Understanding ADHD in Adults: Beyond the Stereotypes

The common image of someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often centers on a hyperactive child, but the reality is far more complex—especially in adults and notably in women. The prevailing stereotype may lead many to overlook their symptoms, mistakenly attributing them to other causes or self-blame.

Dr. Charlynn Ruan, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology, highlights a significant issue: “ADHD in women frequently goes undiagnosed. The overt hyperactivity often seen in boys, which signals ADHD in children, is less common in females. This discrepancy can result in many women feeling misunderstood and mislabeled as lazy or undisciplined, fostering a sense of shame.”

Signs of ADHD in Adults

Despite these challenges, recognizing ADHD symptoms can be the first step toward understanding and managing them. Here are key signs that may suggest the presence of ADHD in adults, even without a prior diagnosis:

1. Distorted Time Perception

Individuals with ADHD often experience time uniquely. A minute can drag on or fly by, making punctuality a challenge, explains Brendan Mahan, M.Ed., M.S., an ADHD coach and host of the ADHD Essentials podcast.

2. Shifting Time Horizons

ADHD can affect one’s ability to plan for the future. What may seem like a clear plan for the next year can abruptly shift to an inability to consider even the next day’s needs.

3. Intolerance to Boredom

For those with ADHD, the need for constant stimulation makes boredom particularly unbearable, leading to anxiety over even brief periods of inactivity, notes licensed counselor Monte Drenner.

4. Impulsive Spending

Impulsivity is a hallmark of ADHD, manifesting in frequent, unnecessary purchases. This tendency extends beyond significant investments to everyday items, highlighting a difficulty in resisting temptation.

5. Emotional Regulation Challenges

Difficulty in managing emotions, whether it’s quickness to tears or anger, may indicate ADHD. This sensitivity often results in being labeled as overly emotional.

6. Elevated Anxiety Levels

ADHD exacerbates the difficulty in filtering out extraneous sensory information, leading to overwhelming feelings and heightened anxiety, Dr. Ruan explains.

7. Desire for Constant Change

A hallmark of ADHD is a relentless search for novelty, which can manifest in frequent job changes, relocation, or shifts in relationships—often on impulse, without thorough consideration.

8. Propensity Towards Addictive Behaviors

The impulsivity and quest for reward associated with ADHD heighten the risk of addiction. This vulnerability is compounded by challenges in self-esteem and the brain’s heightened response to reward stimuli.

It’s crucial to recognize that these signs alone—or even collectively—do not confirm an ADHD diagnosis. Yet, if these experiences resonate with you, seeking a professional assessment could be a valuable step. Remember, identifying ADHD is not a matter for embarrassment but an opportunity for understanding and growth.