Can you be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult?
When you think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may think of the classic example of a young boy who can’t stop moving or talking.
But when you’re an adult who is wondering whether you have ADHD, that example may fall short. Regardless of your gender, you’ve probably learned how to sit still and be quiet when appropriate. But being an adult requires a lot of nuanced behavior that does not necessarily come naturally to those who are “neurodiverse” – a term often used to describe people living with ADHD.
Where do you turn when you’re having problems with procrastination, disorganization, impulsiveness, moodiness, daydreaming, hyperfocus, forgetting commitments, misplacing your keys or being distracted when you’re on a deadline?
Many people turn to online resources. In recent weeks, people have been sharing their personal experiences with ADHD on TikTok and YouTube. But it’s better to find an experienced psychiatrist and get a thorough evaluation than self-diagnose, explains Dr. Lance Longo, medical director of addiction psychiatry at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. “It’s a complicated diagnosis and illness. No two people experience ADHD in the same way. The things you see online may or may not apply to you,” he says.
Dr. Longo says that a diagnosis of ADHD considers all your behaviors and whether they are causing problems for you in two or more domains of your life – work, personal functioning and family relationships. It also considers whether you had similar behaviors before you were 12 years old. Most adults diagnosed with ADHD fit into the inattentive type which means they don’t have significant hyperactivity.
In his experience, Dr. Longo has found that some people who struggle with addiction have ADHD as an underlying factor. People who have ADHD can also have anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.
He says that such comorbidities can have symptoms that overlap with ADHD. So, it’s best for doctors to get other disorders well treated before evaluating a person for ADHD. That way, any remaining symptoms can be considered separately.
In addition to evaluating a person’s symptoms, doctors may ask for insights from spouses, friends or family members. Family history may also be considered. It takes a skilled clinician to sort out where you do or don’t fit a diagnosis.
Adults with ADHD may be concerned about taking medication because of societal stigma. Ironically, Dr. Longo says that there is also resistance in the medical community toward prescribing commonly used stimulants for ADHD because of the risk of addiction. He says such decisions ought to be treated thoughtfully so that people who need treatment can get it.
It’s important to remember that many people with ADHD are also curious, creative, energetic, sensitive, persistent and just generally fun to be around. If your neurological diversity is working for you, then all is well.
But if you’re struggling, finding help may be the best thing you ever did for yourself and those you love.
Find behavioral health treatment and programs near you. Learn more about your options: Illinois | Wisconsin.
About the Author
Jo Linsley, a health enews contributor, is a digital content strategist at Advocate Aurora Health. With decades of experience in writing and editing, she continues to aspire to concise and inspiring writing. She also enjoys knitting and singing as creative outlets and for their meditative qualities.