Healthy Living

Can Adults Have ADHD?

Jun. 6, 2024
Untreated and undiagnosed ADHD can lead to everyday struggles.

With the seemingly never-ending expectations that come with being an adult, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But, if you find yourself struggling with completing everyday tasks like brushing your teeth, sending an email, or eating regularly, ADHD could be to blame.

ADHD is one of the most common conditions diagnosed in kids, affecting 5-8% of the pediatric population. The percentage of adults with the condition is slightly lower, but ADHD does affect many adults—especially when it’s untreated and undiagnosed.

Most schools have a system in place to help identify children who struggle to sit still in class or focus on assignments, but kids with ADHD can slip through the cracks. Adults who struggle with daily activities may wonder if they developed ADHD as children but were not diagnosed.

UR Medicine’s Michael Scharf, MD, explains how ADHD symptoms vary from childhood to adulthood and shares the best ways to seek diagnosis and treatment as an adult.

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

ADHD doesn’t develop in adulthood, but symptoms can be missed in childhood. If a child isn’t challenged in school or learns to mask symptoms, ADHD may go unnoticed by parents and teachers.

Adults who are undiagnosed might notice symptoms after a big life change, such as starting a new job or schooling, or entering a new relationship.

Whether the recognition comes from self-reflection or from someone else pointing out characteristics, the key thing to look for is whether the symptoms are new.


“If you used to be good at managing time and organization and now, suddenly, you’re not, for example, that’s probably not ADHD,” says Scharf. Anxiety, depression, and stress can also cause similar symptoms.

Whether your symptoms are new or pre-existing, it’s important to see a health care provider for a thorough screening or assessment. You need the right diagnosis to get the right treatment.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

There are three types of ADHD, all of which have different symptoms:


  • Hyperactivity
  • Risk-taking
  • Impulsive actions


  • Difficulty focusing
  • Distractable
  • Inattentive


  • Hyperactive
  • Impulsive
  • Distractable
  • Inattentive

The most common type of ADHD is combined, which has a mixture of symptoms of the other two types. Hyperfocus, or an inability to shift focus from one thing to another after focusing, is another symptom of ADHD, though it’s less common than the others.

What is the difference between ADHD and ADD?

The term “ADD” is no longer used. It was once used to refer to those who had ADHD but did not experience hyperactivity, but all symptoms fall under the three types of ADHD.

Scharf explains, “As studies and data have grown, symptoms and responses to treatment have supported that this is one condition with different subtypes.”

How does ADHD affect adults?

The symptoms of ADHD are similar in adults and children, but they can show up in different ways. While ADHD can affect a child in school, symptoms in adults can affect more of everyday life because adults have more responsibilities.

If you are an adult with ADHD, you might experience:

A person in a purple shirt uses a rainbow fidget toy

  • Difficulty focusing on things that aren’t stimulating
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Difficulty managing time
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Difficulty listening during conversations
  • Interrupting during conversations
  • Feeling restless or fidgety when sitting down for long periods of time

Scharf emphasizes, “It isn’t just one of those things; it’s a group of them. It may not have caused a problem until now, but it would be something that you’ve always experienced.”

In extreme cases, untreated ADHD is associated with substance abuse, interrelationship problems, and vehicle accidents. These come from impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors.

How is ADHD treated?

Getting diagnosed is the first step to receiving treatment. In addition to doing a screening assessment, your provider will consider your history and how long you’ve had symptoms. Neuropsychology testing may be used but isn’t required for diagnosis.

Primary care providers and mental health specialists who work with children and teens routinely diagnose and manage ADHD. However, adult providers may not have the same experience and training. For this reason, it’s often best to see a specialist with expertise in adult ADHD when possible.

If you’re diagnosed with ADHD, your provider may suggest treatments such as:

  • Medication
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Executive functioning coaching

Medication has been proven to vastly improve symptoms. The other treatments can help manage symptoms and make it easier to accomplish everyday tasks.

“It can be challenging for adults seeking answers,” says Scharf. “Depending on the case, you may need to see a specialist or have in-depth evaluations performed. But with a diagnosis, there are many effective treatments available that can help.”

If you’re seeking treatment for symptoms associated with ADHD, contact your UR Medicine primary health care provider.

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