How ADHD Symptoms Manifest in Adults

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) is the guide doctors use when diagnosing ADHD.
But some of the wording included in this reference points to how symptoms manifest in children. Although the diagnostic manual does provide some information for diagnosing adults, it can be confusing to understand how the symptoms of inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity appear in adults.

Keeping in mind that ADHD is unique in each individual, it can be even more difficult to determine symptoms of ADHD in adults.
However, the list below will provide a guideline for how symptoms manifest themselves in adults with ADHD.
(Please note that this should not be used for diagnostic purposes, if you feel that you may have ADHD, please discuss your concerns with your physician or a medical professional that is qualified to make a diagnosis.)

Inattention can appear in many different ways:

  • May lose or misplace items such as keys, important papers, phone numbers and other things used on a daily basis.
    This often occurs on a regular basis

  • Often forgetful - may consistently forget to take out the trash, forget to pick up the children from activities, or forget to complete tasks, even after instructions have been given

  • Beginning, but not completing tasks

  • Often distracted, for example, could begin a task such as mowing the grass, hear the phone ring, go inside, get a drink, stop to watch television, talk with your children and completely forget about the lawn until hours later

  • Difficulty following conversations.
    May be easily distracted and miss important details of conversations

  • Lack of self motivation, even if the project sounds like something you would like to complete

  • Often lose track of time or misjudge how much time has passed.
    It can be difficult to follow a timed schedule

  • Your mind wanders easily, even if someone is speaking to you or you should be completing a task or project

Hyperactivity in children can be easy to spot. Children can't sit still for even a few moments or they are constantly in motion.
They may act as if driven by a motor and often jump or bounce around the room. Although it was once thought that hyperactivity disappeared as a person matured (which led to the false belief that ADHD was a childhood condition), it is now known that adults can continue to show signs of hyperactivity, just in different ways.

  • Needs constant motion, may tap feet, play with a pencil, doodle or fidget

  • Easily bored. May move from job to job because you become bored once you have learned the job, may not complete projects because you become bored after a short time. You need be intensely interested in something for it to hold your interest

  • Although you can sit still, you feel restless after just a few minutes of inactivity.
    You feel the need to get up, walk around the room or do something

  • Active, risky or fast paced activities are more interesting and more apt to hold your interest

Impulsiveness is reacting without thinking first. Children who are impulsive might yell an answer out at school without raising their hand or waiting for their turn.
Children may jump from a play set before thinking of the consequences. Adults with ADHD can also be impulsive:

  • Consistently interrupts others while talking or answering a question before it has been completed

  • Enters conversations while others are still talking

  • Blurts out comments or thoughts without thinking first causing hurt feelings

  • Enters into risky or undesirable behavior on the spur of the moment

  • Difficulty conforming to a budget because of impulsive spending habits

Although the following are not specific symptoms of ADHD, the following characteristics are often found in adults with ADHD:

  • Easily angered or low tolerance for frustration

  • Needs instant success to keep interest level up

  • Low self-esteem, even though you can appear confident to others

  • Avoids new situations and meeting new people

For more information on ADHD in adults:

Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

in Adults: Tips for Managing Impulsiveness in Conversations

ADHD at Work

Why Do Some People Continue to Have ADHD as Adults and Others Do Not?

Denial of ADHD in Adults

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.