About 5 percent of U.S. adults have ADHD, but relatively few get diagnosed or treated. If these adult ADHD symptoms are negatively affecting your life, see your doctor to talk about getting a proper ADHD diagnosis.
by Charlotte Hilton Andersen
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You have an ADHD history
Adult ADHD always begins as childhood ADHD, says Eric Lifshitz, MD, a psychiatrist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica and in private practice in Beverly Hills. Having a history of problems with concentration, focus, organization, and memory your whole life is the primary criteria in diagnosing the ADHD in adults. “For adults with ADHD the issues have persisted all their lives. If the problems are a new phenomenon, then it’s not ADHD,” he explains. “There are many, many other reasons that adults can develop these issues, including depression and stress.” A trained professional can help you find the correct diagnosis to get you the best care.
You’re already bored of a conversation … and it just started
If you have one mind-numbing conversation a day, congratulations, you’re human. But if all your conversations feel tedious—or if you’re constantly interrupting others or finishing their sentences for them to rush the conversation—then you might have adult ADHD, Dr. Lifshitz says. Another common conversational complaint of adults with ADHD: feeling like other people speak too slowly. Because the brains of those with adult ADHD are always two steps ahead, people may have a hard time listening to others and giving them time to formulate their thoughts.
You’re always 10 minutes late
Are you the person that friends always tell the party starts half an hour before it actually does? If you just can’t seem to make it anywhere on time no matter what you do, you may have ADHD. And chances are you’re as irritated by your chronic lateness as everyone else is. “They’re not trying to be rude; adults with ADHD just have an extremely difficult time with time management,” Dr. Lifshitz says. “They underestimate the amount of time routine tasks, like finding their keys and shoes, will take.”
You always ditch yoga class before the final relaxation pose
Rather than recharging and relaxing during breaks, “adults with ADHD often feel an inward restlessness or anxiety when not actively engaged in a task,” Dr. Lifshitz says. Children with ADHD show this as outward hyperactivity but adults learn to internalize that feeling, he explains. Downtime becomes a real downer as sufferers report things like not being able to sit through a movie (especially if it’s one they didn’t choose), preferring only active hobbies, getting bored with games quickly, and getting antsy during massages.
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Your house is full of UFOs (unfinished objects)
Who hasn’t started cleaning out the dishwasher only to get sidetracked with the pile of mail on the counter? But if your whole house is filled with half-finished crafts, piles of partially read books, and baskets containing both clean and dirty laundry—and you never seem to make any progress in finishing them—then this could be a sign of adult ADHD.
You’re prone to making lots of little mistakes
As children with ADHD grow up they often develop coping behaviors to manage their deficits in the adult world. But these can easily fall apart when you take more responsibility, like getting a promotion or going to graduate school, Dr. Lifshitz says. This often manifests as poor performance reviews, shortcut taking, and making myriad little mistakes even though you know that you know better.
You have a hard time handling change
Lots of us have a hard time with major change—like moving or starting a new job—but one way that people with ADHD cope is by having predictable routines. They often build “workarounds” into their schedules to compensate for tasks that may be difficult for them. So if things suddenly change, even in good ways like getting a promotion at work, the adjustment can feel overwhelming.
You’re always changing the radio or TV channel
“People with ADHD need high levels of stimulation,” Lifshitz says. This could translate to constantly changing channels, checking their phones, whistling or humming, or fidgeting. They may also prefer to be in places with lots of light, noise, and people.
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You get sucked into online gambling or day trading
Adults with ADHD also seek out high levels of stimulation in their jobs and hobbies. Since they get easily distracted and have a hard time performing during lulls in activity, they turn to activities that provide immediate gratification. Unfortunately these high-reward activities can also be high-risk, like gambling.
Your three least favorite words are “moment of silence”
Long periods of quiet, especially during conversations or activities, feel supremely uncomfortable to adults with ADHD, Dr. Lifshitz explains. This may lead them to interrupt, sing, talk to themselves, tap the table, or otherwise make noise to fill the quiet—activities almost guaranteed to irritate those around them.
One of the main ways Dr. Lifshitz says he sees ADHD present in adults is as depression and low self-esteem. “ADHD affects not just work and school but also their social life,” he explains. “Because of their distractibility and irritability, adults with ADHD have a harder time forming connections with others.” Plus, over time, the constant accumulation of difficulties socially and in school can lead to lifelong insecurity.
You feel like a failure at life
It’s normal to feel bad when you fall short of a goal but if you always feel like you’re falling behind no matter how hard you try, this may be a sign of adult ADHD. “Patients often have a chronic sense of not living up to their potential and have difficulty accomplishing their goals,” Dr. Lifshitz explains. Worse, this can be most acute in people who are naturally very intelligent and high achievers. They know what they’re capable of and can see that they have to put in a lot more effort than everyone else, just to get the same results. But rest assured, he adds, ADHD does not say anything about your intelligence or talent.