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How Common is ADHD in Adults?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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ADHD in adults is an interesting subject. ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and it’s often discussed in terms of how it impacts learning in children. In truth, adult ADHD merely means a continuation of childhood ADHD. In almost all cases, this condition was present in childhood, even if it wasn’t diagnosed. Determining whether childhood ADHD existed is one of the main tests for diagnosing the condition in adulthood.

When people read statistical evidence about ADHD in adults, it can become confusing quickly. This is in part because surveys on who has this condition are not total, and diagnosis rate can vary by country. A lot of percentages are used to suggest prevalence. Some suggest about 3-5% of children have this learning disorder, and that 60-65% will continue to have the disorder as adults. But prevalence in the adult population according to studies by the World Health Organization is cited as approximately 4%, which doesn’t make sense from a mathematical perspective. A lower statistic of 2-3% might be more accurate.

Even if only one in one hundred adults suffer from this condition, there are problems associated with it, unique to the adult. A higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse is seen with this condition, especially if it has always been undiagnosed. Job loss is greater, as is lower socioeconomic status, less education, poor relationships and prevalence of other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. These are most often felt when ADHD diagnosis was not reached in childhood because of the cumulative damaging effect of being different from peers and unsupported in the educational environment.

This may be changing and an unusual fact regarding ADHD in adults is that children are likely to be overdiagnosed for the condition while adults are underdiagnosed. This clearly suggests that many children are getting the diagnosis they need, and will hopefully continue treatment for this condition as adults if needed. On the other hand it also means there is inaccurate diagnosis too, and some kids and adults will be labeled or diagnosed with a condition they don’t have. However, greater attention to diagnosis in childhood could in the next few generations have a positive effect on adults, and leave fewer of them undiagnosed.

Information about ADHD in adults is continually evolving. It’s quite possible that percentages may go up or down in the coming years. For now it is important to recall that this condition can be seen as a common one in adulthood, probably affecting at least one in hundred adults, and possibly affecting many more.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On May 23, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- I've got a co-worker kind of like that. He can't keep his mind on anything for 30 seconds, unless it's something he's vitally interested in. Then, you can't get him away from it and he gets annoyed when you try. That guy is impossible to work with. If he weren't such a great IT tech, he would have been fired a long time ago. But give him a problem like a software bug, and he won't eat or sleep until he gets to the bottom of it.

But yeah, I can see where ADHD adults have a hard time keeping a job. They can worry you to death.

By Pippinwhite — On May 22, 2014

I don't know if one of my bosses has the "H" part, but I'd swear he's ADD. He can't keep his mind on anything for long, and if you tell him something, you'd better get it out in 10 seconds, or he will absolutely change channels on you. He will literally turn and walk away. He's also more than a little OCD. He obsesses over these tiny details that no one cares about, but lets big mistakes get through. He drives us nuts, telling us to do something five times, even though he's already told us.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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