How does ADHD affect you as you get older?

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a condition that causes problems with focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that affect every part of your life. 

ADHD used to be considered a children's condition. While it is one of the most common childhood brain development disorders, it also lasts into adulthood. Many adults also live with undiagnosed ADHD.

Most people without ADHD find the ability to control emotions, behavior, and urges changes over time. Children have greater difficulty, but find that as the brain and skills develop, control is easier as adults. If you are a person with ADHD, you learn some self-control as you grow, but you have less compared to others who are the same age. 

As you get older, you might have fewer ADHD symptoms, but you don’t grow out of it. About 80% of children with ADHD continue to have symptoms as adults. ADHD just looks different as you age.

It’s common for adults to have less hyperactivity, but other symptoms like trouble concentrating and controlling urges can last. If you have mild ADHD, you might gain enough coping skills to have very few symptoms that interfere with your life. 

But adult ADHD can also look different depending on your stress and how much support you have in place from routines, family, friends, coworkers, and therapists. 

What are ADHD symptoms in adults?

Adults have the same general ADHD symptoms as they did during childhood. Symptoms can change and become milder or more intense. The symptoms can also vary depending on the type of ADHD. These include:

Predominantly inattentive. This type of ADHD causes trouble focusing, distraction, and forgetfulness. Adults with inattentive ADHD can have trouble with memory, planning, and organization. You might also have trouble prioritizing, which can lead to problems with work and relationships. 

Some symptoms can include:

  • Problems finishing work 
  • Missing appointments
  • Poor time management
  • Trouble following through
  • Trouble multitasking
  • Constantly losing things
  • Trouble listening to conversations

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive. This type of ADHD causes problems staying still and controlling urges. You might talk a lot, fidget, interrupt others, or speak at inappropriate times.  

Adults with hyperactive ADHD often have fewer problems with being hyper, but might feel restless or on edge. Difficulties may also include:

  • Trouble being quiet
  • Feeling like you’re driven by a motor
  • Trouble waiting
  • Risky behavior like unsafe sex or substance abuse

Combined. This type of ADHD includes both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms. 

Adult ADHD can also lead to emotional problems, including:

Can ADHD be worse on some days?

ADHD can be better or worse, depending on your stress, routines, and support. One of the complications of aging with ADHD is that the condition often interferes with your life and causes serious problems. These problems then lead to high stress and make ADHD worse, causing a disruptive cycle. 

ADHD is often linked to issues like:

  • Impulsive spending that leads to high debt
  • Forgetting to pay your bills
  • Failing grades in college
  • Losing your job because you have trouble finishing your work
  • Legal trouble
  • Addiction 
  • Car accidents
  • Suicide attempts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

What is the ADHD treatment?

Treatment can help you manage your symptoms and mental health. In some cases, your doctor might first treat other problems that are making your ADHD symptoms worse and are affecting some areas of your life more than others. If you have anxiety, for example, your doctor might treat anxiety first to see if that helps your symptoms. 

ADHD treatment usually involves medication, skills training, and therapy. Therapy can teach you skills that help with:

  • Relationship problems
  • Negative thinking
  • Time management 
  • Anger management
  • Problem-solving 

Medications help balance brain chemicals that affect your behavior and focus. They can help you control your urges, have better concentration, and feel calmer. Medications can include:

Finding the right medication and dose can take time. You should keep regular appointments with your doctor until you find the right treatment. Tell your doctor about any side effects. A combination of medications and therapy is often the best treatment.

Outlook

There is no cure for ADHD. You continue to have brain differences as you age, but the symptoms may be different from those you experienced as a child. You might have milder symptoms or more intense ADHD, especially if you’re stressed. The condition can interfere with your life so treatment and therapy are important.  

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Medically Reviewed on 11/15/2021
References
SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What is ADHD?"

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): "ADHD Changes In Adulthood," "Diagnosing ADHD in Adults," "Medication Management."

Journal of Attention Disorders: "Perceived Stress and ADHD Symptoms in Adults."

Mayo Clinic: "Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)."

Nationwide Children's: "ADHD Changes in Children as They Grow and Develop."