Dr Philippa Kaye: ADHD In Adults

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There’s been a lot of recent discussion in the media about ADHD in adults, with many people discovering they have this condition later in life. Dr Philippa Kaye talks about how to get a diagnosis, what symptoms to look for and how to cope…

Dr Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye

Sophie contacted me after her youngest child’s teacher felt that he may have ADHD. Her child was seen by an educational psychologist and doctor and was indeed diagnosed with ADHD and started on medication which made a significant difference to his behaviour and learning in school.

Sophie felt she’d had similar symptoms as a child, though her teachers thought of her as naughty.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is generally noticed in childhood.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

Symptoms can be divided into two categories:

  1. Inattentiveness, such as being easily distracted, forgetful or losing things, finding it hard to concentrate or carry out tasks and making careless mistakes.
  2. Hyperactivity and impulsiveness include fidgeting constantly, finding it difficult to remain still and concentrate, being unable to wait turns, acting on the spur of the moment.

Now just like with many conditions we all may have some of these symptoms but to be diagnosed with ADHD the symptoms need to be causing difficulties or interfere with a child’s relationships or ability to work at school. ADHD can be treated with medication and often improves over time.

ADHD in adults

Sophie’s question was whether or not she could have ADHD as an adult. The answer is yes.

Symptoms may change – as adults you may have responded to expectations or tried techniques to control the symptoms, so symptoms tend to lessen in adulthood, or become more subtle such as finger tapping. But the internal restlessness may still persist.

There may be verbal hyperactivity – talking quickly or loudly, interrupting or blurting without thinking. Difficulties concentrating and being distracted, impulsivity and risk taking behaviour can worsen.

It may be that you procrastinate, are untidy and disorganised, can’t stick to something to reach a goal. The attention deficit may change, in that you may struggle to regulate what you pay attention too, for example you may feel you become obsessive and hyper focused on something, to the detriment of other activities and relationships.

Symptoms in adult ADHD can impact relationships and work.

One in five adults with addiction issues are thought to have ADHD, and adults with ADHD are more likely to have depression and anxiety.

How is it diagnosed?

If you think you have ADHD your GP may be able to refer you to a local adult ADHD service, though there may be long waiting lists, for assessment.

Treatments for ADHD

Treatment options include talking therapies which may help you with organisation, task management, critical self-thoughts and anxiety.

Medications are available which are generally stimulant medications, related to amphetamines. They can be useful but tend to wear off at night and so are taken daily.

ADHD is considered a disability in the UK, so any school, college, university or place of work must make reasonable adjustments in order to support you.

You may find it useful to join a support group to share experiences and tips which may help – for example ways to help you concentrate, like having something to fidget with, or background music, lists to prioritise tasks, or even planning time outs such as running as an outlet for restless energy.

What causes ADHD?

A woman with head in hands, stuggling with confused thoughts

Pic: Shutterstock

The exact cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not known. There may be a genetic component as it tends to run in families – a third of those with ADHD have one parent with similar symptoms, though they may not have been diagnosed with ADHD.

There is also thought to be an increased risk of ADHD if you were born prematurely or had a low weight at birth, or if you have had brain damage (which can happen either before or after birth), or have epilepsy. More research needs to be carried out into the causes of ADHD.

Advice given in this article and on the My Weekly website and magazines is not meant to replace personalised medical advice from your doctor. If you have any health concerns please see your doctor.

Article written on March 10, 2022; article reviewed and updated on July 2, 2024.

Each week we’ll ask Dr Philippa Kaye to talk about a prominent health issue, so look out for more articles in our health and wellbeing section in coming weeks. Read her advice on When To Bother Your Doctor, Allergies, Parkinson’s Disease, Shingles, Ovarian Cancer, Endometriosis, Long Covid and Ticks and Lyme Disease.

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.