If you’ve experienced professional, personal, or academic limitations based on impaired focus, impulsiveness, or hyperactivity but never received a diagnosis when you were younger, you may be suffering from ADHD as an adult. But can you develop ADHD as an adult?
What Is ADHD?
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a chronic condition that impacts focus, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and other cognitive functions. It can make it hard for you to sit still or complete a task without distractions, depending on whether you exhibit inattentive, hyperactive, or combined symptoms. It is present in approximately 9.8% of children aged 3-17, though the exact figures are expected to be higher due to the underdiagnosing of the condition.
While the exact cause of ADHD is unknown, scientists believe that problems with decreased levels of dopamine in the brain can lead to the development of ADHD. People who have ADHD are believed to have a higher number of dopamine transporters in their brains, leading to a lesser concentration of dopamine remaining available for the brain to use. This dysregulation of normal dopamine levels can lead to issues with focus and trouble feeling satisfaction, causing you to seek out stimulation to provide the dopamine your brain craves.
Genetics also play an important role, with diagnosed parents increasing the risk of ADHD development by over three times. In addition, siblings also present with the condition at a higher rate of 20%-30%, 2-7 times as often as children with parents who don’t present with ADHD symptoms.
Can You Develop ADHD As An Adult?
It’s not uncommon for adults of all ages to receive an ADHD diagnosis without having undergone testing as a child or receiving a diagnosis previously. But, the condition's origin - whether it was there all along or is newly developed - is not really up for debate, there are actual studies that provide in depth information on this.
According to the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), you need to exhibit symptoms of ADHD before the age of 12 to be diagnosed with the condition. As a result, the underdiagnosis of adult ADHD is generally attributed to a misdiagnosis or your childhood physicians missing the symptoms due to effective masking, mild symptoms, or overshadowing academic achievement, as well as cultural influences, lack of acceptance of mental health treatment and lack of education about ADHD and other mental health conditions.
ADHD usually presents during childhood in settings like the classroom, where the physical manifestations of the disorder can be easily seen by teachers, including having trouble sitting still at a desk or interrupting the class consistently. But, it’s also easy for teachers to write off the behavior as attention-seeking, leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis.
However, the symptoms associated with ADHD can become more apparent with the increase in responsibility and self-awareness that accompanies being an adult. As a result, adults are more likely to pursue a diagnosis once they have the independence to do so, leading to the diagnosis of ADHD as an adult.
New research also states that adult ADHD may be an entirely different condition than childhood ADHD. More research is required on the topic, but it may help to explain why adults can develop ADHD.
What Does ADHD Look Like In Adults?
The three types of ADHD - inattentive, hyperactive or impulsive, and combined variations - can present differently for each person. In general, the effects of ADHD in adults are more mild compared to children, but for those who are new to experiencing these common symptoms, they can progress to be more debilitating than they were previously before being identified.
If you experience hyperactive or impulsive ADHD symptoms, you might talk too quickly, fidget while at rest, and suffer from increased anxiety because your brain is moving too fast for you to process. As a result, your memory can be spotty, your temper can be short, and long periods of restricted movement like lectures, airplanes, or movies can be challenging. You may also struggle professionally due to poor communication and social skills.
Inattentive ADHD is more challenging for others to notice, but it can be incredibly difficult for the sufferer. For example, forgetting birthdays, names, and due dates can make social interaction and professional success difficult, while trouble focusing limits your ability to complete tasks on time. In addition, inattentive ADHD may make it seem like you’re not trying hard enough and can cause feelings of guilt or frustration associated with comorbid disorders like anxiety or depression.
Combined presentations are equally debilitating, making everyday tasks, professional advancement, relationships, and mental health management more difficult than peers.
How to Get Help With Adult ADHD
You can be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult - and you can do something about it.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy with a therapist who is trained in ADHD management can help to alleviate some of the mental health concerns that accompany the condition as an adult. They can help you develop coping skills for your symptoms to have a lesser impact on your life, including creating lists, breaking down overwhelming objectives into achievable goals, and implementing a routine that helps you accomplish what you need to.
Medication management is also an effective option that allows you to address the chemical imbalance that contributes to ADHD. Stimulant stimulants and non-stimulant medications can help improve focus, curb hyperactivity, and manage your other symptoms to regain control over important aspects of your life.
Exercise has even been proven to help with ADHD symptoms by stimulating the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that play a significant role in the impact of ADHD. Additionally, it’s easy, accessible, and free, so exercise is a great place to start for anyone experiencing symptoms.
Overall, combining all the tools available will provide the best results for an adult with ADHD.
Done Can Help You Treat Your Adult ADHD
If you’re struggling with the symptoms of ADHD as an adult, Done can help.
Done’s licensed clinicians will work with you to develop a treatment plan that gives you all the tools you need to overcome the limitations that ADHD imposes on you. Through careful medication management, their team can help you get to a position where you can function again and pursue other forms of treatment, including things like exercise that may seem daunting now.
To get started, simply take a short online assessment for free before being connected with an ADHD expert who can help you take back your life.