Many adults experience the symptoms but may not know they have ADHD. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that begins in childhood, and according to most of the current literature, about 50% of adults continue to exhibit the symptoms. Whether or not symptoms abate with adulthood, ADHD is a lifelong condition and some adults may not be aware that some of their problems may be due to symptomology of ADHD – or due to the fact that they have not learnt to successfully navigate these issues.
These could be considered as 10 indicators most commonly seen in adults with undiagnosed ADHD:
Impulsive behaviour (above and beyond normal or societal bounds) may be an indication of ADHD. Adults with adult ADHD may make risky decisions or do something on a “whim.” We all want to try something new from time to time, however, frequently missing planned activities to choose something completely unscheduled can be a sign of undiagnosed adult ADHD. It may well be that the individual finds it difficult to curb his tongue when necessary (talking out of turn or saying things that are better not said.)
Inability to Stay Focused
Having trouble concentrating and being easily distracted are some of the key indicators of ADHD. Adults with undiagnosed ADHD may have trouble keeping a job because they make routine errors, unable to follow through on the instructions (as they may bot have fully grasped, due to ‘tuning out’) that have been given. This is not uncommon in a busy workplace. While to outsiders they may appear to lack “drive,” “initiative,” or simply appear “disintersted” – it may be ADHD which causes their inability to focus.
Trouble Maintaining Stable Social or Romantic Relationships
Research has shown that the divorce rate among couples touched by ADHD is as much as twice that of the general population. A lack of impulse control, along with the inability to focus attention can make it challenging to maintain consistent relationships with co-workers or friends as well.
It is startling to note that approximately 41% of adults with ADHD smoke compared with only 19% of adults in the general population. Why? Smoking is often used as a form of self-medication for adults with ADHD because nicotine aids in concentration. “Nicotine exerts beneficial effects on a range of processes know to be disrupted in individuals with ADHD, including attention, inhibitory control, and working memory,” writes Dr. Scott Collins, associate professor of psychiatry and medical psychology at the Duke University School of Medicine. “As such, it has often been proposed that those with ADHD are at heightened risk for smoking because of the beneficial effects of nicotine across a range of cognitive processes.”
Closely related to smoking and the use of nicotine products is addiction. Many people with ADHD also have a drug addiction problem. This can often make it challenging to diagnose the underlying ADHD. This is why an accurate diagnoses are so vital to beginning effective treatment. Addiction may not be limited to drug abuse, it can also manifest as gambling and addiction to other illicit or risky behaviours. The problem is once a person is addicted to a substance they tend to rely purely on the medication for ADHD and tend to focus less on the behavioural and psychological changes that are required.
Being Diagnosed with ADHD as a Child
Some adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as a child may not realize that it is a lifelong condition. The manifestations of ADHD may change as someone matures into adulthood, and for some many symptoms will abate. However, there is no magic wand waved when a child reaches adolescence that cures them of ADHD. Most with ADHD will continue to cope with it to a greater or lesser degree throughout their lives. Some may not like to accept the fact that ADHD is a lifelong illness, and even though they were diagnosed in childhood, they may want to ignore the fact of ADHD impacting their behaviour as an adult.
You Have a Child with ADHD
As the awareness of ADHD has increased, so have diagnoses. Many parents start researching and educating themselves about ADHD after their kids are diagnosed. Often there is an “aha moment” when they learn that they exhibit many of the ADHD symptoms and behaviours as well. There is a classic situation where a mother who has a brood with ADHD recognises this in her husband, and brings him along for diagnosis and treatment.
Adults with ADHD may not be able to “relax” on a vacation or simply “sit back and watch” a movie because of their inability to focus and the desire to “do something.” For people with ADHD “rest” no matter how simple it sounds, becomes a real difficulty because it requires a quiet mind. They tend to always be “on the go.”
Losing Things All the Time
Without proper diagnosis and treatment, keeping organized requires a great deal of commitment for someone with ADHD. “Everyone loses things” one may say, but frequently “forgetting” or “losing” things due to inattention and forgetfulness may be an indication of undiagnosed ADHD. One of the indicators of a successful treatment is that the frequency of visits to the lost property office, or calls to landlords or friends for lost keys will significantly diminish.
Adults with undiagnosed ADHD may be accused of “daydreaming” during a meeting, lecture or even a conversation. This relates to the inability to focus (inattentive component of ADHD). From the outside it may be perceived as a lack of interest. The result is a negative impact on relationships, work and even home life. A proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment can help adults with ADHD stay more engaged with the task at hand.
ADHD like any other condition comprises a collection of signs and symptoms persisting across different situations; and as noted previously, over and above what would be considered broadly as societal norms. Remember everyone will not relate to all these symptoms. If you do suspect ADHD please consult a health practitioner who also has experience in the field.
Dr Mahendra Perera is a General Psychiatrist who treats adult patients in Melbourne, Australia. Dr Perera has specific interests in ADHD, Mood Disorders and Addiction. In addition working with his patients, he has also contributed to research across a number of specialties and helped many young doctors make their way in the medical field. Learn more about Dr Perera.
Please note: Dr Perera has no financial arrangement with any of the providers listed on the site. These resources are provided as a courtesy to patients, and are not intended as a recommendation or endorsement.