About 4 percent of adults have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and many others have never been diagnosed. A diagnosis can be important. Adults with ADHD tend to have lower incomes as well as higher rates of accidents, unplanned pregnancies and substance abuse than those without it, says Martin W. Wetzel, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha.
Here are just a few of the signs you should watch out for:
Children with ADHD can be overly energetic, but adults may just feel edgy or restless.
“Adults don’t show the more obvious signs such as running and jumping,” says Colette de Marneffe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Silver Spring, Md. “Hyperactivity presents more subtly in the form of restlessness.”
However, you may recall a rambunctious childhood. Dr. Wetzel had a patient who recalled spending a lot of time in the school hallways because “he couldn’t sit still.” It’s a “classic story,” he says.
You Have a Child with ADHD…
ADHD appears to have a genetic component. When one member of the family has it, there’s a 25- to 35-percent chance that someone else in the family does, too, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, some adults, who may have had the same symptoms when they were children, realize that they may have always had the condition without realizing it.
You Have Relationship Trouble…
A newly minted relationship is often exhilarating, but the novelty can wear off in time.
“Oftentimes adults with ADHD really have a hard time with that transition,” notes de Marneffe. “When the relationship becomes more stable and predictable, conflicts tend to emerge.”
Being easily distracted or inattentive — symptoms of ADHD — can also sabotage existing relationships with family, friends, and significant others who view their loved one’s behavior as self-centered, Dr. Wetzel adds.
About 40 percent of adults with ADHD smoke, versus only 26 percent of the general population.
“Nicotine is very effective for a lot of ADHD symptoms and it’s not uncommon for me to see someone for the first time after they quit smoking,” says Dr. Wetzel. That’s because they often start to have more problems with focus and concentration, he explains.
Adults with ADHD are also more likely to use alcohol and other drugs, and at earlier ages, than people without ADHD.
You Had Academic Problems As A Child…
If you suspect you have ADHD as an adult, an early history of ADHD symptoms — difficulty sitting still, paying attention to the teacher and focusing on your work, for example — can confirm the diagnosis.
“What adult patients will tell you over and over and over again is that they had to work twice as hard as their peers to get half as much done in school,” Dr. Wetzel says.
You Procrastinate (A Lot)…
Do you live deadline to deadline?
“I can’t tell you how many times a patient has told me, ‘I’m the king of procrastination,’ or ‘I’m the queen of procrastination,’ because they feel like no one else can put things off like they can,” says Dr. Wetzel.
It makes sense, he adds, because when people with ADHD are under the gun and anxious, that’s when they can focus. Constant anxiety, however, can be very stressful.
You’re Always Losing Things…
Is losing your cell phone, wallet or keys part of your daily routine? People with ADHD frequently misplace common items.
Dr. Wetzel describes ADHD as an “underpowered state of consciousness.” If you set down your keys and you’re not really paying attention, your brain doesn’t lay down a memory of the event. “It’s kind of like it never happened,” he says.
You Have Trouble Focusing At Work…
Everyone encounters some task he doesn’t particularly enjoy, but most people are able to find a way to complete the boring aspects of their job, says de Marneffe. People with ADHD, however, have a hard time doing that.
Jobs with a lot of repetition tend to be a poor fit, she observes. Choose work that engages you and fulfills your need for novelty and variability.
You Have A Quick Temper…
If you fly off the handle in a fit of anger or frustration one moment but are completely over it in the next, it might be a sign of ADHD.
Because this type of irritability can also be a symptom of bipolar disorder, some people with ADHD can be misdiagnosed, says Dr. Wetzel. (However, you can also have both.)
Remember that if you have any emotional or mental questions, it’s important to get a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.