What is adhd in adults?

ADHD in Adults

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults: Overview

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a condition that makes it hard to pay attention. So you may have problems when you try to focus, get organized, and finish tasks. It might make you more active than other people. Or you might do things without thinking first.

ADHD is very common. It usually starts in early childhood. Many adults don't realize they have it until their children are diagnosed. Then they become aware of their own symptoms.

Doctors don't know what causes ADHD. But it often runs in families.

ADHD can be treated with medicines, behavior training, and counseling. Treatment can improve your life.

What are the symptoms of ADHD in adults?

The most common types of ADHD symptoms in adults are attention problems and hyperactivity.

Attention problems

Adults with ADHD often find it hard to:

  • Finish tasks that don't interest them or aren't easy. But they may become obsessed with activities that they find interesting and enjoy.
  • Focus their attention on conversations, reading materials, or jobs. They may change jobs a lot.
  • Remember things. They may misplace or lose things.
  • Pay attention. They are easily distracted. They find it hard to focus on one task.
  • Organize tasks and activities. They may not be able to manage their time well. And they may have a hard time keeping their things in order.


Adults with ADHD may:

  • Fidget. They may swing their legs, shift in their seats, or tap their fingers.
  • Move around a lot. They may feel "revved up" or on the go. They may not be able to slow down until they are very tired.
  • Find it hard to relax. They may feel restless and find it hard to do quiet things like read or watch TV.
  • Talk a lot or interrupt others. They may blurt out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Find it hard to wait their turn, such as when they're in line.

How is ADHD in adults treated?

ADHD can be treated with medicines, behavior training, or counseling. Or it may be a combination of these treatments.


Stimulant medicines are most often used to treat ADHD. These may include:

  • Amphetamines. (Examples are Adderall and Dexedrine).
  • Methylphenidate. (Examples are Concerta, Daytrana, Focalin, Metadate, and Ritalin).

Other medicines that may be used are:

  • Atomoxetine. This includes Strattera, a nonstimulant medicine for ADHD.
  • Antihypertensives. These include clonidine (such as Catapres) and guanfacine (such as Tenex).
  • Antidepressants. These include bupropion (Wellbutrin).

Behavior training

Behavior training can help adults with ADHD learn how to:

  • Get organized. A daily organizer or planner can help these adults organize their daily tasks. They can write down appointments and other things they need to remember.
  • Decrease distractions. They can set up their work or home environment so that there are fewer things that will distract them. They may find using headphones or a "white noise" machine helpful. College students can arrange a quiet living situation. They may need a single dorm room.
  • Work on relationships. Social skills training can help adults with ADHD relate to family, friends, and coworkers. Couples counseling or family therapy can also help improve relationships.


Counseling is not meant to treat inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness. But it can help with some of the problems that go along with ADHD. These include not getting along well with others and having problems following rules.

How can you care for yourself when you have adult ADHD?

  • Learn all you can about ADHD. This will help you and your family understand it better.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If you miss a dose of your medicine, do not take an extra dose.
  • If your doctor suggests counseling, find a counselor you like and trust. Talk openly and honestly. Be willing to make some changes.
  • Find a support group for adults with ADHD. Talking to others with the same problems can help you feel better. It can also give you ideas about how to best cope with the condition.
  • Get rid of distractions at your work space. Keep your desk clean. Try not to face a window or busy hallway.
  • Use files, planners, and other tools to keep you organized.
  • Limit use of alcohol, and do not use drugs. People with ADHD tend to develop substance use disorder more easily than others. Tell your doctor if you need help to quit. Counseling, support groups, and sometimes medicines can help you stay free of alcohol or drugs.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Exercise may help manage the symptoms of ADHD. For many people, walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.

How does ADHD in adults affect daily life?

ADHD in adults may affect:

  • Job performance. They may find it hard to organize their work, manage their time, and focus on one task at a time. They may forget, misplace, or lose things. They may quit their jobs out of boredom.
  • Relationships. Adults with ADHD may find it hard to focus their attention on conversations. It is hard for them to "read" the behavior and moods of others and express their own feelings.
  • Temper. They may get easily frustrated. This often can make it harder for them to deal with stress. These adults may overreact and have a short, quick temper.
  • The ability to solve problems. Adults who have a hard time waiting for things they want may act before they think about the effect of their actions. They may take part in risky behaviors. These include unprotected sex, unsafe driving, alcohol and drug use, or unwise business ventures.

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which people have a hard time paying attention. Adults with ADHD also may be more active than normal. They tend to act without thinking. ADHD may make it harder for them to focus, get organized, and finish tasks.

ADHD most often starts in childhood and lasts into adulthood. Many adults don't know that they have ADHD until their children are diagnosed. Then they begin to see their own symptoms.

Doctors don't know what causes ADHD. But it tends to run in families.

Adults with ADHD: Using behavioral strategies

Behavioral strategies may help manage and treat the symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, overactivity, or impulsivity. Here are some ideas you can try.

  • Get organized.

    Find a daily organizer or planner that fits your needs. Write notes in your organizer about your appointments and other things you need to remember.

  • Decrease distractions.

    Your surroundings can be an important part of being organized. Set up your work area so that there are fewer distractions. You may find using headphones or a "white noise" machine helpful. If you're a college student, try to arrange a quiet living situation, such as a single dormitory room.

  • Stop and think.

    If you are impulsive, train yourself to stop and think before you act. If you tend to blurt out statements that you later regret, train yourself to write down the statement and think about whether it should be said out loud. If you have a problem with your temper, use this same "stop and think" method. If this does not work, talk with a health professional.

  • Work on relationships.

    Social skills training can help you relate to family, friends, and coworkers. Also, marital counseling or family therapy can greatly improve your family relationships and overall family function.

  • Find substitute behaviors for hyperactivity.

    Think ahead about situations where you think you may feel restless, and plan ways to keep yourself moving without affecting others. For example, take notes during meetings instead of fidgeting.

  • Seek help.

    Learn as much as you can about ADHD and how its symptoms affect your life. Go online to find organizations for helpful information about the condition. Ask a doctor about local resources or books that may be helpful.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You feel sad a lot or cry all the time.
  • You have trouble sleeping, or you sleep too much.
  • You find it hard to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things.
  • You change how you normally eat.
  • You feel guilty for no reason.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.