How to Identify Adult ADHD

Six Methods:Looking for Key Symptoms of ADHDTracking Your Responses to Everyday LifeExamining Your RelationshipsGetting Diagnosed by a ProfessionalFinding SupportLearning About ADHD

ADHD is short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a disorder of the brain in which certain areas of the brain are smaller than normal. These parts of the brain regulate the body’s ability to rest, attention regulation and memory. You have likely always had ADHD, but perhaps you have just now begun to recognize that you may have symptoms. Your restlessness, lack of focus, and hyperactivity may cause challenges at work or in romantic relationships. Identify whether you have ADHD as an adult by looking for key symptoms and observing your reactions to everyday life.

Method 1
Looking for Key Symptoms of ADHD

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    Determine if you have symptoms of inattentive ADHD presentation. There are three presentations of ADHD. In order to qualify for a diagnosis, you must exhibit at least five symptoms in more than one setting, for at least six months. Symptoms must be inappropriate for the person’s developmental level and be seen as interrupting normal functioning on the job or in social or school settings. Symptoms for ADHD (inattentive presentation) include: [1]
    • Makes careless mistakes, is inattentive to detail
    • Has trouble paying attention (tasks, playing)
    • Doesn’t seem to be paying attention when someone is talking to him or her
    • Doesn’t follow through (chores, jobs)
    • Is organizationally challenged
    • Avoids tasks requiring sustained focus (like projects at work)
    • Can’t keep track of or often loses keys, glasses, papers, tools, etc.
    • Is easily distracted
    • Is forgetful
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    Determine if you have symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD presentation. Some symptoms must be at the level of “disruptive” for them to count in a diagnosis. Track if you have at least five symptoms in more than one setting, for at least six months: [2]
    • Fidgety, squirmy; taps hands or feet
    • Feels restless
    • Struggles to play quietly/do quiet activities
    • “On the go” as if “driven by a motor”
    • Excessive talking
    • Blurts out even before questions are asked
    • Struggles to wait for his turn
    • Interrupts others, inserts self into others’ discussions/games
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    Assess if you have combined presentation of ADHD. The third presentation of ADHD is when the subject meets criteria to qualify for both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive criteria. If you have five symptoms from either category, you may have combined presentation of ADHD. [3]
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    Get diagnosed by a mental health professional. As you determine your level of ADHD, seek the guidance of a mental health professional to make an official diagnosis. This person will also be able to determine whether your symptoms can be better explained by or attributable to another psychiatric disorder.
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    Think about other diagnoses you may have received. Talk with your doctor or mental health professional about other disorders or conditions that might have symptoms that are similar to ADHD. As if having an ADHD diagnosis isn’t challenging enough, one out of every five with ADHD is diagnosed with another serious disorder (depression and bipolar disorder are common partners).
    • One-third of children with ADHD also have a behavioral disorder (conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder). [4]
    • ADHD tends to pair up with learning disabilities and anxiety, too.[5]

Method 2
Tracking Your Responses to Everyday Life

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    Track your activities and reactions over two weeks. If you suspect you may have ADHD, pay attention to your emotions and reactions for a couple of weeks. Write down what you do and how you react and feel. Pay attention especially to your impulses and feelings of hyperactivity.
    • Impulse control: Having ADHD may mean that you have a hard time controlling impulses. You may do things without really thinking them through, or you can be impatient and have trouble waiting your turn. You may find yourself dominating conversations or activities, answering people and saying things before they have finished what they are saying, or saying things and frequently regretting them later.
    • Hyperactivity: With ADHD, you may feel restless all the time, need to always fidget and fiddle, and talk excessively. You may be told often that you speak too loudly. You might sleep a lot less than most people or have trouble falling asleep. You might have trouble sitting still or staying seated too long.
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    Observe how you respond to your environment. Some with ADHD feel overwhelmed by so much detail throughout the day, yet at the end of the day do not remember important details or events. Some examples of situations that might overwhelm someone with ADHD include a crowded venue with music and many conversations happening simultaneously, a potpourri of aromas ranging from air fresheners, flowers, and food to perfumes and colognes, and perhaps a variety of lighting effects such as television screens or computer displays. [6]
    • This type of environment can make the individual virtually unable to participate in a simple conversation, let alone excel at exercising business acumen or social graces.
    • You might turn down invitations to these types of events because of how they make you feel. Social isolation can easily work its way into depression.
    • Individuals with ADHD often experience anxiety over unfamiliar situations. These feelings can also lead to social isolation.
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    Monitor your physical and mental health. Symptoms of ADHD can exacerbate certain health issues, as anxiety, depression, stress and other issues. Your forgetfulness may contribute to missed doctor’s appointments, missing medications, or ignoring instructions from your doctor.[7]
    • Look at your self-esteem. One of the biggest issues for individuals with ADHD is low self-esteem. A lack of self-confidence might spur from others outperforming you at school or work.[8]
    • Watch your habits with alcohol and drugs. Individuals with ADHD have a greater propensity for falling into substance abuse, and it’s harder to break away from that addiction. [9] It is estimated that “half of those suffering ADHD self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.” [10] Have you had any trouble with drugs or alcohol?
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    Examine recent bank statements. You might have financial difficulties if you have ADHD. Think about how often you pay your bills on time, or if you ever overdraw your bank account. Look at the activity on your account to see if you can identify any patterns to your spending.[11]

Method 3
Examining Your Relationships

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    Recall your experiences at school. You may not have had a successful time in school if you have ADHD. Many people with ADHD have a difficult time sitting still for extended periods of time, remembering to bring your books, meeting deadlines, or remaining quiet in class.[12]
    • Some people may have experienced a noticeable shift in middle school when classes are no longer taught by one teacher. There is increased responsibility on the student to manage his own success. Many individuals with ADHD may have started noticing symptoms around this time.[13]
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    Look at your job performance. Adults with ADHD might have problems with job performance due to problems with time management, handling project details, showing up late to work, not paying attention in meetings, or missing deadlines.[14] Think about your last job review and the comments you get from your supervisor. Have you been passed over for promotions or raises?
    • Count up how many jobs you’ve had. Some adults with ADHD have an inconsistent job history, having been fired from jobs for poor performance. Because these individuals are impulsive, they may also change jobs impulsively.[15] Take a look at your job history to identify inconsistencies. Why did you change jobs?
    • Take a look at your work area. Your work area may be disorganized and messy.
    • Some adults with ADHD perform very well at work, especially because of the tendency to hyperfocus on work.
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    Consider your romantic history. Individuals with ADHD often have a difficult time in romantic relationships, with partners calling them “irresponsible,” “unreliable” or “insensitive.” While there can be many other reasons why your relationships succeed or fail, one reason might be attributed to possible ADHD symptoms.
    • You might have a difficult romantic past and not have ADHD.
    • Ask a relationship expert (for example, a psychologist or marriage counselor) for advice and perspective before using your romantic past as evidence of ADHD.
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    Think about how often someone nags you. If you have ADHD, you might get nagged a lot because you have trouble staying focused on a task, getting easily distracted.[16] Your spouse might ask you to do the dishes repeatedly, for example.
    • You might feel nagged often and not have ADHD.
    • Try behavioral modification on your end before seriously considering if you have ADHD.

Method 4
Getting Diagnosed by a Professional

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    Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. Go to a licensed mental health professional or a physician trained in ADHD issues for a confirmed ADHD diagnosis. This person will interview you to get a detailed idea of your past and current life experiences and challenges.[17][18]
    • Depending on where you live, mental health professionals might vary in availability. For example, in some countries with nationalized healthcare, mental health care is guaranteed if you wait a few weeks. In the United States, some health insurance companies cover a short string of behavioral therapy, but most require you pay out of pocket for mental health care. In other countries, you must pay out of pocket entirely.[19]
    • Examples of professionals to go to for a diagnosis include clinical psychologists, physicians (psychiatrist, neurologist, family doctor, or other type of physician), and clinical social workers.[20]
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    Assemble health records. Bring your health records to your appointment, as these may indicate certain health conditions that mimic symptoms of ADHD.[21]
    • It can be helpful to get a physical exam before visiting your mental health professional.
    • It can be illuminating to talk with your parents or other family members about your family medical history. ADHD can be genetic, so it is helpful for your doctor to know about your family's past medical issues.
    • If you are currently on medication, bring a sample of your medication and your prescription. This will help your healthcare professional understand your lifestyle, medical history, and current healthcare needs.
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    Try to bring employment records. Many individuals with ADHD experience difficulty at work, including time management, focusing and managing projects. These challenges are often reflected in job performance reviews as well as the number and types of jobs you’ve held.
    • If possible, bring these records to your appointment.
    • If not possible, try to remember where you have been employed and for how long.
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    Consider gathering old school records. Your ADHD has likely been impacting you for years. You may have gotten poor grades or frequently been in trouble in school. If you can find your old report cards and school records, bring them to your appointment. Go back as far as possible, even to elementary school.[22]
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    Consider bringing your partner or family member with you. It can be useful for the therapist to talk with other people about your possible ADHD. It might be hard for you to say that you’re constantly restless or that you have trouble concentrating.[23]
    • Only bring people you trust. Ask if they want to go before expecting them to go with you.
    • Only bring someone if you think it will be helpful. If you think you would have a better time with just you and the professional, then don't bring anyone else!
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    Inquire about a test to track your eye movement. Recent studies have shown a direct link between ADHD and the inability to stop eye movement.[24] This type of test is still in the experimental phase, but it has shown remarkable accuracy in predicting ADHD cases. Ask your doctor about its relevance to your case.

Method 5
Finding Support

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    See a mental health therapist. Adults with ADHD generally benefit from psychotherapy.[25] This treatment helps individuals accept who they are, while at the same time helps them seek improvements to their situation.
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy directly geared toward treating ADHD has been useful for many patients. This type of therapy addresses some of the core problems caused by ADHD, such as time management and organizational issues.[26]
    • If the person with ADHD is reluctant to seek professional help, you can explain it as building skills. Exactly like going to an extracurricular learning activity, Sunday school, or school itself, the goal is to learn specific skills, techniques, and ideas.
    • You may also suggest to family members to visit a therapist. Therapy can also provide a safe place for family members to vent their frustrations in a healthy way and work out issues with professional guidance.
    • If a family member is reluctant to go to seek professional help, you can phrase it as them helping you. For example, you might say, "Hi, Mom. I would like for you to see my therapist because it will help me improve at understanding the greater needs of the family." It will actually help your therapist give you useful, relevant techniques for navigating situations.
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    Join a support group. Numerous organizations provide individual support as well as networking amongst members who can get together online or in person to share problems and solutions. Search online for a support group in your area.
    • Support groups are particularly good venues for people who do not think they need help, or who successfully handle their ADHD. These individuals can take on leadership roles and teach what they know while still learning from others.
    • The support group you like the most might be for ADHD individuals only, or for different groups of people and interests. Consider joining a hobby group or club regarding one of your passions or interests. Examples include a dance club, book club, women's business group, gym class, animal shelter volunteering, and soccer team.
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    Find online resources. There are numerous online resources that provide information, advocacy and support for individuals with ADHD and their families. Some resources include:
    • Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) distributes information via its website, through webinars, and via newsletters. It also provides electronic support, one-on-one live support, and conferences for adults with ADHD.
    • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD) was founded in 1987 and now has over 12,000 members. It provides information, training, and advocacy for persons with ADHD and those who care about them.
    • ADDitude Magazine is a free online resource that provides information, strategies, and support for adults with ADHD, children with ADHD, and parents of persons with ADHD.
    • ADHD & You provides resources for adults with ADHD, parents of children with ADHD, teachers and healthcare providers who serve persons with ADHD. It includes a section of online videos for teachers and guidelines for school staff to work more successfully with students who have ADHD.
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    Talk with your family and friends. You may find it useful to talk about concerns whether you have ADHD with your family and trusted friends. These are people who you can call when you find yourself depressed, anxious or otherwise affected negatively.

Method 6
Learning About ADHD

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    Learn about the brain structures of individuals with ADHD. Understanding what how ADHD works in your body can inform you on how to live your life or choose activities. Knowing the science behind the disorder can help someone rationalize and explain their behavior.
    • Scientific analyses show the brains of persons with ADHD are slightly different in that two structures tend to be smaller.[27]
    • The first, the basal ganglia, regulates the movement of muscles and signals which should be working and which should be at rest during given activities.[28] If a child is sitting at his desk in the classroom, for example, the basal ganglia should send a message telling the feet to rest. But the feet don’t get the message, thus remaining in motion when the child is seated.[29]
    • The second brain structure that is smaller than normal in a person with ADHD is the prefrontal cortex, [30] which is the brain’s hub for conducting higher-order executive tasks[31]. This is where memory and learning[32] and attention regulation [33] come together to help us function intellectually.
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    Learn how dopamine and serotonin affect individuals with ADHD. A smaller-than-normal prefrontal cortex with lower-than-optimal dopamine and serotonin means greater struggles to focus and effectively tune out all the extraneous stimuli flooding the brain all at once. [34]
    • The prefrontal cortex influences the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine.[35] Dopamine is tied directly to the ability to focus[36] and tends to be at lower levels in persons with ADHD.[37]
    • Serotonin, another neurotransmitter found in the prefrontal cortex, [38] impacts mood, sleep, and appetite.[39] Eating chocolate, for instance, spikes serotonin causing a temporary feeling of well-being; when serotonin drops low, however, depression and anxiety result. [40]
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    Learn about possible causes of ADHD. The jury’s still out on the causes of ADHD but it’s well accepted that genetics play a large role, with certain DNA anomalies occurring more often in people with ADHD. In addition, studies show correlations between children with ADHD to prenatal alcohol and smoking as well as to early childhood exposure to lead. [41]
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    Keep up with current research. Neurology and behavioral science are discovering new facts about the brain every year. Consider investing in a consistent journal or magazine that reports on brain development, teens with mental differences, or brain research. Try to invest in peer-reviewed articles.
    • If you cannot afford a peer-reviewed journal, try other public or free sources of information. Other magazines include National Geographic, your government website, and Most news portals now also have a "Health and Fitness" section that might report on brain research.
    • If you are truly at a loss of where to find current information, ask your local librarian, high school teacher, or college professor. Alternatively, if you have access to a smartphone, try to find a telemedicine app, ADHD information app, or medical textbook app.

Sources and Citations

  1. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
  2. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
  3. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
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Article Info

Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders