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ADHD in Adults | How It’s Different

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was once thought to affect children who would eventually grow out of it around the time they hit puberty. We now know that ADHD is something that sticks with most people for their whole lives. Though they might find ways to cope with it or mask it, it won’t go away on its own. ADHD can also present in adults differently than children, so children who are never diagnosed often continue to be untreated as adults. 

However, as doctors and therapists get better at recognizing the signs of ADHD in both children and adults, more people are being diagnosed in adulthood for the first time. ADHD can lead to serious consequences that can disrupt your life. However, it is treatable, but the first steps are recognizing the signs and seeking help for it.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder that’s characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. There are two categories of ADHD. The first deals with inattention, and the second deals with impulsivity and hyperactivity. To qualify as ADHD, at least six of the symptoms in one of the categories must have persisted for at least six months. These symptoms also interfere with functioning or development. People who are age 17 or older only need to experience five of the hyperactivity symptoms to qualify.

Adults who are diagnosed with ADHD later in life had the disorder as a child but were never diagnosed, or they may have been diagnosed incorrectly. ADHD can often mimic bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other mental or behavioral disorders. 

ADHD Symptoms in Adults

As you grow, you start to learn more about socially acceptable behavior and what’s expected of you when you are with other people or out in public. Even if you have ADHD, you can learn what is and isn’t acceptable to others. Children don’t have these social and cultural filters, so when they have an impulse, they follow it. Adults with ADHD may not follow their impulses as readily, but that doesn’t mean the disorder is any less disruptive in their lives. It does mean, however, that the symptoms may manifest differently in an adult. 

For instance, children with ADHD often have a run and climb impulse. They may be drawn to climbable structures, they may get up on chairs or desks, and they may frequently leave a sitting position to run around. Adults with ADHD may have impulses to move, especially when they are sitting still for long periods. But the impulse may not cause them to run outside and climb the first tree they find. Instead, it may just create anxiety or discomfort that makes it difficult to remain present in the situation.

Dealing with ADHD as an adult may also present new problems. Social isolation and poor self-esteem are common consequences of ADHD that can begin in childhood and continue on to adulthood. It can also present a few problems that children with ADHD don’t encounter. 
Impulsiveness in adults with ADHD can lead to poor issues like money management and frequent speeding tickets. ADHD can also lead to substance use disorders as adults turn toward unhealthy coping skills.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

ADDitude. (2019, December 12). ADHD Symptoms Checklist: Specific Symptoms of ADHD Subtype. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-symptoms-checklist/

National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, September). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, February). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Novotni, M. (2018, April 19). ADHD and Social Isolation: Why Women with ADD Feel So Alone. Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/feeling-socially-weak-build-your-strength/

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