Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can affect a person’s focus, energy levels, and impulses. Although the condition is commonly thought to affect children, research suggests people do not always “outgrow” it in adulthood.
This article discusses whether ADHD goes away and how it may change over time.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Estimates suggest around 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults in the United States have a diagnosis of ADHD.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that fewer than 20% of adults with ADHD have received a diagnosis or had treatment. Therefore, the number of adults with the condition is likely to be higher than previously thought.
The organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) states that because ADHD is a neurological disorder, it is not something people outgrow. Instead, it continues to affect people throughout their lives.
A 2021 study suggests that rather than going away, ADHD symptoms fluctuate across a person’s lifetime. In the study, periods of supposed remission were intermittent. Approximately 90% of people with ADHD in childhood still experienced symptoms in adulthood.
There are three major types of ADHD:
- Inattentive type: This is characterized by distractibility and difficulties concentrating.
- Hyperactive-impulsive type: This is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, such as running around, climbing, fidgeting, or restlessness.
- Combined type: This is the most common type of ADHD, characterized by a combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Each type presents with different symptoms. The impact of symptoms and how they appear to others varies between individuals. While ADHD is unlikely to go away with age, the symptoms people experience as adults often differ from those experienced in childhood.
Adults may still experience restlessness, impulsivity, and inattention symptoms that may impact their day-to-day lives. According to CHADD, over 75% of children with ADHD will experience significant symptoms in adulthood.
However, a person may have developed strategies to suppress or mask their symptoms by adulthood. This might mean their symptoms present differently or are less obvious to others. However, it does not always mean they are not experiencing the signs or having challenges with some daily activities.
Some people may not learn that they have ADHD until adulthood. People with inattentive symptoms are especially likely to receive a diagnosis later in life.
According to CHADD, female children are also less likely to receive the diagnosis than male children, with doctors diagnosing males around twice as often. It states that this is likely to be because female children are more likely to exhibit inattentive symptoms that people frequently overlook.
In adulthood, when people are more able to understand and express their symptoms, roughly the same number of females and males receive the diagnosis.
Untreated ADHD symptoms can lead to frustration, low self-esteem, and guilt, as the person may not know why they may experience certain challenges in their life. This can lead to further difficulties. For example, some research suggests people with ADHD, especially those who have not received a diagnosis, may be more likely to experience substance misuse.
Support and treatment that continues throughout childhood and adolescence into adulthood
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that doctors cannot cure. However, people can manage their symptoms with treatment.
Once a healthcare professional has diagnosed ADHD, they are likely to suggest a treatment plan consisting of medication and therapy.
Medication will usually be long-acting stimulants, short- and intermediate-acting stimulants, or nonstimulants. Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people adjust their thought and behavior patterns if needed to help them manage their symptoms.
If someone suspects they or a child they care for may have ADHD, it is best to contact a doctor.
A person who received an ADHD diagnosis in childhood and is having difficulty with their symptoms in adulthood can also speak with their doctor about whether their treatment plan requires changes.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that a person does not “grow out of.” However, the symptoms may change over time. People may find that their symptoms lessen and increase at times throughout their life.
Although adults with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD may have developed management strategies or learned to mask their symptoms around others, seeking treatment may help improve their quality of life.