ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
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Symptoms of Adult ADHD

Margaret Austin, Ph.D., Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Laura Burgdorf, Ph.D.

Adult ADHD symptoms often look different than children's symptoms; they are more likely to be very distractible and impulsive, rather than blatantly hyperactive. Often, the most prominent characteristic in adults with ADHD is difficulty with executive functioning (the ability to redirect attention, inhibit inappropriate behavior, make decisions, and switch problem-solving strategies). This significant function affects individuals in all aspects of their lives and can impair their ability to structure their lives and to plan even simple daily tasks. Other symptoms observed in adults include disorganization, impulsivity, restlessness, difficulties focusing attention, emotional instability and low stress tolerance, as evidence by the following:

Disorganization and Difficulty with Task Completion-

  • Poor organizational skills
  • Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started
  • Working on many projects simultaneously
  • Trouble with follow through on promises or commitments
  • Changing plans, enacting new schemes or career plans and the like
  • Difficulty structuring time and setting priorities (e.g., chronic lateness)

Impulsivity-

  • A tendency to say what comes to mind without considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark
  • Difficulties with self-control
  • Spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment behaviors or comments
  • Frequently interrupting others when they are talking
  • A tendency toward addictive behaviors

Hyperactivity-

  • Physical or cognitive restlessness
  • Craves excitement, frequently searching for high stimulation
  • An intolerance of boredom

Attention Problems-

  • Easily distracted, trouble focusing attention (e.g., tunes out or drifts away in the middle of a page or a conversation)
  • Chronic forgetfulness
  • Inaccurate self-observation

Emotional Instability-

  • An ongoing tendency to worry excessively, that may alternate with disregard for actual dangers
  • A sense of insecurity
  • Mood swings
  • Chronic problems with self-esteem
  • Frequent boredom and discontent
  • A chronic sense of underachievement, of not meeting one's goals, regardless of actual performance

Low Stress Tolerance-

  • Impatient, doesn't deal well with frustration
  • Easily flustered, tense
  • Exaggerates the significance of negative events (i.e. makes "mountains out of molehills")
  • Short temper, likely with a history of explosive episodes