Adult ADHD 101 | Could it be ADHD?

What you should know about adult ADHD

ADHD is the most under-recognized psychiatric disorder in Canada, which is especially unfortunate because it's also the most treatable.

ADHD is a complex disorder that impacts individuals across the lifespan:
About one million Canadians are affected by ADHD including children, adolescents, and adults. In adults, it remains largely undiagnosed.

ADHD impacts almost all areas of a person’s life.

Learn more here:

Two couples on boardwalk

Could it be adult ADHD?

Symptoms of ADHD start at an early age, but they may not be noticed until adulthood. Even then, adults who have lived with undiagnosed ADHD may not recognize lifelong challenges as symptoms of ADHD.

ADHD isn’t the same for everybody:

  • Not every person with ADHD shows all of the symptoms
  • Some people have mild ADHD while others have severe ADHD that results in significant impairments

There are a number of common symptoms and behaviours that can help identify ADHD in adults.

  • Unable to pay attention for a period of time
  • Easily distracted by things around you
  • Unable to pay close attention to details
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Over-focusing and being unable to refocus your attention
  • Forgetting to complete tasks
  • Frequently losing things
  • Fidgeting, finger drumming, leg shaking, etc.
  • A feeling of internal restlessness
  • Feeling that your mind is racing
  • Talking too much
  • Talking at inappropriate times
  • Interrupting or blurting out things
  • Making impulsive decisions

Other symptoms, behaviours, or traits that could be due to ADHD include challenges with:

  • Poor time management and organization
  • Procrastination
  • Impatience
  • Being easily bored
  • Tuning out while
    being spoken to
  • Seeking out high-risk activities
  • Mood swings, temper outbursts
  • Not able to analyze own behaviour
  • Not able to see effect on others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of underachievement
  • Difficulties with social interaction
  • Frequent job change/loss
  • Less schooling
  • Choosing jobs that are more active and less detail oriented
  • Difficulty managing finances

Magnifying glass with person Could it be ADHD?
If these symptoms sound familiar and you think you may have adult ADHD, take the 6-question quiz now!

Girls studying

ADHD in adult students

ADHD can affect students of any age including those in college or university, as well as adult students returning to complete their high school diploma.

  • Additional strain on their attention may make it impossible to succeed.
  • These students and their professors often wrongly conclude that they are not capable of learning the material or successfully completing the program.
  • These students may then drop out or change to another program where they will continue to struggle due to their undiagnosed ADHD.

For adults with ADHD returning to school to complete their high school diploma, the challenges faced when they were adolescents (e.g., difficulty with memory, paying attention, study habits, organization, time management) may still need to be addressed for them to succeed.

If you’re a student with ADHD, the following symptoms can seriously impact all aspects of your life, especially when it comes to learning:

  • Easily distracted when studying
    • Mind wanders and misses chunks of conversations
  • Can’t keep track while reading
    • Skips around or goes right to the end
  • Master of procrastination
    • Assignments/studying always put off to the last possible moment
  • Difficulty planning/prioritizing class projects
    • Easily overwhelmed by tasks
  • Forgetful
    • Often late for appointments or handing in assignments
  • Finds it hard waiting to take a turn
    • In class, during group work, talking with a friend
  • In constant motion
    • Fidgeting, finger drumming, leg shaking
  • Impulsive
    • Says whatever comes to mind without weighing the consequences
  • Frequent mood changes, quick temper
  • Trouble keeping/maintaining relationships
Mother and adult daughter on a walk

Adult ADHD is real

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Scientists recognize ADHD as a true psychiatric disorder that is related to the structure and functioning of the nervous system. It is a chronic condition in which a person exhibits or experiences a number of symptoms that persist for at least 6 months. These symptoms are grouped into three main categories:

  1. 1) Inattentiveness – The tendency of failing to pay attention, demonstrating disregard or neglect.
  2. 2) Hyperactivity – Having highly or excessively active behaviour.
  3. 3) Impulsivity – The tendency to act or do things without thinking or caring about the consequences. A problem with inhibitory behaviour.

Who can have ADHD?

Anyone can have ADHD regardless of age, gender, or race.

The symptoms start in childhood, but depending on a number of factors, it may go unnoticed and therefore undiagnosed until adulthood.

Approximately 60% of children with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms as adults. It is estimated that at least 4% of adults in Canada suffer from ADHD. That’s 1 out of every 20 people in a company.

Man and child look at iPad

Many ADHD symptoms overlap with the symptoms of other conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and substance abuse disorder, and this can make ADHD challenging to diagnose.

For example:

ANXIETY

Restlessness is common in both ADHD and anxiety

BIPOLAR DISORDER

Rapid speech is common in both ADHD and bipolar disorder

DEPRESSION

Poor concentration is common in both ADHD and depression

SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER

Compulsive behaviour is common in both ADHD and substance use disorder

This is not a complete list. Please speak to your healthcare professional about the complete diagnostic criteria for each condition.

If you think you may have ADHD, you can take the 6-question quiz, and make an appointment to talk to your doctor.