Updated 05 September 2018

Could you have adult ADHD?

Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most misdiagnosed disorders. Could adult ADHD be at the root of your problems?

Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have serious implications for an individual’s career, social life and mental health. Yet most people with this condition remain untreated because it’s one of the most misdiagnosed disorders.

Take a look at the list of symptoms below. Remember that most adults exhibit these symptoms from time to time. To be diagnosed with adult ADHD, you have to show symptoms over a long period of time and it must disrupt your day-to-day life.

Do you easily feel emotionally overwhelmed?
People with ADHD are like tortoises born without a shell. The tiniest thing can provoke an excessive emotional reaction. It’s as if the emotion takes over your entire being and you can’t see it in perspective.

People with ADHD also have little emotional and social intelligence, and struggle to read the emotional messages of others.

Do you struggle with relationships?
Because people with ADHD are so impulsive, they quickly lose their temper, don’t listen to others, blurt out responses, and don’t communicate well. This is bad news for personal relationships.

People who are diagnosed with ADHD when they’re older often have a divorce or two behind them. They often end relationships impulsively or start affairs.

Do you suffer from depression or anxiety?
Most adults with ADHD suffer from one or more additional conditions too, particularly anxiety and depression. Other conditions often associated with ADHD include bipolar disorder, sleeping disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and drug abuse. It’s no wonder then that doctors so easily misdiagnose adult ADHD.

If you complain about depression, your doctor is going to treat you for that and probably miss the underlying ADHD.

Is your working life a mess?
If you have adult ADHD, you’re probably late for work most of the time and terrible with time management. You procrastinate and get tangled up in unimportant details. As a result, your performance is dramatically impaired and your productivity is often very low because you work so slowly and may try to compensate by being a perfectionist.

Do you abuse alcohol and drugs?
Many people with ADHD abuse drugs, prescription medication or alcohol. It’s often a form of self-medication because substance abuse provides the stimulation people with ADHD desperately seek, or help them cope with depression and anxiety.

Among the criticisms levelled at Ritalin is the theory that it can turn one into a drug addict. But research shows that the opposite is true: the risk of becoming an addict is far greater if ADHD goes untreated than if you’re treated with medication at an early stage.

Do you get bored quickly?
Most people don’t enjoy mundane chores, but people with ADHD have an active aversion to such tasks. That’s why the home of someone with ADHD is often messy and untidy. But give them a task that stimulates them and they’ll focus on it with no effort at all.

Boredom and ADHD don’t go together well. Sufferers are starters, not finishers. They often begin a new project or even career, but don’t see it through.

Do you get a lot of speeding tickets or cause car accidents?
Hyperactive people love speed and often drive too fast. People with attention deficit struggle to concentrate on driving.

Do you become stressed out when multifunctioning is required?
People with ADHD often function very well at work – until they’re promoted. Then they fall apart because they can’t keep all the balls in the air. The same can happen with parents. A mother with ADHD can possibly handle her first child well but when the second arrives, a breakdown threatens.

Does someone in your family have ADHD?
ADHD runs in families. If you have it, chances are high that one or more of your siblings also suffer from it. Many adults realise they have ADHD only when their kids are diagnosed.

Reviewed by Prof André Venter, Head: Clinical Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State. MB ChB, MMed, PhD (Canada), DCH, FCP (Paed) SA. July 2018.

Read more:
Treating ADHD


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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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