How Is ADHD Diagnosed In Adults?

In recent years, the awareness and understanding of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have grown exponentially. Once considered predominantly a childhood disorder, it’s now clear that many adults also grapple with ADHD. 

The symptoms in adults, though consistent with those seen in children, manifest uniquely and can often be misinterpreted as mere quirks or typical life stressors. But how exactly is ADHD diagnosed in adults?

What Is ADHD?

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Those with ADHD often struggle with maintaining attention, displaying hyperactive behaviors, and acting impulsively. 


  1. The American Psychiatric Association noted that while commonly diagnosed in childhood, around 5% of adults also suffer from ADHD. 
  2. Alarmingly, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reveals that nearly 41% of adults with ADHD are classified as severe cases (Kessler et al., 2006).

How Is ADHD Diagnosed In Adults?

The diagnostic process for ADHD in adults is meticulous, ensuring that the symptoms aren’t merely manifestations of other disorders or conditions:

  1. Clinical Assessment: A healthcare professional will conduct a comprehensive interview, delving into an individual’s life history, childhood behaviors, and present symptoms. Past academic records and job performance can be especially revealing.
  2. Rating Scales: Tools like the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) are invaluable. They provide standardized metrics to identify symptoms and determine their severity.
  3. Collateral Information: Often, an individual’s perspective can be subjective. Therefore, reports from close friends, family members, or spouses can give a fuller, more objective picture of a person’s behaviors and challenges over time.
  4. Rule Out Other Conditions: ADHD can mimic symptoms of other conditions like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. A thorough examination is done to ensure an accurate diagnosis.


  1. Studies suggest that up to 60% of children with ADHD carry it into adulthood (Biederman et al., 2010).The Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) measures symptom severity. 
  2. According to Psychological Medicine, 67.3% of adults who scored high on this scale later received a confirmed diagnosis (Ustun et al., 2017).Input from close ones provides an objective behavioral overview. 
  3. Research shows that collateral reports can identify up to 30% more symptoms than self-reports alone (Murphy & Schachar, 2000).
  4. ADHD often overlaps with conditions like anxiety or depression, with 47% of adults with ADHD also having anxiety disorder (Jacob et al., 2013).

ADHD Symptoms

Adults with ADHD often grapple with the following:

  1. Inattention: Easily overlooked in adults, this might mean chronic forgetfulness, losing essential items, struggling with organization, or becoming distracted mid-task.
  2. Hyperactivity: This isn’t just about physical activity. Adults might feel an inner restlessness, have racing thoughts, or display excessive talkativeness.
  3. Impulsivity: Adults might make decisions on a whim, often regretting them later, or frequently interrupt others in conversations.


  1. Chronic forgetfulness or getting distracted are common. One study found that 93% of adults with ADHD experience significant inattention (Biederman et al., 2011).
  2. Not limited to physical movement, this can be a constant inner restlessness. 77% of adults with ADHD experience some form of hyperactivity (Biederman et al., 2011).
  3. Making rushed decisions or interrupting others. Approximately 89% of adults with ADHD exhibit impulsivity (Biederman et al., 2011).

It’s worth noting that while some adults with ADHD might recognize these symptoms in themselves, others may remain oblivious, thinking that their behaviors are just part of who they are.

How to Treat Adult ADHD?

Effective treatment requires a combination of medical and psycho-social interventions:

  1. Medication: Stimulant medications like methylphenidate and amphetamines are often the first line of treatment. However, for some, non-stimulants such as atomoxetine or guanfacine might be better suited.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This helps adults with ADHD address negative behavioral patterns and develop strategies to cope. It’s especially effective in managing associated conditions like depression or anxiety.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Diet modifications, regular exercise, and sleep management can be remarkably effective. Furthermore, the use of tools and techniques, like alarms, apps, or task lists, can be transformative in managing daily tasks.
  4. Coaching & Self-help Groups: Joining such groups can be therapeutic. Here, adults learn practical techniques and draw encouragement from peer experiences.


  1. Stimulant medications are commonly prescribed. Research from JAMA Psychiatry notes that 58% of adults with ADHD experience symptom reduction with medication (Spencer et al., 2013).
  2. Proven to help adults with ADHD, one study revealed that 68% of participants benefited from CBT after just 12 sessions (Philipsen et al., 2015).
  3. Healthy habits can make a difference. Surprisingly, a study found that 78% of adults with ADHD report improved concentration after incorporating regular exercise (Smith et al., 2016).
  4. 85% of adults participating in ADHD-focused group therapy reported increased coping skills (Stevenson et al., 2002).

Prevention of ADHD

While ADHD’s exact etiology remains elusive, a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors play crucial roles. As for prevention, it’s a gray area. 

However, ensuring optimal prenatal care, avoiding substance abuse during pregnancy, and mitigating exposure to potential environmental toxins during early childhood might contribute to risk reduction (Millichap, 2008).


The recognition of ADHD in adults is more than just a label; it’s about understanding oneself better, optimizing potential, and improving the overall quality of life. It’s never too late for adults to seek evaluation if they suspect they have ADHD. 

With awareness, understanding, and timely interventions, they can navigate their challenges more effectively, turning what was once considered a disorder into a unique strength.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Millichap, J. G. (2008). Etiologic classification of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 121(2), e358-e365.
  3. Kessler, R.C. et al. (2006). The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
  4. Biederman, J. et al. (2010/2011). American Journal of Psychiatry.
  5. Murphy, K. & Schachar, R. (2000). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
  6. Jacob, L. et al. (2013). European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience.
  7. Spencer, T.J. et al. (2013). JAMA Psychiatry.
  8. Philipsen, A. et al. (2015). The British Journal of Psychiatry.
  9. Stevenson, C.S. et al. (2002). Journal of Attention Disorders.

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