Thrive by IU Health

July 26, 2022

Can you develop ADHD as an adult?

Can you develop ADHD as an adult?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. Those with ADHD will experience symptoms such as struggling to pay attention, impulsive behaviors, and being overly active. Typically, ADHD is diagnosed in childhood and tends to continue into adulthood. But what happens when it is not diagnosed in childhood? Can you develop ADHD as an adult? What are the risks of untreated ADHD?

Untreated ADHD in adults usually means that it was missed as kids. It is possible to misdiagnose ADHD; however, it's more common that individuals just didn't have access to care or they found ways to cope with it. In childhood, one of the most common symptoms is when children seem to be “running on a motor." Untreated ADHD in adults may look less like this and perhaps more like being unable to concentrate on or finish a project. When someone with ADHD is interested in what they are doing, they can dig deep into the topic which is a great skill in some occupations. However, if they are tasked with something that they are not interested in, they may have problems attending to it. They might stare out of the window, doodle, and think of other things.

Bernice Pescosolido is a sociologist at IU Health who looks at the public’s mental health literacy. She elaborated on the idea of whether you can develop ADHD as an adult.

“I don’t think it’s just something you all of a sudden just develop,” Pescosolido said. “We think with things like depression and schizophrenia, there is a critical period between ages 15 and 24 where people are likely to develop serious mental illness, but I think with ADHD, it may have always been there, but it was ignored or interpreted as misbehavior. ” It may also go unnoticed because it might be tolerable in certain settings. For example, when a child goes to school, it may be more obvious because you don’t ask a child at home to sit at a desk for 6 hours.

“We tend to notice mental health problems if you have symptoms and if they interfere with your life,” she said. But Pescosolido also said that their research shows that Americans can identify ADHD and know the difference between ADHD and children who just have day to day issues.

So, the risks of untreated ADHD depend on your living conditions – there are situations that can make it either tolerable or not tolerable. Pescosolido stated that “If you are in a situation where you don’t have to concentrate on something for long periods that you are uninterested in, you probably can get by just fine.” But the question is whether “just fine” is the quality of life people want or should expect.

Children and adults with ADHD can find that their life, their work and their family life improves with medication and other treatments that the health care system can provide, Pescosolido said. For those that are concerned that they might have ADHD, you can visit your primary care doctor, a mental health specialist, or a psychiatrist to find out if difficulties they are experiencing maybe due to ADHD or some other issue.