Updated 28 July 2019

10 signs that you may have adult ADHD

ADHD in adults is actually far more common than we think. Here are the 10 of the most common signs of adult ADHD.

ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common diagnosis amongst children, and it was initially believed that kids with ADHD would eventually "outgrow" the disorder in their teens or early adult life.

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Recent studies suggest that this is simply not the case for many sufferers. It is now estimated that of children diagnosed with ADHD, 50% continue to experience symptoms throughout their lives.

Many adults with ADHD only recognise their own symptoms once their own child has been diagnosed with the disorder.

So what exactly are the symptoms of adult ADHD?

1. You lack organisational skills

Are you constantly searching for something? You can never find your car keys, cell phone and important documentation. Your desk is mountain of paperwork, you miss appointments and frequently forget to pay your bills.

If staying organised is a challenge for you, consider breaking up your tasks into smaller steps. Using reminders and calendars is a great way to stay on top of things.

 2. You are easily distracted

When you’re talking to someone, your mind wanders and you have difficulty focusing. You often get so caught up thinking about something else that you lose track of what has been said to you.

Your open plan office is a nightmare for you. You constantly feel like you are being interrupted and wish there was a way of blocking everyone else out.

With ADHD sufferers, concentration is a core issue. Try minimising other stimuli when you are working or studying. Put your cell phone on silent and avoid having the TV on or listening to music. Where possible, try to find a quiet place without distractions where you can study or get your work done.

Read: Improve your concentration

3. You are always procrastinating

Do you always put off your deadlines, studies and other important tasks? Do you feel like you're always leaving everything to the last minute?

ADHD sufferers often say that they are constantly procrastinating. It is believed that this could be because the only time that they can concentrate is when they are under immense pressure or stress. This ongoing stress can have a negative effect on their health.

Try using a daily planner or schedule which can help you keep track of what you need to do and better manage your time.

Read: You can beat procrastination

4. You struggled at school

You struggled to listen to your teacher and were often in trouble for drifting off. Reading, exams and projects were a complete nightmare for you, and your school results often reflected this.

Patterns of disorganisation and lack of concentration can often be picked up by examining a person’s school history. Adult ADHD sufferers often report having to work much harder than their peers in order to cope at school.

5. You’re a smoker

A cigarette is the only thing that keeps you calm. It is easier for you to focus on your work after smoking.

It is estimated that 40% of people with ADHD smoke, compared to only 26% in the general population. It is often only once someone stops smoking that they realise they have symptoms of ADHD.

Read: Smoking linked to developing ADHD

It has also been shown that ADHD sufferers have a higher chance of using alcohol and drugs than people without ADHD. Those with ADHD are also more likely to start using these substances at a younger age than the average person.

6. Relationship issues               

Your partner, friends and family often complain that you don’t listen to them. They feel that you don’t care about them and may even call you self-centred.

You prefer the beginning, "honeymoon stage" of a relationship where you are excited and full of lust. Once a relationship becomes stable and predictable, you become bored and your relationship falls apart.

Relationship problems are an extremely common feature amongst those with ADHD. Because sufferers have difficulty concentrating, their partners often feel neglected, ignored and unimportant.

Read: Building better personal relationships

Because people with ADHD are also often disorganised, they often forget simple household and family-related chores such as picking the kids up on time from school. This can put an immense strain on family relationships.

7. You have a child with ADHD

Studies indicate that there could be a genetic component to ADHD. It is estimated that if one family member has ADHD, there is at least a 25% chance that another member may also suffer from the disorder.

As mentioned previously, adults often only recognise their own symptoms once their child has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Read: Parenting a child with ADHD

8. You are extremely impulsive

You often make quick decisions without properly considering the consequences. You may have walked out of your job on the spot or bought a brand new car without allowing yourself time to weigh up the pros and cons of your decision.

Impulsivity is probably the most risky symptom of someone suffering from ADHD. This can lead to unprotected sex, excessive drug or alcohol abuse and other dangerous decisions. Because of this, it is important that people seek treatment quickly if they suspect that they may have ADHD.

8. You get angry

You lose your temper extremely quickly. Little things make you very angry. You can be screaming and shouting one moment and then laughing and smiling the next.

People with ADHD often have difficulty controlling their emotions. Minor issues are enough to trigger an angry outburst; however the anger can fade away as quickly as it arose. This can also contribute to relationship problems as conflict is not properly resolved.

Read: Anger management

10. You’re a thrill-seeker

You enjoy driving fast, gambling and would love to go skydiving. You are keen to try anything that may give you a rush.

People who have ADHD often enjoy stimulating activities that are novel and exciting. This may be because they enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes with engaging in such activities.

This is also linked to impulsivity and, once again, can result in risky behaviour. It is important to focus this desire for adventure onto activities that won’t negatively impact your life or relationships. Adventure sports such as parasailing, surfing or skateboarding are great activities for thrill-seekers.

Read more:

ADHD in adults?
Behavioural therapy for adult ADHD
Coping with adult ADHD

Sources: ABC News; WebMD


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Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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