Is It Adult ADHD or Something Else?

adult-adhd-0411137Picture someone with attention-deficit hyperactivity. Odds are good you’re envisioning a child who can’t sit still zooming around his or her classroom, struggling with grades, and driving parents crazy. But ADHD isn’t just for children. Some kids grow out of this diagnosis or develop coping skills, but others continue to struggle as adults—some of whom were never diagnosed as children.

Children have the benefit of existing under the watchful eye of adults who can advocate for their interests. Adults, however, may struggle for years before they realize that their procrastination, difficulty concentrating, and trouble completing tasks are the result of ADHD, not a personal failing.

What Is Adult ADHD?
Adult ADHD is the same issue that children experience, but it can manifest in different forms. Children may struggle with school or making friends, but life-altering consequences from the condition in childhood are rare. In adulthood, however, failing to turn in a presentation, skipping a semester of college, or being unable to listen to a spouse can end in catastrophe. Consequently, adults who have ADHD—particularly if they’re not getting appropriate treatment—may have more dramatic difficulties than children, and often get much less sympathy.

Recognizing Symptoms
Symptoms of adult ADHD may include:

  • Difficulty listening to others, trouble responding appropriately in conversation, or focusing on side details rather than the main point of a discussion.
  • Procrastination and difficulty planning.
  • Extreme disorganization that interferes with functioning; for example, forgetting to deposit checks or failing to bill clients.
  • Trouble remaining focused on a task, even an important or fun one.
  • Making careless mistakes.
  • Zoning out in conversations.
  • Anger.
  • Restlessness and feeling unable to sit still.
  • Impatience.
  • Inability to tolerate boredom.
  • Frequent fidgeting.
  • Alternating between being excessively focused on a task—for example, reading for 12 hours—and being unable to focus on anything.

Adult ADHD and Other Mental Health Conditions
Some people with adult ADHD initially seek help for a different condition, such as depression or anxiety. The frustration ADHD can cause frequently leads to other symptoms. An adult with the issue might have trouble in his or her relationships, struggle to keep a job, have a hard time managing finances, frequently lose his or her temper, or experience low self-esteem. If the symptoms are caused by ADHD, treating depression or anxiety sometimes won’t help, which can add to the frustration.

In other cases, ADHD can co-occur with other mental health issues, and people with ADHD are more likely to be depressed than those without. If you’re experiencing symptoms of two different conditions, it’s often helpful to treat the one that’s causing you the most discomfort first. If your inability to focus is making you depressed, focus on that. But if your procrastination is a small problem and constant feelings of sadness are leaving you hopeless, it may be better to treat depression first.

Getting Help
Medication—including stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin—and therapy can help people with ADHD, but this doesn’t mean you’ll have to be in treatment for the rest of your life. Simple lifestyle remedies such as staying meticulously organized, planning ahead, meditating, and adopting strategies for focusing can make a big difference. Seek treatment providers who specialize in ADHD. They’re more likely to understand the effects these issues can have on adults, and can recommend successful coping strategies.


  1. Adult ADD. (n.d.). Dr Hallowell RSS. Retrieved from
  2. Adults with ADHD. (n.d.). CHADD. Retrieved from
  3. McGillivray, J., & Baker, K. (2008). Effects of Comorbid ADHD with Learning Disabilities on Anxiety, Depression, and Aggression in Adults. Journal of Attention Disorders,12(6), 525-531. doi: 10.1177/1087054708320438

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Pamela g

    April 12th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    I guess these would be the people that I normally look at and think that they are not driven nor motivated.

  • Joan Ketchen

    April 12th, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    These medications cause more problems than help. Many patients aren’t told there are other alternatives. However, many parents are told that if you have ADHD you will not abuse or become addicted to Adderall. This is simply not true. Unfortunately we found this out after our 32 year old daughter died with an elevated level of Adderall in her system.

  • Monique S

    April 13th, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    What other alternatives are there?

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