Adult ADHD Overview

ADHD has always been considered a children's disorder, but increasingly in the last 25 years, adults have been diagnosed and medicated for this problem. By definition, this disorder cannot appear suddenly in adults. Rather, if an adult is newly diagnosed with ADHD, the syndrome is viewed as the adult component of a childhood disorder that was never diagnosed. Although symptoms can be caused by other events such as a head injury, hyperthyroidism (high levels of thyroid hormone) or seizure disorders, true ADHD appears during early childhood.

Some individuals with adult AD/HD had more severe symptoms as children that persisted across time. Others (e.g., individuals who are very bright) may have found ways to compensate for their symptoms when they were young, but experience more challenges as they tackle living independently, pursuing a career, raising a family, and other common adult life stages.

ADHD significantly interferes with adults' ability to function in all arenas of their lives; work, home, school, and social interactions. The most common negative outcome of adult ADHD is underachievement. As adults, these individuals are often better able than children to recognize that they are different than others. However some people who have lived with ADHD their entire lives may not realize that these symptoms are indicative of a mental disorder, rather than a problem with motivation, trying hard, or any other negative comments that they may have heard throughout their lives.

Age of onset

According to DSM diagnostic criteria, ADHD develops in childhood, with at least some symptoms present prior to age 7. Estimates of children whose symptoms continue into adulthood range up to 60%.


Prevalence rates for adults with ADHD are not as clear as they are for children, but estimates suggest that 1 to 5% of American adults have some form of the disorder, including people whose symptoms are significantly reduced, but not fully in remission (i.e., have not disappeared completely). Although more males than females have the disorder in childhood, the numbers seem to even out by adulthood.

  • Anonymous-1

    I just took the ADD test, and according to it I have an extreme form of ADD. Sorry, whether or not I have an extreme form, I do not have a mental disorder. Yes, my brain bounces along like a rubber ball, but I am an accomplished mother of 5 and am nearing completion of my first undergraduate degree. Okay, yes, school was hard when I was young. And yes, I would have liked to have a crutch to lean on, but calling this a mental disorder is not helpful, in my opinion.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    I fully appreciate your objection to the use of labels. What I wish to point out, in a genle way, is that the term "disorder" is being used and not "mental illness." ADD is a disorder because it interferes with our ability to function to a degree that would otherwise be maximum. As a fellow ADD person, I understand your objections. Speaking for myself, my life would have been easier had this "disorder" been identified when I was a child. You and I have both learned, through trial and error, to compensate for the problems created by ADD.

    As Shakespeare said so very well, "A rose by any other name is still a rose." This is one "rose" I could have done without, as you know.

    Continue your good work and excellent accomplishments. It just goes to show, ADD does not make a person any less a human being.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • Anstria Greenwood

    I also took the test and at this point I don't care whether or not I have a label, all I want is for it to STOP. Yes, I am creative and talented and also intelligent, but these gifts may as well be nothing because although I can pretty much do anything I put my mind to, I finish NOTHING. Well, I finished an honours degree. And some other things where I could focus intently, but housework? Paying attention in conversations? not a hope. I am 56 years old my doc put me on Wellbutrin and it helped initially (what blessed relief) then it just stopped working as well. I am ready to find a ledge to jump off of.