The Nature Of Adult ADHD

At School

Most adults who have ADHD symptoms report a history of poor school performance. Although some people have mild cases of ADHD and are able to compensate during their educational years, most people report difficulty performing adequately in the school setting overall. As a result, 25% of adults with ADHD drop out of school, only 12% obtain a bachelor's degree, and 4% hold a professional position.

Behaviors associated with ADHD often result in lower grades, criticism from teachers, as well as parents, and sometimes, the need to repeat a grade. In addition, an ADHD student may also have a specific learning disability that further compounds any problems with learning. Hyperactive behaviors (if present) interfere with adequate learning and also generate more frequent disciplinary actions in the school setting. This history of poor school performance has often triggered additional problems in an adult with ADHD, such as oppositionality, depression, and low self esteem.

At Work

Adults with ADHD often experience career difficulties. Problems with concentration and task completion that affect school performance continue to be problems in a job setting. Individuals with adult ADHD tend to have trouble going through established channels and following "proper" procedure. In addition, they often do not perform well with rigid authority and may frequently express anger at job requirements or their supervisor. Whatever the reason, adults with ADHD tend to have fewer occupational achievements. They tend to change employers frequently and may simply quit out of boredom. Poor job performance, attentional or organizational problems and/or relationship difficulties may also cause frequent job loss.

Adults with ADHD will likely benefit from predictable, consistent work routines, flexible deadlines, and projects that allow for creative involvement. One surprising research finding regarding this group is that they appear to be more likely to own their own small business. This phenomenon is likely a result of the failure of standard employment settings to address the characteristics of ADHD, combined with a the need to express creative skills. For those high-functioning individuals who can sufficiently organize their own activities, small business ownership may allow them to avoid dreary routines and rigid, demanding bosses, and embrace their creativity. The presence of a supportive spouse or partner who can help manage organizational tasks and project details would likely help ensure success.


As a result of various ongoing problems, adults with untreated ADHD tend to have a lower socioeconomic status, and money is often a serious concern. Frequent job changes and poor job performance may leave the finances of many ADHD adults in disarray. Impulsive tendencies and the frequent search for excitement may generate a host of problems such as numerous driving violations, car accidents (and other accidents in general), and driver's license suspension.

Research suggests that 16% of adults with ADHD have a drug abuse problem, but this rate does not distinguish between those receiving treatment and untreated adults. Most likely, the drug abuse rate is higher for untreated ADHD adults because these individuals tend to use both legal and illegal substances in an effort to self-medicate (i.e., control their symptoms). For instance, the nicotine in cigarettes is a central nervous stimulant, so smoking may reduce ADHD symptoms by mimicking the effects of prescription stimulants.

Adults with this disorder can be intense and appear driven to meet certain needs. However, they are often unsuccessful due to inconsistency and disorganization, making their efforts seem choppy and poorly coordinated.

3 out of 4 adults with ADHD also suffer with another disorder. Dealing with depression and anxiety symptoms complicates the picture.

Interpersonal Relationships

Individuals with adult ADHD may appear as one of two extremes: withdrawn and antisocial, preferring to spend their time alone; or overly social and unable to easily endure even brief periods of solitude. Neither of these extremes allows much room for flexibility in daily living.

Relationships of all kinds are difficult for the adult with ADHD. Impulsive comments and behaviors in combination with a notoriously short temper can cause extreme problems. The frequent lack of clear self-awareness also has poor implications for social problem-solving once a concern has been identified.

Individuals with gregarious personalities may prove engaging in the early stages of involvement and many people are drawn to their creative energy. However, even these qualities, in combination with the other more difficult aspects of the disorder, prove challenging as time goes on. Family, friends, and co-workers may gradually withdraw from some of these challenging individuals. As a result, adults with ADHD tend to have higher rates of marital problems, separation and divorce.

  • Jane

    Well "Ouch". I am an adult female, diagnosed bet. 35-40 yrs old. I'm wondering where this material comes from, or rather when? It appears very dated and geared toward attention deficit with hyperactivity exclusively. Years ago the medical community considered this to be a predominately male disorder, that conclusion was based on the number of children diagnosed in their school years.

    Most of these cases drew attention to themselves initially due to being hyperactive or impulsive in the classroom. Albeit some of these included females they were of the minority. For years the majority of females with attention deficit disorder slid far under the radar, these were the "daydreamers" they drew little attention to themselves other than staring out windows or doodling on paper, they were rarely disruptive in the classroom and after many years it was found to be to their detriment.

    I was one of those who classically was labeled time and again by one teacher after another, one grade to the next etc., "Jane is a bright girl but doesn't apply herself.." or "Jane could exceed in this class but refuses to do the work.." Adjectives like "lazy", or cutsies like "a dreamer", (often implied airhead tendency) were confusing and hold lasting effects toward identity and self esteem that reach long past grade school and high school (for those who didn't dropout or just mentally give up on themselves) Although some females had/have Attention Deficit w/hyperactivity, the majority of females (some males) indeed would carry the invisible anchor of "inattentive" Attention Deficit with them through adulthood. In layman terms...I am one of them and it sucks.

    Aside from the unintentional omission of this type of Attention Deficit in this text, I have to attempt to say and with no ill will...this for the most part seems geared to those effected by those affected with ADD and somewhat lacking in gentleness and compassion for those living with the stigma and challenges of the disorder within. It is extremely difficult, and we fight an internal battle constantly as our brains aren't wired to automatically perform executive functions that the average person can take for granted.

    LOL in some ways this reminds me of the disclaimers one gets when adopting an adult animal from a shelter versus a puppy or kitten....I hope you know what you're taking on with these shelter dwellers. Often challenges and grief in that these adult shelter animals may not automatically make the best pets!

    It feels hurtful to a degree. It "feels" hurtful to a degree. But I know that I am just one of thousands of adults diagnosed later in life who has the regret of not having been privy to the answer to that nagging lifelong question of "What is wrong with me??" until years have filled those gaps with negativity. We are working rather late in life at self-discovery and managability, it is an uphill climb. I am blessed to have a partner who is lovingly (though not always w/o frustration) willing to climb that hill with me and by my side.

    By the way, maybe thats why I advocate adopting from a shelter, and choosing those past puppy stage..we've seen it, we lived it, and we're just that much more grateful for the love, and to finally be accepted. :o)

  • Sandwalker

    I have recently been diagnosed with inattentitive ADHD and I am grateful. I have felt different most of my adult life and never understood my missing link and being able to match the link to the way I have felt. For me, there is a definite upside to the mind of ADHD adult when it comes to creativity. I have been told my photography is amazing and original business ideas are highly creative.

    The downside is my ADHD nature traps me in continuous a thought process and does not allow me to follow through with appropriate actions, fears and esteem kick in, because I hold mild to moderate depressive feeling about myself. This condition is exhausting, although at least I am now mindful about my ADHD thought process as well.

    I am convinced there are many others ADHD'ers out there who share my thoughts about being highly creative. I am now searching for a great ADHD coach with the intent to first help myself and secondly assist others to prosper mindfully to manifest their ideas into reality.


  • Emily

    2 divorces, 3 children (1 grown) and several lost jobs later. At 40 I've finally accepted that I am limited. I use to feel "limitless", so many ideas about what to do with the grand adventure and expanse of options life seemed to offer. I was so excited to take on, and take down challenges of the naysayer. I had nothing but naysayers in my experience as a child and young adult. Finally rejected all their naysayerness. Now I have to concede that "there may have been something to what they were 'Naysaying'. I was diagnosed 4 years ago with ADD. My mom still "pooh-pooh"s the notion that I have a disorder. It is still my chock-full-o-character flaws that has landed me in my heap. Self-esteem, barely recognizable as esteem at all, is shredded. My chosen profession (RN) is an impossable feild for me to excell in. I can focus like a lazer on a deteriorating patient and pull out a "save" on a dime, but don't ask me to account for how many times 8 different patients pee over a given 12 hour shift. I can dazzle with differential diagnosis that suggested to a willing attending physician helps a very ill patient "turn the corner". Don't ask me to keep track of my employee badge or be consistently on time for work. I enjoy my co-workers, but can overwhelm them with clever conversation and playfull banter "to keep it light". I can't censor my feelings or opinion about "office politics". My BS tolerance is a big, fat goose-egg! As for QC, risk-management and cost-containment, I'm a managers worse nightmare. My documentation is atrocious, however, I have never caused harm to a patient or brought about a "sentinal" event as a result of clinical incompetence or negligence. I learned to overlook the groans and rolling of eyes and nashing of teeth from coworkers who had to follow me in correcting medication documentation errors or delays from a late md order entry. There was always a grumbling of malcontents that like to lay there dispondence on my inequity. I managed to charm my way into being allowed to "stay on the team" dispite the challenges my ADD wrought on the smooth running of any given department. I was also handy as a clinical guru and resource to the lesser skilled or newly graduated and thus unconfidant RN's. I was fearless and flawed. Spoke my mind and bit my tongue to suit the PC as best I could. After 20 years as a nurse I am fatigued by the serial firings that have plagued my working life. My personal life is in shambles, my finances are hanging by a thread and I am racked with guilt over having my 2 kids needlessly suffer the consequences of growing up in a single-parent home that is unpredictable in routine and messy in appearance. I'm going to devote the next few months (years) to understanding this ADD that I have to reconcile to forming a new and thriving persona/identity. Thanks for sharing what you have experienced. It gives a glimmer of hope.

  • Terry

    I can certainly indentify with much of what to shared. I want to really support your decision to learn all you can about ADHD, understand how it affects you and learn some strategies to cope. I find ADHD to be a very silent affliction that can not be easily supported through conversation, as a result of this I have developed some social anxiety. I am now seek guidance and hope to pass on all I know. I am now forming a goal to develop a non profit society to give a proper voice and support to this misunderstood affiction that so many people are unware they even have, they just feel off. Like minded people understand and by reading your comment I know you do understand.

    I feel that with anything that affects me, the I more can discuss it with someone, the better I can understand, cope and learn a more comfortable way of well-being.

  • Anonymous-1

    i was diagnosed with ADHD/ADD when I was 45 years. It was a revealing experience that actually was not a surprise at all. After several job loses and a marriage on the rocks, I was glad to know that I was not purposely "sabotaging" my life. The feeling of doing so much and getting no where was so frustrating. People labeled me as "lazy", "scared", and "undisciplined".

    As one of the descriptions above describes, "choppy" and "scattered", are great words to describe my life. A life full of choppy events and circumstances! Thanks for the ability to post my thoughts.....

  • bob6464

    It seems like as hard as i try that there is little support for me in a working envoirment when I need it. Im too hyper. im 25 and because of the social skills that I have are not on the same level as others it seems to give me issus with jobs even when I feel like im doing everthing the wright way.

  • Julie

    What a load of rubbish. I have ADHD, work in middle management with a well above average salary, have an academic Masters Degree or MBA and was told I was one of the best students on the course (very close to finishing a 2nd - an MSc and professional qual) and a Teaching Qualification (PGCE). When the time is right I will complete a PhD which I was offered a couple of years ago but I turned down as I wasn't ready to complete this. The PhD was fully funded with a salary attached.

    I have a number of close friends. My closest friend since I was 10 years old. So relationships aren't a problem for me. I am close to my family and ADHD runs through most of my relatives. They are also very successful (a brother in the forces (senior) and another (in middle management). Although they don't have the specific learning disabilities that I have but have done well.

    I have many of the ADHD symptoms but to be honest it is simply a case of being self aware, getting support (in education at least) and finding strategies to learn how to deal any differences you have in the workplace. Success is possible ... you just need to understand your strengths and weaknesses like anyone. You also have to learn to NEVER GIVE UP. If you give up you are a dead duck!! Good luck ... and keep going.

  • Alemap

    After being diagnosed with ADHD at age 42, like most I was finally just RELIEVED but, after too many years of craziness in just about everything I touched, I decided to forget conventional thinking and focus on the person I was created into. Why spend half your life swimming against ideas that someone else created and the other half trying to conform to those ideas, rather than go WITH your own thought process. It may be a little different but, HEY if that' who you are then, be determined to be differentD

  • Anonymous-2

    I was recently diagnosed at age 65. When I was a child, I spent my time waiting to grow up and leave home school was my childhood

  • Robin

    ADHD is not a gift, ok?

    If your sympotoms don't impair your life, then you don't have ADHD.

    I'm greatful for my medication.

    I'm greatful to have a job, an apartment, a car, payable bills, internet banking, a smartphone.

    I never date and have very few friends. Relationships in general are confusing and draining.

    At 36, my life is as full as I can manage. Now I'm just waiting to die.