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  • Writer's pictureWill Dempsey

What Does ADHD Look Like in Adults?

While ADHD has historically been associated with rambunctious kids and teenagers who struggle to make it through the school day, we now understand it as a complex condition that persists throughout our lives. Crucially, the signs of ADHD change as we age and present differently between men and women. Many people struggle to manage their ADHD without even realizing it’s impacting their lives — which brings us to the purpose of today’s post: exploring what ADHD looks like in adults.

Types of ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD can be broadly broken down into two types — hyperactivity and inattention — terms that can be something of a misnomer. In very broad terms, inattentive ADHD describes difficulty starting and completing tasks, keeping track of objects, and issues with time management skills. In terms of archetypes, you may think of an absent-minded professor or a daydreaming artist.

The symptoms of ADHD related to hyperactivity are tied more closely to a general sort of nervous energy: an inability to sit still, a need for frequent breaks, or general restlessness. We tend to think of this as being primarily physical, but it can also relate to other behaviors. Many people with ADHD are prone to making impulsive decisions, such as going on spending sprees or overcommitting to social events.

Common Signs of Adult ADHD

  • Inability to focus on tedious tasks.

  • Difficulty sticking to a scheduled routine.

  • Avoidance of tedious or repetitive tasks.

  • Easily distracted by new tasks.

  • Frequently loses & misplaces items.

  • Frequent mood swings or irritability.

  • Difficulty waiting in lines/queues.

  • Impulsive, risk-seeking behaviors.

  • Trouble staying focused during conversations.

Productivity & Burnout

Many adults with ADHD excel in their careers so long as they remain engaged. They may experience alternating periods of high performance followed by burnout and inability to focus. Naturally, this sort of inconsistency can be frustrating in a workplace. Those periods of high performance come with promotions and increased responsibility. Still, when malaise sets in, or there’s an overload of stress, the whole situation can come apart at the seams.

Relationship Issues

People with undiagnosed ADHD often experience friction in their personal relationships. There are a thousand ways ADHD can introduce trouble into a relationship: forgotten anniversaries, missed deadlines, chronic lateness, and battles over lost keys. Those without ADHD struggle to understand how a person could be so scattered or disorganized, sometimes taking it as a lack of respect; meanwhile, those with ADHD may lack the executive function to correct the problem on their own.

Mood Swings

Adults with ADHD frequently experience sharp swings in moods: they go from zero to sixty rapidly during arguments; failures feel catastrophic in nature. There’s a tendency for big emotions to result in big explosions.

Mess & Clutter

It’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to have messy workspaces and living situations. Things get left and forgotten on surfaces, building up as clutter. Eventually, the mess reaches a breaking point, and a deep cleaning is needed. Concurrently, cleaning tends to be a challenge for adults with ADHD. It’s easy to get distracted while cleaning up and organizing things, making restoring order hard.

Reflection & Analysis

If you’re having a hard time figuring out whether or not you have ADHD, it may be helpful to take an online questionnaire. Spend some time thinking about how ADHD may be impacting your life.


Adults with ADHD often struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. ADHD is a neurological difference in how our brains work. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no reason to be ashamed of it. Learning to understand and manage ADHD is a critical path toward stability. It's a way of helping others know what to expect. Schedule an appointment today and learn more about anxiety therapy. There are countless techniques and strategies available to help you manage your ADHD.

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