A lot of adults do not know that they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The symptoms of ADHD can affect adults as well as children, even among people who did receive a diagnosis when they were young.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a person’s behavior. People with ADHD have difficulty concentrating and are easily distracted.

ADHD is common in children, with up to 11% of school-age children receiving a diagnosis of it. The American Psychiatric Association note that ADHD also affects around 2.5% of adults in the United States.

According to some research, many adults with ADHD symptoms do not receive a diagnosis of the condition. This can affect a person’s chance of receiving treatment. Without treatment, ADHD can affect their work performance, mental health, and relationships.

Keep reading to learn more about the risks of untreated ADHD in adults, as well as the symptoms, causes, and treatment options associated with ADHD. This article also covers when to see a doctor.

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ADHD can affect both children and adults, but the condition often goes unnoticed in people aged 18–44 years.

There are no laboratory tests that diagnose ADHD. When treating symptoms in adults, a doctor may evaluate a person’s medical and developmental history and look at their behaviors and how they interact with those around them.

According to one 2020 study, doctors are able to identify ADHD more easily in men. This may be because women tend to have different symptoms of ADHD and do not always display the behaviors typically associated with it.

For example, “internalizing” symptoms, such as inattentiveness, are more prominent in women than “externalizing” ones, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity. According to some research, this means that “a low index of clinical suspicion exists” in this group, which, in turn, means that doctors may be less likely to spot the condition.

The same research also points out that women with ADHD may be more likely to develop better coping mechanisms than men to hide their symptoms. This may lead to misdiagnosis or a lack of treatment.

ADHD can have a significant impact on adults if they do not receive treatment for the condition. It can also affect people living with them.

Some of the risks associated with untreated ADHD in adults include:

Low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety

Women are more likely to have low self-esteem if they have ADHD. They are also more likely to experience major psychological distress such as severe anxiety and depression.

Chronic stress due to these issues can also lead to other conditions, such as fibromyalgia.

Difficulty in relationships

One 2016 study found that the spouses of people with ADHD may feel more neglected than those living with individuals without ADHD symptoms.

The study only used a small sample size, but it found that the spouses of people with ADHD report lower intimacy and marital satisfaction. However, it is also important to note that the study used self-report questionnaires instead of looking at anyone’s medical history of ADHD.

Some research also indicates that the husbands of women with ADHD may be less tolerant of their partners’ behaviors than the wives of men with ADHD.

Studies with larger sample sizes must continue to take place in this area before researchers can make any firm conclusions.

Job instability

A systematic review of multiple studies found that untreated ADHD in adults can lead to job instability.

People with ADHD may be less likely to graduate from college or high school and may, therefore, find it more difficult to have a stable income, compared with those without ADHD.

Another study supports this idea, suggesting that adults with ADHD may be unable to stay focused at work, which could lead to difficulty holding down a job for an extended period of time.

The study also notes that adults with ADHD may be less likely to have independence due to the financial limitations they may face.

Negative parent-child interactions

According to another study, untreated ADHD in adults can cause conflicts in a parent-child relationship.

Parents with ADHD may have more difficulty controlling their emotions and impulses, which may lead to frustration and conflict with children.

Drug and alcohol misuse

The same study also links the symptoms of ADHD with a higher likelihood of misusing psychoactive substances, misusing alcohol, and being more susceptible to nicotine addiction.

Increased mortality rate

A study from 2015 associates ADHD with a significantly higher mortality rate. The mortality rate ratio was even higher in those who received an ADHD diagnosis in adulthood, compared with people who received a correct ADHD diagnosis in childhood.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some symptoms of ADHD include:

  • inattention, which occurs when a person has difficulty concentrating and cannot sustain focus
  • hyperactivity or restlessness, which occurs when a person talks or fidgets excessively
  • impulsivity, which occurs when a person lacks inhibition or does something without thinking about the long-term consequences

Adults with ADHD may also:

  • get distracted easily
  • misplace things
  • lose their temper quickly
  • find it hard to follow instructions
  • become irritable and inpatient
  • interrupt people while they are speaking
  • find it challenging to deal with stress
  • have mood changes
  • miss deadlines
  • be unable to sit down or stay still

The causes of ADHD are unknown. However, the National Alliance on Mental Illness claim that researchers are using brain imaging tools to help them learn more about the condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe that one factor that increases the chance of a person having ADHD is genetics.

For example, people with ADHD are more likely to have children with the same symptoms. In fact, 3 out of 4 children with ADHD have a relative with the same condition.

So, one 2016 study suggests that parents who seek help for their children with ADHD should also undergo screening and treatment for the same condition.

Other factors that may lead to the development of ADHD include:

  • brain injury or irregular brain development
  • tobacco use, stress, and alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • preterm birth
  • low birth weight
  • a lack of nutrients such as magnesium, folate, zinc, or polyunsaturated acids

Although ADHD can present challenges, there are also several positive traits that may come with the condition.

One study highlights the following areas:

Cognitive dynamism

People with ADHD may, at times, benefit from non-sequential and spontaneous thought processes, as well as periods of intense mental “hyper” focus.

Courage and adventurousness

Being brave is another trait that can come with ADHD. Some participants in the study described the need to partake in more “thrill-seeking” activities, such as extreme sports.

The study suggests that this bravery and thirst for adventure comes from the spontaneity that people with ADHD tend to experience.

Energy

Some participants described their extra energy as “a sort of spirit.” They also described a sensation that they were a part of something “bigger.”

There is also a desire among people with ADHD to be able to “harness” their extra energy and motivation and use it productively in order to “reach their potential,” according to the study.

Humanity

This encompasses social intelligence, humor, and recognition of feeling. Participants in the study also recognized their own ability to have a more positive mental approach, which has links with more “social success.”

Resilience

People with ADHD tend to develop protective strengths, which allow them to flourish and resist difficulties and challenges associated with their condition.

There are several treatment plans and options for ADHD. These include:

Medications

The Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder organization note that the medications that treat ADHD in children can also help control symptoms in adults.

Some of these medications include:

Stimulants

These regulate the brain’s chemicals that support thinking and boost concentration.

Doctors may prescribe stimulants such as dextroamphetamine or methylphenidate.

Their side effects may include:

  • headaches
  • abdominal pain
  • sleep disturbances
  • anxiety
  • reduced appetite

Nonstimulants

If stimulants are ineffective, a doctor may prescribe nonstimulant ADHD medications. These include guanfacine, atomoxetine, and clonidine.

These medications can lead to side effects such as stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Antidepressants

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved antidepressants for the treatment of ADHD. However, doctors may prescribe them if a person with ADHD also has depression.

These medications include nortriptyline, desipramine, and imipramine, among others.

Behavioral treatments

Doctors may help people with ADHD come up with new ways to improve and manage their behaviors. For example, these options may include:

  • learning how to cope with stress
  • learning how to manage their time effectively
  • increasing their productivity
  • being a role model to their children
  • getting organized
  • spending time with supportive people
  • setting realistic goals
  • limiting screen time

Remedies and natural alternatives

Some remedies and lifestyle changes, such as dietary alterations, may also help alleviate some of the symptoms of ADHD.

Learn more about natural remedies for ADHD here.

Learn more about using CBD oil for ADHD here.

Learn more about the best diet for ADHD here.

A person should contact a doctor if they believe that they could have untreated or undiagnosed ADHD.

The doctor will be able to recommend a treatment plan based on the individual’s symptoms and overall state of health.

Receiving a correct diagnosis and treating and managing certain challenging behaviors can help adults with ADHD better cope with the symptoms of the condition.

ADHD is a mental health condition that affects a person’s behavior. It usually appears during childhood, but the symptoms can also persist into adulthood.

A lot of people do not know that they have ADHD. A doctor can suggest different treatment plans or behavioral therapies that help control the symptoms.

If a person with ADHD does not receive help, they may have difficulty staying focused and maintaining relationships with other people. They may also experience frustration, low self-esteem, and certain other mental health conditions.

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