ADHD in adulthood is more common than you think. Although ADHD begins in childhood, we grow up in such a structured environment that we might not realise we have a problem until later in life. In this article, leading London-based psychiatrist Dr Leon Rozewicz explains some of the most common signs of ADHD in adulthood and why it’s beneficial to get a diagnosis.
What are some signs that you have ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It affects three main domains: attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Here is a detailed look at how ADHD can manifest in these three areas:
If you have problems with attention, this may mean that:
- You struggle to focus on the task at hand. Your mind wanders often while you’re trying to do something and you have to consciously bring yourself back to what you’re doing.
- You struggle at work. If you’re sitting in front of a computer to perform a particular task, you might be distracted by emails, messages and other websites and often you can fail complete the taskyou've been asked to do.
- You procrastinate from difficult or complex tasks. Difficult tasks are put off and you find it hard to split a complex job into its components. This means you tend to put things off until the last minute before a deadline. The result is that you miss the deadline or end up rushing the work you had to do.
- You tend to lose and misplace things. You might forget to take things with you, or forget where you put something. Patients with ADHD will often complain of losing mobile phones, credit cards and misplacing their glasses.
Impulsivity and hyperactivity
Impulsivity and hyperactivity are aspects of ADHD that are more prominent in children, but they can still manifest in adulthood. Signs include:
- Getting bored easily. The clearest example of this is struggling with being in a queue. If you’re in a supermarket and find that there are queues everywhere, you might even decide to abandon your trolley. Other people with ADHD have problems with speeding and tend to get excessive penalty points on their driving license.
- Struggling to sit still. Anything requiring you to sit down for long periods of time is difficult, and you often feel the need to move around.
- Interrupting other people. This is often because you’re worried you're going to forget what you were going to say, and what you’re about to say is more important than what other people are saying.
- Saying things without thinking. Some people call this “lacking a filter”. You might find yourself often saying the first thing that comes into your mind and regretting it afterwards.
In addition to the problems above, patients with ADHD often have mood swings and also excessive anxiety and depression. These additional psychiatric comorbidities are often the result of ADHD. In fact, some people come into the clinic with depression and anxiety as the most obvious symptoms and the ADHD itself is not immediately clear.
How can I have ADHD if I wasn’t diagnosed in childhood?
Although ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that starts in childhood, it’s often not apparent until later in life.
One reason is that we spend our childhoods in a highly structured environment. Schools are highly structured environments and children are given specific tasks to complete and little is left to their initiative. Parents also provide a structured home environment. When that structure disappears, ADHD often becomes overt in a way that it may not have been earlier on.
Another reason for delayed diagnosis is that there was much less awareness of ADHD in the past, and your parents may simply not have thought to take you to a doctor.
On the whole, diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood is very common – some patients are even diagnosed in their 50s and 60s.
Why it’s important to get a diagnosis
There are huge benefits in diagnosing ADHD in adult life.
Firstly, many adults who come to the clinic have most of their working lives ahead of them and most of their social life ahead of them. Getting ADHD treated can make a huge difference to both of these areas of life going forward. That being said, diagnosing ADHD in any age can make huge changes to people's lives. It is therefore never too late to diagnose ADHD and people can always benefit from appropriate treatment and guidance.
The second reason for diagnosing ADHD is that it helps people become more self-aware and understand the difficulty that they've been struggling with. The diagnosis itself – even without treatment – can improve self-esteem and help with anxiety and depression.
Treatment for ADHD can be very effective. Medication has positive results for about 70-80% of people and the medications we use are not addictive. They can improve your concentration, improve motivation and make you better at completing tasks. If you suspect you have ADHD, I would highly recommend that you see a specialist psychiatrist for a consultation to see what we can do for you.