ADHD in Adults

ADHD is one of the most hotly debated subjects in psychology. Although it's been widely studied in children, there's not been so much research on the disorder in adults. We're going to explore this subject.
ADHD in Adults
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 01 May, 2023

Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that’s often forgotten, particularly as its symptoms of impulsivity tend to reduce in adolescence. However, contrary to what was believed a few years ago, this neurodivergence doesn’t disappear, but takes another form in adult life.

There are times when an individual receives an ADHD diagnosis as an adult. In these cases, not only has the sufferer gone through a childhood marked by its signs, but these change over time. In fact, as a rule, in adulthood, they’re less salient. This is either because of the maturation of the prefrontal cortex or because the sufferer has learned how to implement some effective compensation strategies.

In this article, we’re going to explore attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults. We’ll also give some recommendations for living with it after adolescence.

The difference between ADHD in adults and children

Not all people exhibit the same symptoms of ADHD. Within this neurodivergence are several subgroups. However, its central symptoms are inattention, impulsivity, and excessive nervous activation. In children, they often cause problems at school (bad academic performance, for example) and in social relationships.

But, how does ADHD manifest in adult life? As a rule, the adult sufferer develops mechanisms that help them employ regularity and moderation in dealing with the most striking symptoms, such as impulsivity. This means they’re more or less able to function normally in everyday life. That said, they may still experience certain difficulties.

Woman frustrated by work issues covers her face with her hands
Low frustration tolerance is one of the symptoms of ADHD in adults.

Symptoms of ADHD in adults

Adults with ADHD usually exhibit difficulties in one or several areas of their daily lives. As we mentioned earlier, in most cases they can moderate their expressions of impulsivity and hyperactivity. But, they often struggle with attention problems.

In recent years, ADHD has been viewed as a neurodivergence instead of a disorder. In fact, it’s considered to be more of an alternative brain function.

According to a study published in the INFAD Journal of Psychology, the disorder manifests with subtle and indirect signals.

Signs of ADHD in adults

  • When the sufferer feels motivated, they concentrate better. This benefits their working memory.
  • Sometimes, they struggle to complete tasks. This is especially with those that are tedious and require sustained attention.
  • They struggle with impulse control. This can sometimes lead to antisocial or dangerous behaviors.
  • They exhibit poor time management and organization of their activities. In addition, they have a tendency to be late or to procrastinate.
  • They find it difficult to converse and might lose the thread of the conversation. Or, they may constantly interrupt or exhibit disorganized and scattered speech.
  • They have a low tolerance for frustration and delayed reward. This problem is linked to impulsiveness. But, it doesn’t manifest in the same way as in childhood. The sufferer also finds it difficult to calculate the consequences of their actions.
  • They perceive their quality of life to be poor. This is described in a study conducted on the quality of life of young adults with ADHD. It claims that those who didn’t receive a diagnosis and treatment in childhood suffer negative effects on their daily performance and success. It’s exacerbated in individuals who suffer from comorbid disorders, such as depression.

Coping with ADHD in Adulthood

Surviving in a normative, hectic world that demands more than 100 percent of our energy is far more difficult for those who suffer from ADHD. In order to get along better, they can implement certain tricks in their daily life. For example:

  • Using calendars and apps to organize themselves.
  • Setting small short-term goals. For instance, making task lists. They act as reinforcement as the sufferer is able to cross tasks off the list as they carry them out.
  • Increasing their number of breaks. If the task is too tedious, they should work in periods of 15-20 minutes, resting for five minutes in between.
  • Not overloading themselves. They must be aware of their limits and the time they have. Preferably, they should just fulfill a few daily goals. Otherwise, they’ll become overwhelmed and, ultimately achieve nothing.
  • Keeping their workspace clean and having all the essential items in sight. For example, leaving house keys, car keys, and wallet in the same place, all together.
  • Finding ways of motivating themselves. For instance, carrying out activities they like. In fact, doing anything that makes organizing their day and completing tasks more bearable.
  • Exercising, eating healthily, and sleeping well. Taking care of these three aspects means that they’ll feel better and have more mental energy to control their attention or inhibit any unreflective behaviors. In this regard, the Revista Habanera de Ciencias Médicas highlights physical activity as a benefit for the quality of life of the ADHD sufferer.

Psychological help

The above advice won’t have an immediate effect on the sufferer’s performance, but it’ll create a good foundation for everything else. Of course, if they need to, they should visit a psychologist. Indeed, many adults benefit from therapy and some often have supportive medication. Therefore, if you suffer from ADHD or suspect you might have it, don’t hesitate to consult a professional.

Man puts a pencil in his mouth, distracted from his work as a consequence of ADHD in adults
Adults with this kind of neurodivergence have difficulty completing tasks.

ADHD in adults: perspectives and challenges

Today’s world is hectic, contradictory, and full of stimuli that demand our attention. Although it’s true that ADHD is a heterogeneous clinical picture circumscribed to the individual’s neurobiology, it also has a strong psychosocial component. This is mentioned in an article published in the journal, Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes.

But, the stigma of neurodivergence and mental disorders doesn’t stop at schoolyard ridicule. In fact, isolation (among other problems) prevails in the kind of society that’s not educated in justice and in the importance of mental health, depression, and crime.

Furthermore, access to decent mental health services is an unresolved issue in almost the entire world. In this respect, an article in the journal, Contextos, mentions the importance of self-knowledge. It also suggests the importance of the help of professionals who are up-to-date on ADHD knowledge.

Finally, the question remains of where alternative brain functioning ends and a disorder begins. It’s a question that’s been asked for many years. Fortunately, today, ableism with regard to ADHD is reducing. However, we must continue working if we want to achieve a united, open, and tolerant society.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Carrasco-Chaparro, X. (2022). Sobre el trastorno por déficit de atención e hiperactividad: consolidaciones, actualizaciones y perspectivas. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes33(5), 440-449.
  • Roselló, B., Berenguer, C., & Baixauli, I. (2019). La inhibición, el autocontrol emocional, la memoria de trabajo y la supervisión¿ predicen las manifestaciones típicas de adultos con TDAH?. Revista INFAD de Psicología. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology.2(1), 181-192.
  • Mazurkiewicz Rodríguez, H. J., & Marcano, B. (2021). Calidad de vida en adultos jóvenes con TDAH diagnosticados en la adultez: revisión Sistemática. Actualidades en Psicología35(130), 97-113.
  • Llarena, I. N. (2022). El Trastorno de Déficit de Atención e Hiperactividad-(T) DAH-desde una mirada anticapacitista. (Con) textos: revista d’antropologia i investigació social, (11), 133-139.
  • Castillo-Paredes, A., Montalva Valenzuela, F., & Nanjarí Miranda, R. (2021). Actividad Física, Ejercicio Físico y Calidad de Vida en niños y adolescentes con Trastorno por déficit de atención y/o hiperactividad. Revista Habanera de Ciencias Médicas20(5).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.