Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects how you think, feel and act. It's a developmental condition that starts in childhood, but symptoms can carry through to adulthood. In fact, around 1 in 20 adults live with ADHD.
Adult ADHD can look like having a hard time regulating emotions, staying focused and controlling your impulses. It might also impact your relationships or make it hard to hold down a job.
While ADHD can have a big impact on daily life, there are many effective treatments and supports out there to help you cope.
In this guide, we explain how to know if you have ADHD, how it's diagnosed and where to get support.
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that affects the part of the brain responsible for planning, focusing and carrying out tasks. People living with ADHD often have trouble regulating emotions and controlling their thoughts and behaviours.
ADHD develops in childhood, but symptoms can last into adulthood and it's also common for people to be diagnosed with ADHD as adults.
For some people, ADHD symptoms may go unrecognised for a long time or they may be misdiagnosed as another health condition. ADHD in women is particularly under diagnosed.
Types of ADHD
There are three types of ADHD:
- Inattentive ADHD – people with inattentive ADHD often find it hard to focus, pay attention, follow instructions or finish tasks. They tend to be easily distracted and forgetful.
- Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD – this type of ADHD may make it hard to sit still, wait patiently or do tasks quietly. It may also lead to troubles with impulse control, interrupting others or feeling restless.
- Combined – people with the combined type experience both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
How to know if you have ADHD
Learning about the signs and symptoms of ADHD is a good place to start.
If you know anyone in your life with ADHD, you could also talk to them about their experiences. The best way to know for sure and get the right support is to speak with your doctor. They will talk to you about your symptoms and how they impact your life, as well as rule out any other health conditions you might be living with.
People living with ADHD can have a wide range of experiences. They may experience inattentive symptoms, hyperactive-impulsive symptoms or both.
- Difficulty focusing – finding it hard to concentrate on a task or being easily distracted.
- Hyper focus – becoming so focused on a particular task that you lose awareness of your surroundings or lose track of time.
- Disorganisation – having trouble with keeping track of tasks, losing things or keeping your work desk tidy.
- Time management – always being late, overbooking your schedule or struggling to finish things on time.
- Forgetfulness – often forgetting deadlines or appointments. Frequently misplacing items like your keys or documents.
- Procrastination – finding it hard to start or finish tasks.
- Impulsivity – frequently interrupting others, saying inappropriate things without thinking or taking risks without thinking about the consequences.
- Self control – difficulty keeping boundaries in your life. For example, drinking too much, overeating or spending too much money.
- Restlessness – feeling agitated or fidgety. Having trouble sitting still, working quietly or waiting patiently.
- Boredom – feeling bored a lot of the time. Needing constant stimulation or excitement.
- Fast pace – having racing thoughts, talking a lot or doing many things at once.
- Emotional regulation – experiencing regular mood swings, irritability, frustration or anger outbursts.
- Poor self-image – having a low self esteem, feeling like you're failing in life or under achieving.
- Lack of motivation – finding it hard to do things that aren't appealing to you.
- Trouble sleeping – having problems falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping enough.
- Fatigue – feeling burned out, low on energy or exhausted.
- Anxiety – worrying about lots of things, feeling on edge and having trouble keeping your worries in check. Many people with ADHD also live with an anxiety disorder.
When to visit your doctor
Everyone gets distracted from time to time, and everyone has days where it's hard to focus or stay organised.
However if symptoms are severe or last a long time, it's best to speak with your doctor and get help.
ADHD can have a significant impact on a person's day to day life, but getting support to manage your symptoms can make it easier to cope.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
ADHD can be diagnosed in childhood or adulthood by a qualified health professional. To diagnose ADHD in adulthood, there needs to be evidence that symptoms existed when you were a child. Your doctor may even talk to your parents or older family members to get a better picture.
When giving an ADHD diagnosis, doctors use the following criteria:
- Symptoms began before 7 years old
- Symptoms are present in more than one area (e.g., at work and at home)
- Symptoms have an impact on your day-to-day life
- Symptoms aren't explained by another condition or circumstances
How is ADHD treated?
ADHD treatment may include:
- Lifestyle changes – your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes such as what you eat, how much physical activity you get and your sleep routine.
- Therapy – there are many different types of therapies that can help with ADHD, depending on your needs and preferences. Examples include cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy and behaviour therapy.
- Medication – medication is a helpful tool for some people but not everyone with ADHD needs medication. Medication is most effective when used with a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes and other treatments.
- Self-help strategies – a mental health professional can work with you to develop coping strategies that you can use at home and in the workplace. Check out our guide to living with ADHD and holding down a job for some ideas.
Support for ADHD
If you suspect you have ADHD or have recently been diagnosed, help is available. Here are some ways to get support:
- Your GP or family doctor is a good place to start. They may refer you to a mental health professional or other services.
- Support groups in your local area can help you connect with others who have similar experiences.
- Mental health helplines can provide counselling support or put you in touch with other services.
- Employment service providers like APM can help you find work or get support to succeed in your job. Find out more about how we help find jobs for people with an injury, illness or disability.