“People don’t have ADHD as adults. That’s just for kids.”
Many friends, family members, and even doctors are under the wrong assumption that ADHD goes away when you turn 18. In the 1990’s we really believed that was true, but research since then has proven that statement wrong. Actually, most children with ADHD, grow up to be adults with ADHD.
Unfortunately, many adults with ADHD have even been told by their doctors that “getting a diagnosis as an adult is pointless since you’re not in school.” Or that “you don’t need medication an adult since you aren’t in the classroom anymore.”
Many people are unclear as to how the symptoms of ADHD affect you as an adult (or that it’s even possible to have it as an adult). But most of us don’t grow out of it and the consequences of having ADHD as an adult go well beyond the classroom.
Related: When You Think it’s Anxiety, but it’s Really ADHD
Here are 7 ways that ADHD actually gets worse with age.
1. Adults with ADHD Can Struggle to Focus Even When Driving
Struggling to focus is one of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD. It’s widely known that the child with ADHD will struggle to pay attention in school and that it’s something that they struggle to control rather than something they do purposefully. Yet, somehow when you have ADHD as an adult, people think you should be able to control it. But it’s not that easy.
Adults with ADHD struggle for focus even when they are driving. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten lost on my commute because I wasn’t paying attention and either took a wrong road or shot past my destination and have no idea where I am. Once, I ended up in another state.
ADHD as an adult who drives means you are much more likely to get into a serious car accident than adults without the disorder. By and away, the most common feedback we’re given about this is “You just need to pay more attention.”
Noooooo. Really. Pardon my sarcasm but did you notice that’s the whole problem?
2. ADHD Makes Your Job a Constant Struggle
ADHD is a constant struggle with your executive functioning. You know, those skills that everyone else seems to have developed and consider being a “responsible adult?” Planning, prioritizing, being on time, concentrating, remembering…. There are more, but I forgot them all ?
When you struggle with these skills, it’s going to impact your work. At work, having ADHD as an adult often translates into:
- chronically being late to work
- missing deadlines
- struggling to pay attention during meetings
- getting your paperwork done
- making more mistakes
- figuring out which of the 7 projects you are expected to complete is the most important to begin first
- Getting started on a task
And the list doesn’t end there. Many don’t realize that struggling ADHD as an adult often includes struggling to manage your emotions. That’s a problem at work. We’re extra sensitive to criticism, but with the challenges you just read, it’s pretty obvious that we often get much more criticism than your average bear.
Related: ADHD Hypersensitivity is Real and Looks a Lot Like HSP
And the consequences of all of this struggle often mean we are let go because having ADHD as an adult means your boss is often less forgiving than your teacher and his consequences are worse than losing recess.
3. You’re Expected to “Self Regulate” with “Self Discipline”
As a kid, your structure was enforced for you. Most of us had adults that reminded us to take our medication, rushed us out the door in the morning, and made sure that we remembered to eat breakfast.
Some of us even had adults that reminded us to put our homework in our bookbag and forced us to sit at the table and actually do the homework. At school, your teacher made sure you were on task and learning, or at least tried to.
Related: Step by Step: How to be Productive when you have ADHD
Related: How to Manage the Overwhelm and Get More Done
Having ADHD as an adult means you are expected to regulate your own schedule, remember to take your own medication, rush yourself out the door in time for work, and no one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you aren’t distracted at work.
Related: Do You KnowThe KEY to Getting Motivated when you have ADHD?
But doing all of this falls under those executive functioning skills that we lack and part of having ADHD means you are likely to struggle with some or all of these.
What’s worse is, these things are expected of adults and struggling with them invites a firestorm of judgement. We’re looked at as being lazy. Judged for being childish and irresponsible. And many adults with ADHD struggle with self esteem issues as a result.
4. ADHD as an Adult Has Bigger Consequences
For adults, having ADHD means having bigger consequences for your symptoms. If you fail to pay attention while driving you’re more likely to end up in a serious accident. If you zone out on important conversations with your boss, you could end up losing your job.
Unfortunately, adults with ADHD (especially when unmedicated) are more likely to become addicted to substances, get divorced, have an eating disorder, and die early.
All because the symptoms of ADHD don’t just “go away” and being an adult doesn’t mean you can just “control the symptoms better.” From low credit, to job loss, to accidents the stakes are pretty high for adults. Is it just me or is dying early worse than forgetting your homework? Seems silly to say that you don’t need ADHD treatment if you’re no longer in the classroom…
5. ADHD Often Strains Your Adult Relationships
From struggling to concentrate when spoken to directly to inconsistent follow through with things we’ve promised, having ADHD as an adult often strains your relationships.
In your professional life, bosses and coworkers can get frustrated if it seems like you aren’t pulling your weight at the office. Plus, for those with some hyperactivity as part of their symptoms, we may have the tendency to speak before we think. That rarely endears us to the people around us.
In your personal life, forgetting to pay the bills, being really messy and disorganized, or failing to do things we’ve promised to do all strain our relationships with loved ones. Even when they are supportive and understanding, the toll that it sometimes takes to have to make up for these challenges can be pretty stressful.
Related: Here’s why I take ADHD Medication and am Glad I Do
When the people you care most about don’t understand why you struggle in the ways that you do, personalizing is generally the response. When you don’t understand the interest based nervous system, being able to focus on a hobby for hours on end but zoning out as soon as you start a conversation feels like you just don’t care. And it hurts our relationships with people.
And when they aren’t supportive, or don’t believe ADHD is real, the problem gets even more complicated…
6. Many People Think You Should Have Outgrown ADHD
Even people who “believe in adhd” treat adults like they are lazy or making it up because you should have “grown out of it”
In the 90’s we were told that ADHD is a “childhood” disorder. Later, we discovered that actually, most of us don’t outgrow it at all. Unfortunately, it seems like many people haven’t gotten that memo.
When we struggle, even parents who were supportive when we were kids can become unsupportive in our struggle as adults because they are still under the outdated impression that we no longer have ADHD.
When you’re struggling in your relationships or on thin ice at work it would make sense to go to the doctor for help. But when he says “you don’t need that because you’re not in school anymore” it’s often the most invalidating and overwhelming feeling.
If even your doctor thinks ADHD doesn’t exist in adults it can create a whirlwind of emotions and second guessing and frustration. And even fear. If he won’t help you, what in the world will you do? Unfortunately, many doctors are still stuck in the 90’s when it comes to ADHD and it causes it’s own, unique, damage to us.
Let’s just set that record straight. Over the last 20+ years, we’ve gotten better research on ADHD. It is now widely accepted that ADHD absolutey DOES last into adulthood for many with the condition. Anyone who tells you otherwise is behind on the research.
The fact that so many people don’t believe you can have a legitimate struggle with ADHD as an adult is definitely one of the things that makes it harder on us now than it was when we were kids.
7. Same ADHD Symptoms, but as an Adult, They Even Look Worse
The symptoms don’t go away for many of us, they just look different now. Your book bag is no longer a mess, now it’s your entire house. And your car. And your desk…
You may not forget your homework anymore, but now you forget the load of laundry you started 3 days ago and now it’ soured. And you forget to take your medication. And to pay your bills. Or get gas. Which means you got stranded on the side of the road. Again…
Related: I should have known it was ADHD when…
You’re no longer struggling to focus at school, now you can’t pay attention to your boss in a meeting. Or in a conversation. Or while you’re cooking and somehow end up catching the stove on fire. Again.
And that leads to not following directions. As mad as your teacher was about that, your boss is probably even more pissed at you when he finds out. Your consequence is no longer missing recess. Now it’s probation at work. Or getting fired…
You don’t lose your report card any more but now you lose your debit card and who knows how long it’s been gone before you realized it. Or you lose your phone and have to pay hundreds of dollars for a new one, for the third time this year…
Related: When you’re not living up to your potential…
Connect with Me
The next time someone tells you that you can’t have ADHD as an adult, show them this article. And keep in mind it just means they are stuck in the 90’s along with snap bracelets and fanny packs so don’t let the muggles get you down.
Drop me a comment with your experiences of how ADHD has been harder for you as an adult. Let’s work together to really lay this myth to rest!?
Was in tears by #5…YES YES YES – Exactly how i feel. I took ritalin 3rd grade thru 11th. I will be 40 this month and the struggle is real. I tried asking for medication 10-15 years ago again, but because of it being abused as speed, was immediately shot down. However, ritalin NEVER gave me a “speed-like” effect in school…if anything, it made me feel like a zombie but i could sure focus on homework or doing the dinner dishes without thinking of pie, bicycles, shoes, or tomorrow’s P.E. activity.
Definitely saving/sharing this article. Thank you!
Tia Cantrell says
I’m glad to help! Unfortunately, so many professionals are unaware of the reality of ADHD for us adults and they don’t have a great knowledge of the most current research. It’s so frustrating to get shot down when you are needing help. There are some out there that ARE aware, it takes some digging to find them. I have a resource in the side bar of this website talking about how to get an accurate assessment. It’s got a list of ideas on how to find a doctor who’s more current on ADHD. I hope it’s helpful!
Try not even being diagnosed as a kid! Because I tested as gifted at 4 years old I’ve spent a lifetime being lazy, stubborn, and “not applying myself”. When I grew up ASD and ADHD were considered ‘boy conditions’, and my mom was pretty much anti doctor. I thought I was damaged goods until *shocker* Both my kids showed up on the autism spectrum, and then I started seeing the same traits in myself. Friends, jobs, and life in general have been a constant struggle that has taken a toll on my physical and mental health. I sought and obtained an autism diagnosis last year and my ADHD combined type diagnosis last month. Hopefully after the pandemic dies down, I will be able to get medication started.
I think I’m about to go down this road. I’ve literally spent my whole life struggling. Recently my 9 year old daughter has been diagnosed as ‘likely to have ADHD’ (I’ve had a telephone consultation with the paediatrician, as we couldn’t actually visit her due to lockdown). The more I look into ADHD, the more I realise I need to speak to someone about my own problems. I really wish I’d realised earlier!
I agree with this article, I do much better on medication but because of guilt I keep trying to go off medication. I try really hard and then after several times of forgetting instructions and not being able to control my emotions I’m back on my medication and it’s just a circle I repeat over and over. I want so much to be like everyone else but no matter how much I try I am always different and separated.
What a great article. It definitely never goes away, I was not diagnosed as a kid but as an adult after my son was diagnosed and a light bulb went on because it explained so much of my struggles. For women menopause really complicates ADHD ????, I feel like all the struggles are worse right now.
Thank you for your articles. I am an 80 year old mail. As a kid, I had teachers, especially one, who would “send me to the office”, robbing me from an education. I developed a good case of alcoholism from college on, but managed to graduate from a bachelor of business program at a good college. I worked in a family business and finally had a friend who was working with his kids who had learning disabilities, tell me I was loaded with them. As I got older, I found that I did well in structured environments. They were College teaching and Inn Keeping. I have been sober for 40 years and believe that alcohol took my pain away. I now function well, but the problems are still there. I will look at a problem and at a later date I will finally attack it with no problem. I tend to do a lot of small tasks well. It is the big tasks that throw me. I just go back to the steps I learned in AA. Thank you for letting me share. Fred
I have read your Blogs for quite sometime now, and have nearly cried, to just feel understood and not alone. This is my first time ever making a comment.. I was always a shy sensitive bright child, creative and enjoy learning, and was never diagnosed at a young age. It was only till my early forties and perimenopause, that every coping mechanism I ever had began cracking and I struggled. When I finally mentioned to my friends I was going to get tested they told me, ” We could have told you, you have ADD/ADHD long ago”. Getting tested really had me reflect back on how I struggled and why things that appear so easily attainable to others, I had to work very hard for.
I truly see the pros and cons, but I truly wish I had been properly diagnosed earlier. I have been on medication since and cannot believe the difference! Fast forward 10years…I’m still on medication. But I’m having a hard time juggling marriage (my poor husband:-) ), 2 beautiful teen boys, working fulltime….I literally talk to myself, just to redirect and encourage myself when things really feel overwhelming and thank God for the sense of humor he has given me. But, truth is, I don’t know if anyone really understands….and yes, it hurts when you’re given “the look” or told you can’t do things “right”.
I wish I had better executive functioning skills and could fulfill and work toward that feeling that I’m not living my purpose yet …except for the overwhelmed frozen synapsis is my brain…between my highly “in the zone” times…
Thank you for your writing-sharing that helps more people than you know.
I have an adult son that was diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade. He took medication until 10th grade. He then refused to continue with medication. My son lives with me and doesn’t work. I am in my 60’s and would like to move forward with my own life. I work and then come home, to him sitting in his room. It can be draining,when i have to remind him to do a chore for me several times. His sister has limited patience for him. My sister wonders if he can work. I get tired of answering crappy questions. I feel physically tired, and would like him to work and not make excuses. He only rides a bike. He has been given numerous applications for a job. With lack of experience no one will hire him. I have offered to take him to a job, but excuse after excuse. I live my life by my faith. I want to possibly retire in 6 years. And have my son on his own. How? I ask for God guidance. And patience. Thats how i have lived most of my life.
Clint baker says
My life has been ruined by this. I long ago gave up on ever trying to finish anything. And the longest job ive ever had was 5 years. Ive never finished anything ive started and find myself sometimes with several different projects started. Its been a real nightmare. Even though ive been diagnosed, i cant get treatment because i dont have health insurance and cannot afford health insurance. You could imagine, ive been called all the names by my family and friends. Lazy. Worthless. Inconsiderate. Selfish. Although ive researched this, even my mother just rolls her eyes and refuses to give it any credence whatsoever. But she was always the first to tell me how lazy i was, or that i would never amount to anything. A self fulfilling prophesy it turned out. At this point in my life, i think there may be hope to have at least a little peace, but its too late to make anything of myself.
So heart wrenching to read and identify with so much of this. I tend to over work to compensate and need strict order so I don’t become overwhelmed. It is hard to watch your children and grandchildren struggle too. Medication helps but procrastination , lack of chronological awareness and poor organisational skills persist. The up side is loads of hilarity, creativity and usually a great sense of humour.Thanks for this article.
I think I’ve always had adhd. 10 years ago I got in a car accident going through an intersection. No one was hurt but I just remembered I was zoned out. I always plan to do something, forget to sign up my daughter for things. I think I havr had more low self esteem over the years when we first changed churches bc my daughter went to another school. That schedule of friends of church of driving to school I think totally messed me up. I felt respected at the old school, they knew me, I felt confident. Started at new school and it was like black and white. Very hard. Then we moved closer to the new school. I couldn’t handle the new change, friends at work left my nursing unit, my daughter wanted nicer things bc these friends parents could afford it. Didn’t feel attractive. Was showing up late to work. Being swindled by my daughter bc compared to me she had it more together. I know better now.
I didn’t make our new house a home bc I had no motivation. Scared to start. My husband told me this February that there was nothing with us. He’s seing someone. I just wish instead of watching me act a certain way asking me to do something with him . If I said no I don’t feel like it. I wish he would have talked with me. Maybe I wouldn’t have known. There’s so many things I wish. But divorce is very true. I still misplace things. But I recognize that I have a problem and plan to do a little every day. I was also not focusing on my job very well. So I am looking for another job.
Medicine and therapy works toggle. The less cluttered the better.
Is that votive candle or picture frame worth it? Probably not.
Can I ask a potentially dumb question here? What is the difference between ADD and ADHD? I was diagnosed with ADD at 15 in the 90’s, and now as an adult…I know I still have…something, I just still don’t know how to verbalize it. I do have notes and reminders to help me, but I do display a lot of the classic ADHD/ADD symptoms.
Tia Cantrell says
Hi Kate! Great question. In the old Diagnostic manual, there were two different diagnoses for attention deficit: ADHD and ADD. Now, there is one Diagnosis (ADHD) with 3 subtypes and “ADD” is no longer a diagnosis. Instead what used to be ADD is now called ADHD with “primary inattentive” as the subtype.
So there is only ADHD in the diagnostic manual. The three subtypes of ADHD are
Hope that helps!
Excellent article! I have struggled with adhd all of my life. I’ve been to counseling and learned that I am also dealing with ptsd from a childhood event. Just recognizing the issue has helped so much! I have never taken medication for either as I am already taking meds for depression which I’ve always had a problem with. Thank you for the info!
Thank you for writing this! It’s relieving to know I’m not alone or crazy – there’s an explanation for my struggles and challenges. However, I recently got re-diagnosed because I didn’t really trust the diagnosis I got in college and quit medication because of guilt and fear of long term side effects. When I stopped my medication 2.5 years ago I also moved in with my boyfriend and it’s been a struggle. Because I always knew something was wrong but didn’t really understand adhd enough and didn’t know if it was just depression/anxiety or bipolar disorder he thinks I’m committed to being sick. But I’ve been doing everything I can to work with my therapist, primary doc, and confirming the diagnosis again to start medication. It’s been really tough and being stuck in a one bedroom apartment throughout the duration of this pandemic has not helped things. He’s had a ton on his plan with a death in the family, starting his MPH, struggling with depression himself, etc. he wants me to just do things when he says but I struggle to pick up after myself consistently or keep things tidy like he wants them. He says even a retarded person can do the simple things he asks like cleaning the dishes or whatever and says medication should only be a short term solution because he doesn’t want to date a methhead. Do you have any advice here? Am I being unreasonable?
Tia Cantrell says
I really hate the way your boyfriend is talking about this issue with you. It sounds very painful for you and, at best, misguided. You have to do what is right and best for you and it sounds like your ADHD is really negatively impacting your quality of life right now. Not only are you dealing with your ADHD, which is hard enough in an easy and supportive environment, but you are dealing with it in what sounds like some really difficult circumstances–a pandemic, social isolation, small shared spaces, life transitions, death, etc… I know my ADHD has been all over the place in a much bigger way since all of this started. Of course you are struggling. And it sounds like you’ve previously struggled with how you feel about meds for ADHD and your boyfriend sounds like he’s really pushing a catastrophic like scenario. I can’t tell you what to do or what to think about meds but I can tell you the way I see them and you can do with that as you think best.
Stimulants are not Meth. While they share some chemical properties, that doesn’t make them the same. Actually, MANY prescribed medications share some chemical properties to street drugs but with big differences. Street drugs are given in forms that increase their ability to get someone high (like snorting or injecting) and in doses that are more likely to get you high. They include unknown additions that are not present in prescribed medications. Those unknowns are often a big part of what makes street drugs so dangerous. So that’s myth #1: your stimulant medication is not “legal meth” and by taking it, you are not a “meth head.”
Second, so far research has not shown any long term problems from stimulants that are taken as prescribed. You mentioned you were worried about that but so far, we really aren’t see it.
Third, I’m not sure what your boyfriend thinks will be accomplished by only taking stimulants “short term.” For the vast majority of people, ADHD is a lifelong neurological condition. So far, stimulant medication is the gold standard of treatment. Therapy can help some. Exercise can help some. Ideally, all three together work best. But therapy and exercise haven’t shown nearly the positive effect that stimulant medication does. But stimulants don’t “fix” things the way antibiotics fix things. You can take a short term round of antibiotics and your infection is gone when you stop. You don’t have to keep taking them. Stimulants only help if you are taking them. If you stop, they stop. Unfortunately, that’s just how it goes. So what is taking stimulants “short term” going to accomplish? In the short term, you’ll probably be functioning better but once you stop, you’re likely to be right back where you are now.
Third, the environment you are describing doesn’t sound like it’s currently very supportive. By what you’ve said here, it sounds potentially quite harmful. Your environment will also directly impact your ADHD struggles and right now it’s not sounding very supportive toward your struggles. “He wants me to just do things when he says…” “He says even a (derogatory name I will not repeat) person can do the simple things he asks” and “medication should only be a short term solution because he doesn’t want to date a methhead” all sound very unhealthy and shaming and unsupportive and controlling. I hope you are exploring these kinds of things with your therapist and know that they will negatively impact you (and your ADHD).
I’d be inclined to talk to your doctor about whether or not you should take stimulants and for how long and what concerns you have rather than listening to your boyfriend’s non-medical and uninformed opinions about them.
I hope this has been helpful. Take care of yourself!
Thank you so much for this information! I’ve struggle with organization and managing my time. As a result, I have a lot of clutter and I tend to procrastinate a lot. However growing up, I was a high achiever and super organized. I was always on top of things which is why I find it difficult to accept that I have ADHD. I started having problems once I got married and had children. So is it possible that I had ADHD before but was able to cope when it was just me? I’ve talked to my doctor who said I was probably able to cope better when I was younger and had less to deal with. I’m just terrified at needing and depending on medication to help me..
Tia Cantrell says
Yep, that’s possible. Under the current diagnostic criteria, to some degree or other signs of ADHD have to have been present by age 12. That being said, there are a number of things that can impact that. If you had involved parents who helped you stay organized and prepared and implemented structure as a kid, that can help with symptoms (especially if you have a milder presentation of ADHD). For girls, ADHD tends to get worse with puberty whereas with boys it often improves some at that time. Many women say it got harder as they got older because of that. For others, school wasn’t really challenging and was actually interesting–two things that can help with ADHD symptoms. Many women in your situation who really do have ADHD find that school had enough structure to help them handle their ADHD but once they lost that structure and got more responsibility, their ADHD showed up in a much bigger way. In that same vein, some find that they didn’t show the traditional presentation of ADHD in school but that symptoms of it were present when they look back. They might have been a big talker at school or home, could keep school work organized but nothing else, lost things frequently, struggled to keep still, or to pay attention. Take me for instance, I was a straight A student–didn’t struggle with grades at all. School was easy to me. BUT I frequently lost my school work (but would panic search until I found it), forgot to do my school work (and got really good at doing it in class without the teacher noticing), never read the textbook (but usually didn’t need to), and relied on the panic that can only come from a rapidly approaching deadline to get my schoolwork done (but got really good at making sure the teacher couldn’t actually tell I’d done it the night before/morning of). If I look back, now that I know what I’m looking for, I see the signs. But before I knew what I was looking for I’d have told you that I didn’t struggle with ADHD because I got good grades.
I’d encourage you to keep talking with your doctor about this. I’ve definitely known people who felt just like you did–“No, I was fine as a kid! It wasn’t until I was an adult…” but as they explored it further realized that the signs were there, they were just masked by supports and once they had more responsibility, couldn’t keep it together anymore. And I’ve known people in the other position of realizing that ADHD hasn’t ever truly been an issue for them even with this more indepth look back into the past and discovered something else going on. The more you talk with your doctor, the more I think it will give you clarity on whether you really do or don’t have it.
As far as worrying about depending on medication…think of it like this– if you have poor eye-sight, don’t you “depend” on glasses to help you? When it comes to ADHD, medication is like glasses for the brain (in more ways that one). Medication, for many of us, helps us function better and improves quality of life. That’s what glasses do too. So what’s the difference, really?
Hope that helps!