ADHD in Adults: Signs that You Have it and Signs that You Don’t


We all have trouble concentrating sometimes, but when regular patterns emerge, it’s time to get help.

October is ADHD Awareness Month and so in order to better understand this condition, it’s worth exploring the signs and science around it.  The tricky thing about ADHD is that it’s not a clearly defined condition.  There are types and the psychiatric field has been accused of over diagnosing and over-prescribing the medications used to treat attention deficit1.

Unlike other psychological conditions that have definable parameters, ADHD doesn’t show up in brain scans.  It’s really a highly individualized process of determining if a person exhibits a collection of signs that interfere with quality of life.  These are some of the telltale signs that someone is suffering from ADHD:

  1. Focus. Regular inability to maintain concentration throughout regular tasks can be a sign that a person had ADHD.  The corollary, or flipside is “hyper-attention” where the person fixates on a task to the point of sacrificing other, equally important tasks2.
  2. Forgetfulness.  We all slip sometimes, but when someone routinely fails to remember important, recurring dates, times, or locations to the point where family or career is suffering, this might be a signal2.
  3. Paralyzing self-doubt.  This goes beyond the normal level of indecision or tired decision-making brain, it’s an inability to prioritize to the point where the individual feels unable to act at all.  It happens often enough that it starts to impede on relationships, school, work or any other mainstay in daily life2.
  4. Anxiety.  In psychological circles, professionals often say, “Anxiety and depression are cousins.”  The feelings that start to arise from repeat failures when it comes to organization can compound and drive more impulsive and anxious behaviors2.

Now if at this point, you executive moms are saying to yourselves, “ that sounds like me,” let’s delve a little deeper into these symptoms and look at them from a cultural perspective.  We work longer hours than the rest of the industrialized world3 and absorb more information than any other time in history4.  It’s easy in these times to become overwhelmed, and when we are overwhelmed, our brains don’t do their jobs to the best ability.  Here are some further indicators that you are simply living in a very fast-paced, modern world and you need a vacation rather than a prescription:

  1. You do not work well under pressure.  ADHD patients respond to the adrenaline rush of deadlines and crisis; it snaps them into focus. For the rest of us, chaos is the thing that interferes with our thinking. 
  2. You have recently experienced a trauma.  The body and brain have dramatic responses to trauma, whether that trauma is physical or mental.  The stress response, the release cortisol, literally interferes with decision-making5.  Do not expect your injured self to perform to your normal level when you have sustained trauma.
  3. You are naturally organized and on time.  Time, space, and prioritizing are very challenging daily obstacles for the ADHD sufferer.  If you are good with these things under normal circumstances, you are likely not ADHD.
  4. You feel like you are meeting your potential.  One of the hallmarks of ADHD is low self-esteem with regard to performance.  This develops into a cycle of over-commitment, failure and shame that starts to interfere with all aspects of life.  You might not meet your expectations everyday, but if on the whole, you feel like you put your best foot forward, you probably do not have ADHD.

The good news is that there are many life-style changes that can rectify the symptoms of ADHD for adults.  Reducing or eliminating caffeine, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol can really help to set focus issues straight.  If you or someone you love is experiencing these issues, discuss strategies with a health professional. 


  2. – Overview1