Is it Possible to Develop ADHD in Adulthood

How does an adult who feels scattered, inattentive, restless or overwhelmed know if they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? This is a challenging question for adults who don’t feel they had the symptoms when they were younger.

Does this mean they’ve developed ADHD as an adult? Was it missed when they were a child? Or is something else at play?

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder that can be present in childhood. Key symptoms include lack of focus, difficulty controlling impulses, challenges with organization, struggles with paying attention, and/or hyperactivity.

There is no cure for ADHD but treatments, including medications, behavioural therapy and other supports can help a great deal. While some people may grow out of ADHD, some do not.

Can You Get ADHD as an Adult?

The short answer is no, adults do not suddenly develop ADHD. In order to meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, several symptoms would have been present in childhood. In other words, if you have ADHD as an adult, you also had it as a child. If you did not have symptoms as a child, then your current symptoms may be the result of something else, such as depression, anxiety or another mood disorder.

ADHD is sometimes hard to diagnose, as symptoms may present differently from person to person and are diagnosed through behaviour and observation rather than with more concrete means, such as blood tests or other physical markers.

As an adult seeking a diagnosis, it is possible that no one knew to look for ADHD, and you might have had it all along. Symptoms can manifest in different ways as a person matures physically. For example, in younger children, hyperactivity may present as an inability to sit still, while adults may simply seem restless.

Some people with ADHD find ways of coping that can mask their symptoms, such as using a fidget, using organizational supports, incorporating lots of physical activity into their schedules, or consuming a lot of caffeine.

How Symptoms Change Over Time

Symptoms of ADHD may emerge as early as preschool years, particularly if a child displays hyperactive and impulsive type of symptoms. These behaviours tend to get noticed earlier simply because they tend to be more disruptive. Signs of inattention can easily be missed, however, as these children may be quietly unfocused or able to do well without having to pay close attention.

While very young children are encouraged to move around in the classroom setting and learn through physical activity and play, older children are expected to sit still, listen attentively, maintain ever-greater self-control and respond quickly to questions posed by the teacher.

Teenage Years

Adolescence can bring on a whole new set of challenges as teenagers become more and more responsible for self-management while expectations, responsibilities, and academic and social pressures increase. Issues such as impulsivity, lack of attention, and poor self-esteem can result in more obviously negative outcomes.


In adulthood, some people notice a lessening of symptoms, while others still experience them to a similar degree. However, often the symptoms of ADHD in adults look less like the child who seems driven by a motor and more like a person who is forgetful, restless, easily distracted, and/or overly reactive to frustration.

Similar treatment options, including medication and behavioural therapy, are available for adults and offer good results for many people with ADHD. The key is to make sure you are accurately diagnosed by consulting a doctor with experience in treating patients with ADHD.

A Word from Laurian Ward

If you suddenly experience symptoms in adulthood that seem similar to ADHD, but you have never experienced it before, it is unlikely that ADHD is the issue. Be sure to talk with your psychologist about your concerns about memory, inattention or other symptoms. There are certain conditions of adulthood that can look a bit like ADHD, including depression, anxiety and sleep difficulties.

Once you have an accurate diagnosis, you’ll likely feel better knowing what is really going on and can then put your energy into the correct treatment options.