What is Adult ADD?

wiseGEEK Writer

In the early 1970s, when children were given a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or attention deficit disorder), doctors might inform parents they expected the kids to age out of the disorder as they grew. Current medical wisdom has recognized there are many people who do not “grow out” of ADD and this has led to the term adult ADD. Adult ADD is not a new condition that occurs in adults, but is instead a condition continuing from childhood ADD, whether or it not it was formally diagnosed when a person was a child. This last part is essential, since a clear diagnosis of the condition must establish the person had ADD or ADHD in childhood.

People with adult ADD may be impulse and have difficulty relaxing.
People with adult ADD may be impulse and have difficulty relaxing.

Adult ADD is not a new disorder and it could just as easily be simply called ADD or ADHD. It is best described as a continuation of ADD symptoms in adults. These symptoms may express themselves in a slightly different way in adults than they do in children. Common symptoms of adult ADD include difficulty concentrating, quick alterations in mood, trouble keeping an even temper, and impulsive choices. Other symptoms like having trouble completing tasks, being unable to stay focused on a task, and having difficulty achieving relaxation may be present.

Someone with ADD has a harder time on focusing on a single activity.
Someone with ADD has a harder time on focusing on a single activity.

Life can be affected tremendously when a person has adult ADD. People may have a hard time holding down jobs or being successful in the work environment. Some people note challenges having successful relationships. One symptom many adults note is inability to keep on schedule so that they may be routinely late or may simply forget places they need to be or any type of meeting or gathering that requires their attendance. Failure to succeed or do what others seem to be able to do without thinking can be significantly damaging to self-esteem.

Diagnosis is complicated and can’t be made through one test. To get proper diagnosis, a person with suspected adult ADD must see a psychiatrist, psychologist or physician. If ADD was not diagnosed in childhood, doctors will ask about behaviors in childhood that could indicate its presence. They will also ask a variety of questions that help establish patterns recognizable as ADD and they ask patients to participate in some testing and surveys to see if these tests show a persistent pattern of suspected ADD. Doctors will want to rule out other disorders that might be causing these symptoms like bipolar disorder.

Once a person receives a diagnosis of adult ADD they usually have several treatment options. Many adults benefit from taking medication and working with a therapist because learning coping and management strategies can be just as important as taking meds. Medications prescribed are often the same as those prescribed to children and include drugs like Ritalin® and Adderall®.

Adult ADD is considered a disability and even with treatment, some people have need of modifications in their work settings to be successful. In the US, employers may legally be required to help provide some modifications to comply with the American with Disabilities Act. Many adults, though, are able to modify on their own successfully, especially when they use a combination of medication and therapy. They may not need to involve employers in any modifications, but they may have legal rights to do so.

Discussion Comments


I have adult ADD and I'm keeping it under control with natural herbs and binaural beats which target certain brainwaves to increase focus. ADD requires lifestyle changes but it's not impossible to manage.


@SarahGen-- I'm not a doctor so I really don't know. But my husband has adult ADD and he has had it since childhood. I think that sometimes children are not diagnosed until they're young adults because parents think that lack of focus is normal or that the child will grow out of it. But as one gets older and has a more difficult time keeping up with responsibilities at school and work, it becomes obvious that there is a problem.

This might be what happened with your friend. She might have noticed after starting college that she can't concentrate long enough to listen to lectures or study and is procrastinating far too much.

I hope she considers cognitive behavioral therapy. Medications are helpful but they do have side effects. I think that therapy is a better tool for treating ADD in adults. But as I said, I'm not a doctor and it's always best to speak to an expert about such important issues.


My best friend, who is also a freshman in college, has recently been diagnosed with ADD. It's odd because she was not diagnosed as a child and I personally have never considered that she might have attention deficiency disorder. It's true that sometimes she jumps from idea to idea and has a hard time keeping focus. But doesn't that happen to everyone now and then?

She is on ADD medications now and tells me that she can't study if she doesn't take her medications. If she really has ADD, does this mean that she has always had it and no one noticed?

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