatment, he is doing well today...and so is our family.

JUL, 28, 2016 04:35:29 PM
I fit the description of ADD without hyperactivity or impulsiveness. I am as far from impulsive as you can get, but I suffer from all of the other symptoms. I wish that aspect would be addressed more. The inattentiveness and distraction is terrible.

JUL, 28, 2016 12:34:05 PM
Holly Penny
Thank you so much! I am 60 and have struggled with ADHD since I was 11, but no one recognized it! I never heard of it until 3 yrs ago and now I advocated for myself and having psychological testing done yesterday and next Monday. FINALLY getting some help for this! I've struggled with this all my life and now I hope to get some help-it's never too late! Feeling Possitive.

JUL, 28, 2016 10:48:30 AM
wilma ingram

JUL, 28, 2016 08:48:05 AM
Beth Prodey
What is the difference between ADHD and ADD?

JUL, 27, 2016 08:42:23 PM
Get rid of the goddamn green donation thing which comes up and covers the whole page.

JUL, 01, 2016 02:43:05 AM
Thank you!

JUN, 28, 2016 12:51:50 PM
This is me to a T. And I have been struggling w/getting organized for Years! No fun.

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