ADHD Symptoms In Adults, Diagnosis, And Treatment Options

Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW

Published 01/07/2021

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health issue (neurodevelopmental condition) that can lead to different symptoms, such as struggling to focus and complete tasks, acting impulsively, and hyperactivity. Approximately 10 million adults in the United States have ADHD, and many experience challenges with work, classes, or personal relationships.

Healthcare professionals usually diagnose the condition during childhood, but some continue to manage it into adulthood. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 60 percent of children with ADHD eventually grow into adults with the disorder. Adult ADHD is often hard to cope with, but a number of treatment options are available for patients. This article talks about ADHD symptoms in adults, diagnosis, and how to get the condition under control.

ADHD Symptoms In Adults And Diagnosis

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Mental health professionals typically begin the assessment process by having the adult complete a symptom checklist or questionnaire. However, for a formal diagnosis, they will need a careful examination of the context of the symptoms, including the medical history, life stressors, or any significant events that might be the possible cause of the symptoms. Adults with ADHD receive a clinical diagnosis by working with a clinician to consider the various symptoms presently related to ADHD carefully.

Sometimes, it can be hard to diagnose ADHD in adults because the symptoms may bear similarities to other conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. Many patients with ADHD have co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, or a substance use disorder. Generally, if you notice that you have ADHD symptoms that cause significant problems for you, you should talk to your doctor for an evaluation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical professionals will make a diagnosis of ADHD in adults using the criteria highlighted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), which is a manual that outlines the symptoms of mental health disorders.

Depending on the patient's symptoms, a doctor will determine which of the three forms of ADHD is present. These include:

Predominantly inattentive: A patient may struggle to complete a task, follow instructions, or pay attention to details. They may also get distracted easily.

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: A patient may be fidgety and talk a lot. They may feel restless and struggle to wait for turns.

Combined type: A patient may exhibit the signs of the two types equally.

To get a diagnosis of adult ADHD, a person will have to exhibit at least five or more of the following symptoms for up to six months, which is generally unfitting for that person’s developmental progress.

Some of the common symptoms of inattention for adult ADHD include:

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  • Difficulty focusing and completing tasks
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Poor planning and time management skills
  • Disorganization with activities and tasks
  • Losing items regularly
  • Forgetting daily routine or appointments
  • Overlooking details or making careless errors
  • Shun or be unwilling to undertake tasks that demand mental effort for extended periods
  • Seemingly distracted during a direct conversation.
  • Not completing tasks or duties in the workplace
  • Get distracted easily
  • Get forgetful in daily activities

Some of the symptoms more common with hyperactive or impulsive type are:

  • Being impulsive
  • Restlessness or fidgeting
  • Struggling to wait
  • Talking excessively
  • Interrupting conversations
  • Standing up when sitting is required
  • Be very active and constantly on the move
  • Be unable to participate in leisure activities quietly

Aside from experience some of the symptoms listed, they must:

  • Have noticed several signs of inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms before age 12
  • Experience the symptoms in at least two different areas, such as at home or work
  • Show that there are indications that the symptoms are interfering with their daily routine
  • Show that symptoms are not caused by another mental health condition, such as anxiety disorder or depression

Patients with the combined form of ADHD have symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive or impulsive types. To determine your ADHD symptoms, you can take this assessment test.

Treatment Options For Adult ADHD

If you are struggling with ADHD as an adult, there are safe and effective treatment options – some do not require medications or recurrent visits to the doctor.

Medications Work, But Not As A Cure

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Many people associate ADHD treatment with medications. However, it is necessary to note that ADHD medications are not effective for everybody, and even when it is effective, it will not solve every issue or eliminate all symptoms.

In fact, although medication for ADHD usually helps with attention and concentration, it often does little to improve signs of disorganization, forgetfulness, poor time management, and procrastination—the very issues that are responsible for problems faced by many adults with ADHD.

When used with other treatments, medicines for ADHD is more effective. Patients will get more results from their medications if they include other treatments that help with emotional and behavioral issues and teach new coping strategies. ADHD medications trigger different responses in different people. Some people notice remarkable improvements, while others do not. The side effects are also different with each patient and may outweigh the benefits in some people. Since everyone reacts differently, it will take a while to get the correct medication and dosage.

Regular Exercise

Exercising regularly is one of the most convenient and effective methods of reducing ADHD symptoms in adults and boost concentration, memory, motivation, and mood. Physical activity removes the extra energy that can cause impulsivity. It also gives a quick boost for the brain’s dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine levels—all of which contribute to focus and attention. Regarding this, exercising and drugs for ADHD, including Ritalin and Adderall, work alike. However, unlike ADHD meds, exercises do not require a prescription and have no side effects.

Consider exercising most days of the week. You do not necessarily have to visit the gym. Walking for 30 minutes at least four times per week can make a difference. Thirty minutes of activity every day is also effective. Choose an enjoyable activity and stick with it. Go with something that aligns with your physical strengths or poses challenges yet fun. Team sports are a great option because the social aspect keeps things interesting.

Interacting with nature is also helpful. Studies show that this can reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Increase the benefits by complimenting that with exercise. Consider trail running, hiking, or strolling through a local park or scenic location.

Get Good Sleep

Many adults with ADHD struggle with sleep. They are often unable to sleep at night, sometimes due to racing thoughts, sleep restlessly, and struggle to wake up in the morning. They may wake up feeling irritable for several hours. Poor sleep quality worsens ADHD symptoms in adults, so having a regular sleep routine is important. Getting better sleep quality can significantly affect your focus, attention, and mood.

To get better sleep, it is good to set a bedtime and adhere to it and wake up around the same time each morning, even if you feel tired. Ensure the bedroom is totally dark and avoid electronics – dim lights from cellphones and digital clocks can disturb sleep. Avoid caffeine in the evenings, or stop it completely. It is good to have a quiet hour before bed, during which you turn off all screens before sleep. If medications disrupt your sleep, discuss with the doctor about reducing the dose or taking it earlier during the day.

Eat Healthily

Regarding diet, ADHD management is mostly about how you eat and what you eat. The many nutritional issues prevalent among adults with ADHD are due to impulsiveness and poor organization. The objective is to pay attention to eating habits. This entails planning and shopping for healthy meals, planning meal times, making foods before you get hungry, and keeping healthy, quick snacks handy, so you do not have to resort to using the vending machine or fast foods.

Plan meals and snacks no more than three hours apart. Many people with ADHD eat intermittently, sometimes going for hours without food and then binging on whatever is available. This is inadvisable for ADHD symptoms or your physical and emotional health. Ensure you get enough zinc, iron, and magnesium in your diet. Get a daily multivitamin if you are uncertain.

Consider including little protein and complex carbohydrates during each meal or snack. The foods keep you alert and reduce hyperactivity. They are also a source of steady, lasting energy. Avoid junk foods and reduce sugar and caffeine. Sugary foods are often for an instant energy boost, but it may cause a drop in focus, energy, and mood. Reducing them can stabilize blood sugar and improve sleep at night. Some studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can improve mental concentration in people with ADHD.

Relaxation Methods For ADHD

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It is possible to alleviate many ADHD symptoms through relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation. With consistent practice, calming therapies can improve attention and concentration and reduce anxiety, impulsivity, and depression.

Mindfulness meditation is a type of fixated self-awareness that calms the mind and body and focuses your thoughts. Researchers note that meditation intensifies activity in the prefrontal cortex over a period, the area of the brain responsible for attention, impulse control, and planning. You could consider meditation the opposite of ADHD. The objective of meditation is to learn how to direct your attention to get insight. Therefore, it is an exercise for your attention span to help you figure out and solve problems. While it also helps to better tackle distractions, reduce impulsivity, and improve focus, practicing mindfulness with meditation can also give you better control over your moods and emotions – a challenge many adults with ADHD face.

Yoga and similar activities like Tai Chi add the physiological benefits of exercise and meditation psychological implications. It can be practical if you find it hard to meditate due to hyperactivity. You practice deep breathing and other relaxation methods that help you gain focus and mental awareness. By maintaining different postures for long periods, you can achieve balance and stillness. When you feel overwhelmed or lacking control, you can use yoga techniques to refresh and restore mental balance.

Therapy For Adults

Treatment for adults could also entail seeking professional help. This can help you learn new coping skills for symptoms and change the habits that may be contributing to the problem. Some therapies are directed at stress and anger management or controlling impulsive behaviors, while others help you learn to manage time and money more effectively and improve organizational skills.

Talk therapy: Adults with ADHD sometimes find it hard to handle issues caused by a consistent pattern of underachievement, academic struggles, failure, relationship conflict, and job turnover. Individual talk therapy can assist with the emotional burden, including low self-esteem, shame, embarrassment you felt as a child and teenager, and resentment you bear from the nagging and criticism from the people around you.

Marriage and family therapy: This therapy helps with the issues ADHD causes in people’s relationship and family life, such as disagreements over money issues, impulsive decisions, responsibilities in the house, and forgotten commitments. Therapy can help the patient, and their loved ones tackle these problems and find practical ways to deal with them and communication. Therapy can improve relationships by enlightening partners and family members about ADHD.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy pushes you to figure out the negative beliefs and traits, causing issues in your life and making changes. Since many people with ADHD experience demoralization due to years of struggles and disappointments, one of the main objectives of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to transform the negative outlook into a more optimistic and realistic perspective. Cognitive-behavioral therapy also focuses on the practical problems that accompany ADHD, including work performance issues, disorganization, and poor time management.

The Bottomline

After diagnosing ADHD, the healthcare provider can work with the person to manage and treat the condition's symptoms. It is advisable to visit the doctor if you suspect you are experiencing signs of ADHD, and those symptoms are negatively affecting your daily activities. You will probably get prescription meds, a referral to therapy, or both.