I think my adult son may have ADHD. What are the symptoms in adults?

Answers from Cosima Swintak, M.D.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sometimes called attention-deficit disorder (ADD), includes two main components: a pattern of inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. Many adults with ADHD aren't aware they have it — they just know that everyday tasks can be challenging.

An adult with ADHD has problems with attention and may often:

  • Make careless mistakes in work or other activities
  • Have trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Have difficulty listening to what's being said
  • Be easily distracted
  • Have trouble following through and completing tasks
  • Be disorganized
  • Avoid tasks that require focus
  • Misplace items
  • Forget things, such as paying bills or going to appointments

In terms of hyperactive or impulsive behavior, an adult with ADHD may often:

  • Fidget with hands or feet and squirm when seated
  • Leave the office or workplace when expected to stay there
  • Feel restless
  • Have difficulty taking turns, such as waiting in line or waiting for others to finish talking
  • Have trouble quietly participating in leisure activities
  • Need to stay active and have trouble sitting still
  • Talk too much
  • Interrupt others

Almost everyone has some symptoms similar to ADHD at some point in life. If your son's difficulties are recent or occurred only occasionally in the past, he probably doesn't have ADHD. ADHD is diagnosed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of life. These persistent and disruptive symptoms can be traced back to early childhood.

If inattention, hyperactivity or impulsive behavior continually disrupts your son's life, have a caring, supportive discussion with him. Suggest that he talk to his doctor. Because signs of ADHD are similar to those of a number of other mental health conditions, he may not have ADHD — but he may have another condition that needs treatment.


Cosima Swintak, M.D.

Apr. 15, 2014 See more Expert Answers