Life can be a balancing act for any adult, but if you find yourself constantly late and disorganised, overly distracted and forgetful, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities, you may have adult ADHD. Attention deficit disorder impacts many adults, and its wide variety of frustrating symptoms may hinder everything from your relationship to your career.
Attention deficit disorder is not just a problem in children. If you were diagnosed with childhood ADHD, chances are, you’ve carried at least some of the symptoms into adulthood. Even if you weren’t diagnosed with ADHD as a child, you can still be affected by it as an adult.
Attention deficit disorder often goes unrecognised throughout childhood. This was especially common in the past, when fewer people were aware of ADHD. Instead of recognising your symptoms and identifying the real issue, your family, teachers, or other parents may have labelled you a dreamer, lazy, a slacker, a troublemaker, or just a bad student. In many cases, individuals will have a history of failures in school and work and may have experienced (and continue to experience), bouts of anxiety or depression related to ADHD.
Alternatively, you may have been able to compensate for the symptoms of ADHD when you were young, only to run into problems as your responsibilities increased. The more balls you are trying to keep in the air – pursuing a career, raising a family, running a household – the greater the demand on your abilities to organise, focus and remain calm. This can be challenging for most people, but for a person with ADHD, it can feel downright impossible.
Signs and symptoms of adult ADHD
ADHD symptoms present themselves differently in adulthood than in childhood. Inattentive symptoms become more prominent, possibly more so in women. Frank hyperactivity and impulsivity become much more felt than shown and probably results from a better understanding of social constraints. Most importantly, since the cognitive load for an adult is so much greater than for a child in terms of organisation and responsibility, inattentive symptoms will present themselves more profoundly. This inattention wreaks havoc on the ability to perform a wide range of executive functions including organising, planning, prioritising, setting goals, meeting deadlines, and breaking down large assignments into a series of smaller tasks.
Trouble concentrating and staying focused
Adults with ADHD often have difficulty staying focused and attending to daily, mundane tasks. For example, you may be easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds, quickly bounce from one activity to another, or become bored easily. Symptoms in this category are sometimes overlooked because they are less outwardly disruptive than the ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity – but they can be every bit as troublesome. They include:
- ‘zoning out’ without realising it, even in the middle of a conversation.
- extreme distractibility; wandering attention makes it hard to stay on track.
- difficulty paying attention or focusing; such as when reading or listening to others.
- tendency to overlook details, leading to errors or incomplete work.
- poor listening skills; hard time remembering conversations and following directions.
- be unable to keep track of several things at once.
Whilst people with ADHD have trouble focusing on tasks that aren’t interesting to them, they have a tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding. This paradoxical symptom is called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD will find that they are unable to tear themselves away from something enjoyable to shift to a more urgent, important task.
Hyperfocus is actually a coping mechanism for distraction – a way of tuning out the chaos. It can be so strong that a person becomes oblivious to everything going on around them. For example, you may become so engrossed in a book, a TV show, or your computer that you completely lose track of time and neglect the things you’re supposed to be doing. Hyperfocus can be an asset when channelled into productive activities, but it can also lead to work and relationship problems if left unchecked.
Disorganisation and forgetfulness
Adults with ADHD often find life chaotic and out of their control. Staying organised and on top of things can be extremely challenging – as is sorting out what information is relevant for the task at hand, prioritising the things you need to do, keeping track of tasks and responsibilities, and managing your time. Common symptoms include:
- poor organisational skills (home, office, desk, or car can be extremely messy and cluttered).
- tendency to procrastinate.
- trouble starting and finishing projects.
- chronic lateness.
- finding it difficult to keep promises and commitments to others.
- constantly losing or misplacing things (keys, wallet, phone, documents, bills).
- frequently misjudging how much time they have – or need- to do something.
- difficulty remembering tasks or jobs that need to be done
- requently forgetting appointments, commitments and deadlines.
If a person suffers from symptoms in this category, they may have trouble inhibiting their behaviours, comments, and responses. They act before thinking, or react without considering consequences. Common symptoms include:
- frequently interrupt others or talk over them.
- have poor self-control.
- blurt out thoughts that are rude or inappropriate without thinking.
- have addictive tendencies
- act recklessly or spontaneously without regard for the consequences
- have trouble behaving in socially appropriate ways (such as sitting still during a long meeting).
One of the areas of difficulty for adults with ADHD is with moderating emotions and effective self-regulation. Dealing with the demands of life requires emotional self-regulation to develop successful life skills. For people with ADHD, problems with self-regulation cause difficulty managing emotions, so they might respond to small events with excessive behaviour and emotion while not noticing more important events. Many adults with ADHD have a hard time managing their feelings, especially when it comes to emotions like anger and frustration. Common symptoms include:
- sense of underachievement.
- doesn’t deal well with frustration.
- easily flustered and stressed out.
- irritability or mood swings.
- trouble staying motivated.
- hypersensitivity to criticism or feedback.
- short, often explosive, temper.
- low self-esteem and sense of insecurity.
Hyperactivity or restlessness
Hyperactivity in adults with ADHD can look the same as it does in children. A person may be highly energetic and be perpetually ‘on the go’. For many people with ADHD, however, the symptoms of hyperactivity become more subtle and internal as they grow older. Common symptoms include:
- feelings of inner restlessness, agitation.
- tendency to take risks.
- getting bored easily.
- racing thoughts.
- trouble sitting still; constant fidgeting.
- craving for excitement.
- talking excessively.
- doing a ‘million’ things at once.
Effects of Untreated Adult ADHD
People can suffer for years with this unrecognised problem. As adults they may be labelled by others as ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ because of their forgetfulness or difficulty completing tasks, resulting in them seeing themselves in negative terms as well.
Not every person with ADHD displays all the symptoms, nor does every person with ADHD experience the symptoms of ADHD to the same level of severity or impairment. Some people have mild ADHD, while others have severe ADHD, resulting in significant impairments.
Physical Health and Mental Health
The symptoms of ADHD can contribute to a variety of health problems including compulsive eating, substance abuse, anxiety, chronic stress and tension, and low self-esteem. The wide reaching effects of ADHD can lead to embarrassment, frustration, hopelessness, disappointment, and loss of confidence. You may also run into trouble due to neglecting important check-ups, skipping doctor appointments, ignoring medical instructions and forgetting to take vital medication.
Work and financial difficulties
Adults with ADHD often experience career difficulties and feel a strong sense of underachievement. You may have trouble keeping a job, following corporate rules, meeting deadlines, and sticking to a 9 to 5 routine. Managing finances may also be a problem; you may struggle with unpaid bills, lost paperwork, late fees, or debt due to impulsive spending.
The symptoms of ADHD can put a strain on your work, love, and family relationships. You may be fed up with constant nagging from loved ones to tidy up, listen more closely, or get organised. Those close to you on the other hand, may feel hurt and resentful over your perceived ‘irresponsibility’ or ‘insensitivity.’
Recognising that you have ADHD can be an enormous source of relief and hope. The good news is that, no matter how it feels, the challenges of attention deficit disorder are manageable. Whilst there is not a cure for ADHD, with education, support, and a little creativity, you can learn to manage the symptoms of adult ADHD – even turning some of the weaknesses into strengths. It is never too late to turn the difficulties of your ADHD around and start succeeding on your own terms. ADHD can be well managed, leading to increased satisfaction in life and significant improvements in daily living.
If you would like to learn more about Adult ADHD please contact Paul.