Inattentive ADHD In Adults: The Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/22/2020

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.4% of children and 4.4% of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). With the prevalence of the condition, one would expect the signs of ADHD to be obvious to many people – squirmy, noisy, and agitated children who find it difficult to wait for turns, or adults who struggle with concentration. The truth is that this is only one aspect of the disorder. Many children and adults with inattentive ADHD deviate from the norm – reserved, quiet, and gloomy are ways to describe these people. The symptoms are different, but they stem from the same genetic, mental disorder – and likewise require the same interventions provided to the hyperactive form of the condition.

Understanding Inattentive ADHD


Predominantly inattentive ADHD is generally marked by trouble with concentration, forgetfulness, disorganization, and disengagement. Inattentive ADHD is more prevalent in females than males, although males have three times more ADHD diagnoses than females. Since inattentive ADHD symptoms can be hard to notice outwardly – and since they do not fit into the conventional understanding of the disorder – those with this form are easy to miss, especially females.

The symptoms are either missed entirely, mistaken for a learning disability or mental health condition, or dismissed as personality trains that could be managed if they made enough attempts. Irrespective, without the proper diagnosis and treatment, children with this condition struggle with learning and may develop anxiety or depression. As adults, they may experience relationship and financial challenges and struggle to attain their full career potential. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, medical professionals often find it hard to recognize inattentive ADHD symptoms, meaning those with the condition scarcely get the necessary treatment. This may lead to apathy, academic challenges, and shame that may persist throughout life.

Symptoms Of Inattentive ADHD

The diagnostic manual from the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5) lists nine symptoms for inattentive ADHD. While most people experience inattention occasionally, people with the predominantly inattentive form of ADHD regularly experience the following symptoms. These symptoms may interfere with or interrupt normal functions at work, in social situations, and with family members. Some of the symptoms include:

Careless Errors


At work, an adult with inattentive ADHD may fail to properly proofread a document or email, causing embarrassment and undesired attention. Lack of attention to detail is why the person makes careless mistakes and seldom finishes a task properly. If you find yourself reminding yourself to slow down and pay attention but struggle to do so, it could indicate inattentive ADHD. Your brain is continually trying to move on to the next task, and you eventually just yield.

Difficulty Concentrating

Another symptom of inattentive ADHD is the inability to concentrate on tasks and long-term projects. Unfinished classwork and half-done projects are all indications of ADHD. Adults with inattentive ADHD loathe boring work meetings more than everyone and need to sip coffee, chew gum, or stand during the meeting to stay attentive through it. If you cannot complete projects or get through long documents, it could be a sign.

Regular Spaciness

Inattentive adults are dreamers and may regularly get lost in their thoughts and zone out. They may make doodles on their notes during meetings and focus on other unnecessary things while talking to them about important matters. These traits are sometimes dismissed as daydreaming, which may prolong the diagnosis. The regular spaciness is often mistaken for lack of interest and may annoy other people, especially when concentration is necessary.

Lack Of Organization

Adults with inattentive ADHD may struggle to manage their time or organize tasks properly. The symptoms can cause a high-stress level, mood swings, or anger. Lack of organization often co-occurs with a lack of concentration and visible through challenges with executive functions, especially keeping track of stuff, setting objectives, multitasking, cleaning, and remembering appointments or instructions. Since they are constantly thinking of something else while dropping things, everything with an inattentive adult is always out of place.


Repeated forgetfulness is another common sign of inattentive ADHD. This could mean missing doctor appointments, arriving at meetings late, and standing up friends for dinner. They often omit important tasks or steps in a process and may forget to pay bills, reply to messages, and send birthday wishes. People may think of the behavior as rudeness, but this behavior is hardly intentional.

Often Misplacing Possessions


An adult with inattentive ADHD may regularly lose important materials for general daily activities – keys, wallet, sports equipment, glasses, and backpack. They may eventually find the item in weird places. Such people might need a locator device or launch pad to avoid forgetting certain items.

Difficulty Listening Or Following Instructions

Inattentive adults may struggle to follow instructions and complete tasks in a certain manner. They may only retain half of the instructions provided to them verbally and may need to record notes or read through a page several times to get all the information. They may get sidetracked halfway through a conversation and interrupt others with their own stories.

Easily Distracted

Adults with inattentive ADHD get easily distracted, leaving several projects (albeit enjoyable) lying around in disarray. They may start piano lessons and ditch them after a few months of struggling with sheet music. If you like to plan and launch projects but get distracted and leave several unfulfilled promises, you may be dealing with attentive ADHD.

Laziness Or Indifference

Unfortunately, some of the signs of inattentive ADHD makes people seem lazy and indifferent, especially without a diagnosis. Without intervention, they may lose jobs and friends–even developing a difficult and hostile persona as a defense mechanism. When everyone labels you as lazy for your entire life, you may start to believe them too.

Diagnosing Inattentive ADHD

There is currently no medical or genetic test for predominantly inattentive ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD demands reviewing the symptoms carefully. The evaluation can be provided by a mental health professional, usually a psychiatrist, neurologist, or clinical psychologist. The evaluation comprises:

  • Identify the symptoms present.
  • Verify that the symptoms are not caused by another mental health or environmental condition, including higher work pressure or increased stress in someone’s life.
  • Identify the presence of co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

The physician or mental health professional will ask for a complete history of your past and present behavioral traits. The questions will include how the person performs at home, work, and socially. Close friends and family members may need to answer questions for verification or provide extra information. Having the symptoms is not enough – you must have had the symptoms since 12 years of age, have them in more than one setting, and they must be disruptive to your daily life.

You will answer questions about your family’s medical history. You may need to get a physical examination to eliminate medical conditions that may cause symptoms identical to those of ADHD, including learning disability, sleep disorders, and alcohol or drug use issues. You will also fill a rating scale of symptoms. The doctor might utilize other rating scales of standardized behavior. You may also take other medical or psychological tests to detect the presence of co-occurring conditions like depression and anxiety.

In summary, to get a diagnosis of inattentive ADHD as an adult (17 years or older), you must have:

  • Five or more of the symptoms of inattention, which may change with time
  • Symptoms occurring for at least six months or more
  • Symptoms must affect work, social, or home life
  • Several symptoms were noticed before age 12
  • Multiple symptoms present in at least two different life conditions – work, home, or social life. An instance might be job loss due to ADHD symptoms or financial struggles due to poor organization or forgetting to pay bills on time
  • Symptoms are not caused by another mental disorder

Treatment For Inattentive ADHD

Most people have ADHD, the typical type – impulsive, hyperactive, distracted, restless, disorganized, and concentration issues. The second most common form of ADHD is the inattentive type. Unfortunately, many of them do not get diagnosed. While hyperactive ADHD patients draw unnecessary attention to themselves because of constant chatter, hyperactivity, and conflict-driven traits, inattentive ADHD patients are often quiet and distracted.

Instead of arguing, they are more prone to withdrawal or looking away. They are not usually impulsive and will probably not utter inappropriate words. They generally have problems discovering interests or motivation in life. Inattentive ADHD is the reason why the term ADHD is not generalized. If doctors and parents were searching for hyperactivity signs to make a diagnosis, the condition may not be treated. Untreated ADHD can affect every part of your life. It has been linked with depression, obesity, underachievement, divorce, job failure, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Since it is easy to miss signs of inattentive ADHD, it can persist for several years without treatment. However, treatment is crucial, regardless of the life stage. Fortunately, inattentive ADHD responds well to treatment. It is usually possible to transform someone’s life with proper diagnosis and treatment. You must know the form of ADHD you have to get appropriate treatment intervention. Medications can be effective for some, tackling underlying problems with attention while you learn coping methods. For those who cannot or prefer not to take ADHD meds, other treatment options are available.

Stimulant medications like Ritalin can be an ADHD treatment. Most times, stimulant meds can help adults with inattentive ADHD concentrate and stay on a task. However, some of the meds have unwanted side effects, causing many people to hesitate to use Adderall, Ritalin, or other meds to treat ADHD.

Behavioral intervention plans can help those diagnosed with inattentive ADHD learn adaptive behavior skills and limit off-task or inattentive behaviors. This may be more effective than drug use, especially since some people diagnosed with ADHD do not actually have the condition but have similar traits because of family or personal issues. Behavior intervention plans have benefits over the long-term. The adaptation skills can help improve concentration skills permanently – something meds cannot give.

Coaching that focuses on improving memory and organization skills are beneficial for adults dealing with inattentive ADHD. Depending on their expertise, an ADHD coach can help inattentive adults learn social skills and financial planning – two prevalent issues.

Some of the tips to consider for better management of inattentive ADHD includes:


  • Use timers to get started and going on boring tasks.
  • Use high-energy music to motivate yourself ahead of a long meeting, challenging tasks, or anything likely to distract you.
  • If you notice signs of distractions, change your location – moving can help retune the brain if boredom sets in.

Adults with ADHD may not always describe what they are experiencing and often face several snide jabs about being silly, lazy, and uncommitted. These insults can cause low self-esteem, and the doubt may even linger after a diagnosis. It is necessary to tackle the feelings and get assistance, whether from a therapist, close friend, or partner. With proper treatment and self-acceptance, you can surmount ADHD challenges and identify your strengths and successes.

In Conclusion

If you have a problem concentrating on tasks and other symptoms of ADHD, you need to talk to a licensed medical professional for a proper diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis is only the first part of fighting the challenges you face with inattentive ADHD. Many treatment options are available for treating the condition, including medication and therapy. Early intervention can stop the disorder from further disrupting your life. You can take an assessment test for ADHD to get started.