ADHD isn’t just for kids. In fact, many adults live with undiagnosed ADHD, navigating a world that seems designed against them. Thanks to increased awareness from doctors, health scientists, and even social media, many adults are finding that they have been living with undiagnosed ADHD. It can be overwhelming for children and adults alike to understand their ADHD and the complexities of living with this neurodivergence. But what if understanding and managing ADHD could unlock a new level of potential? Keep reading to explore the world of undiagnosed ADHD in adults and what it can mean in your life.
The Hidden Struggle: ADHD in Adults
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is often associated with children, as children—especially young boys— have historically been the first wave of individuals diagnosed with ADHD. It is understandable that many would see ADHD as a diagnosis that is only attributed to children.
However, as medical science’s understanding of ADHD grows, so is the realization of just how common adult ADHD is. Many adults were not diagnosed as children—especially young girls—because of the still-developing understanding of how ADHD presents itself, how it affects the sexes differently, and to what degree the effects can be easily identified.
Consequently, it’s easy to understand how adult ADHD is often undiagnosed and still generally misunderstood. Additionally, ADHD can manifest differently in adults than in children, making it even harder to recognize. Nevertheless, recognizing it is the first step towards managing adult ADHD effectively and with the most positive results.
But what exactly is ADHD, and how can you recognize the signs? Those are big questions. Luckily, the understanding of ADHD is better now than ever and so are the tools to help you manage your adult ADHD.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD stands for “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the brain and can manifest in several ways, largely revolving around three key symptoms and indicators. Indicative of its name, the three primary symptoms of ADHD are:
It is common for those with ADHD to struggle with focusing, paying attention to details, organizing tasks, following through on instructions or completing assignments, and managing time. In short, ADHD significantly impairs one’s executive functioning skills.
Hyperactivity refers to excessive physical activity as compared to those who are considered neurotypical. Hyperactivity is one of the first, and most obvious, indicators of ADHD in children. Teachers and parents may notice ADHD manifesting as constant fidgeting, restlessness, and difficulty remaining seated. These symptoms are even more exaggerated in young boys, which is why there has been a gross discrepancy in how many more boys are diagnosed as children than young girls. In adults, hyperactivity may present as a feeling of inner restlessness, constant racing thoughts, inability to stay on-topic, or an inability to engage in leisure activities quietly.
Impulsivity may be understood as acting without thinking of the consequences. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty controlling their responses, interrupting others, blurting out answers, or engaging in risky behaviors without considering potential outcomes.
It is important to understand that the severity and presentation of ADHD symptoms can vary greatly from person to person; many ADHD-like symptoms may actually be symptoms of other neurological or personality disorders—or none at all. While some people may mainly exhibit inattentive symptoms, others may display a combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Before you self-diagnose yourself with ADHD, it is important to pause and talk to a professional about the potential of being officially diagnosed with ADHD. Don’t trust the information of online quizzes or social media influencers to receive a life-altering diagnosis or adopt coping strategies. Talk to a professional before confirming your adult ADHD; you may discover an alternate understanding that could be of greater benefit for your well-being.
The Stigmas and Struggles of Adult ADHD
ADHD in Adults: How it’s Impacting Your Daily Life – The Mini ADHD Coach
Adults with ADHD often face unique stigmas and struggles.
- Social Stigma
Many adults with (and without) ADHD remember the childhood bullying that was rampant against children with ADHD during the genesis of ADHD diagnoses. In order to avoid bullying, and in many cases just to fit in, many children with ADHD learned masking techniques to hide their ADHD symptoms, which they’ve carried with them into adulthood. Additionally, because adult ADHD is so often misunderstood, it is understandable to fear the judgment of others or a dismissal of the challenges faced by those with adult ADHD by those who are ignorant to the realities of it.
- Workplace Challenges
Adults with ADHD in the workplace often struggle with executive functioning skills such as organization, focus, time blindness, and meeting deadlines. It is often mentally and emotionally taxing for adults with ADHD to perform these detailed and time-critical tasks in comparison to their neurotypical peers. Adults with ADHD may come home feeling significantly drained and anxious about their struggles to stay focused, organized, or even track and remember important conversations. Adults with ADHD may find themselves needing extra tools in the workplace to help them stay organized and alert them to important dates, times, and conversation notes that are key to success in a structured workplace.
- Relationship Issues
Work duties and relationships are not the only interactions that are strained by ADHD. Communication difficulties and misunderstandings are common in all relationships with those diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD can significantly impact both professional and personal relationships. Adults with ADHD may find it harder to pay attention to their significant other when they are speaking to them or having important conversations. They may easily lose track of or forget important details of conversations and concerns. Those with ADHD may also struggle with being on time, goal setting and keeping, and relationship challenges that require long-term attention. Because of the effects of living with these ADHD symptoms, it is common for partners with ADHD to suffer from low self-esteem and anxiety.
ADHD and Depression
While ADHD and depression are two different mental health conditions, they can often be found together and have some overlapping symptoms. While ADHD primarily affects the three factors discussed above (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity), depression is most often known for its symptoms of persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and a broad range of physical and cognitive symptoms depending on the individual person and their medical history. Here are some interesting facts about ADHD and depression that may help you understand how these two medical conditions interact.
- ADHD and depression often occur together. Studies show that depression in people with ADHD is significantly higher than in the general population, and that those with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing depression compared to those without ADHD.
- ADHD and depression share neurobiological factors. Both ADHD and depression have been linked with certain imbalances in the brain—such as dopamine and norepinephrine—that affect mood, motivation, and attention.
- ADHD may aggravate symptoms of depression. The challenges associated with ADHD, such as difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and poor organizational skills, can contribute to a range of negative experiences. Over time, these negative experiences and the chronic stress often experienced with ADHD can increase the risk of developing symptoms of depression.
It is important to know that not everyone with ADHD will develop depression, and vice versa. Each person’s experience is unique, and if you find you have adult ADHD, it doesn’t mean you will develop depression. However, recognizing the potential link between ADHD and depression is important for early detection, accurate diagnosis, and appropriate treatment planning.
Treatments and Strategies for Adult ADHD
As you can see, adult ADHD is as complex as it is challenging. But, while ADHD presents many challenges, doctors and therapists are becoming more educated and skilled at offering effective treatments and strategies to help you cope and even thrive with your adult ADHD. Don’t forget, the three strategies discussed here are broad and can encompass several meaningful sub-treatments that may be more or less effective, depending on each individual person with ADHD.
Because of the broad nature of ADHD and how individualistic its symptoms are, the strategies for relieving these symptoms will be just as unique and personalized as you. Talking to your own doctor and therapist will be crucial in creating a treatment plan that serves your unique challenges and plays to your individual strengths.
While medication trials and studies are always ongoing, certain medications have been shown to help manage symptoms of ADHD. While some people may be more willing to explore medication as an option than others, medication can be helpful, especially if you are experiencing severe symptoms of ADHD and/or depression. Please note, it’s always important to use any medication under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
- Natural Supplements
A lot of people prefer to try natural supplements before pharmaceutical medication, but there’s nothing wrong with either option. Part of choosing the best treatment for you is taking into consideration what you are most comfortable with and how your treatment strategies align with your lifestyle. While the use of natural supplements in relation to the treatment of ADHD is still being studied and reviewed, some natural supplements—like ashwagandha—may help improve focus. Like all natural supplements, make sure to listen to your body and combine these treatments with a healthy lifestyle, including getting enough sleep and daily exercise.
Finding a therapist you trust and who understands your unique situation and challenges will be the most significantly impactful coping strategy for living with adult ADHD. Your therapist will be your greatest ally in recognizing and maximizing your strengths while helping you make (and execute) a treatment plan to manage the negative aspects of ADHD. One of these tools may be cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can provide strategies for managing symptoms and coping with the challenges of ADHD.
Having ADHD doesn’t mean you’re broken—it means you’re human. If you’re struggling with symptoms of ADHD, know that you’re not alone and that help is available. Reach out to a healthcare professional for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Remember, patience is key in this journey. You’re doing just fine.