An estimated 4% of adults in the United States — or 8 million people — are formally diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, aka ADHD, in any given year.
“There is a common belief that ADHD only impacts children, but continued research has proven otherwise,” Sussan Nwogwugwu, a board-certified mental health nurse practitioner at the digital health company Done, told HuffPost. “As such, a large percentage of adults have presented with undiagnosed ADHD in recent years.”
However, ADHD remains significantly underdiagnosed in adults, especially among women. Common symptoms of ADHD in adults include disorganization, forgetfulness, trouble with emotional regulation, poor time management skills, restlessness and difficulty multitasking. When left untreated, symptoms associated with ADHD can be harmful to both a person’s physical and mental well-being.
Experts spoke with HuffPost on a few habits that may covertly be because of ADHD.
You repeatedly lose things.
If you find yourself searching for important items on a regular basis with no reasoning why it always happens, it could be a red flag something else is going on.
“Someone with ADHD might have consistent difficulties remembering important details, like where their keys are, whereas folks who are more neurotypical may only forget where their keys are every so often,” explained Krista Carvin, a registered social worker based in Ontario, Canada.
You neglect other activities or your needs when you’re focused on a task.
According to Catherine del Toro, a provider partner for Grow Therapy, “a common symptom of hyperactivity is being easily distracted on one extreme or hyper-focused on the other. Because of this, it can be a habit to be so fully involved in a task that we may neglect other, equally important things.”
As a general example, del Toro noted that this could look like someone writing to the point that they may forget to eat, and they stay seated for hours.
You may also struggle with forgetfulness and leave tasks unfinished.
While people with ADHD have a tendency to become fixated on one task, they may also routinely forget to finish tasks before moving onto the next one.
“You may start washing the dishes, notice something is spilled on the floor, and start cleaning the floor. Then, while sweeping, notice there are finger marks on the glass door, and start cleaning that instead,” del Toro said.
Hannah Rae, a graduate student and case manager for homeless services, told HuffPost that she habitually forgot about events and tasks long before being formally diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. “I am forgetful about most things in my life. I have to write everything down,” she said.
You have a tendency to avoid doing certain activities on some days, while actively seeking out constant activity on other days.
Regularly fluctuating between feeling overstimulated or understimulated by your environment can be a sign that you have ADHD.
“For example, some days you might feel like it’s totally fine to go to the grocery store and that it doesn’t cause any trouble for you at all,” Carvin said. “On other days, especially when you’re overstimulated, you might notice the sights, smells or sounds in the grocery store are really bothering you, which may mean that following your shopping list or waiting in line feels like too much for you to handle.”
According to Carvin, being understimulated may leave a person with ADHD feeling both listless and restless, yet unsure about what they need to do to feel better.
You have a habit of struggling to connect with partners in your relationship.
A person with ADHD may notice certain habits — that are actually symptoms — impact their dating life or interpersonal relationships. For example, Carvin explained that people with ADHD may find it difficult to give their partner attention, or help out with tasks around the house — which can lead to conflict and hurt feelings.
“‘ADHDers’ can be sensitive to rejection. If faced with tough feedback from their partners they may respond in a way that seems disproportionate to the situation at hand,” she said.
You are being treated for a mood disorder, but still experience symptoms and habits associated with ADHD.
An estimated 57% to 92% of adults with ADHD also have at least one co-occuring mental health disorder or other neurodivergent experience, with some studies indicating that number may be as high as 80%.
“Undiagnosed adults may have tried psychotherapy or medications, but treatment that isn’t targeted to ADHD may not have led to the gains needed to live a better life,” Carvin said.
Hannah explained that though she was receiving treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, symptoms such as trouble focusing and forgetfulness persisted.
“I knew not all of these symptoms could be related to this anxiety disorder,” she said. “I was already being treated for a neurological disorder, and by chance they screened for ADHD. I met the criteria.”
Note: Experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily guarantee you have ADHD.
Not everyone who is forgetful or who has trouble multitasking is living with ADHD. People who are neurotypical can develop habits such as forgetting things or hyper-focusing on tasks. However, experiencing emotional distress can be clinically significant and key to determining if you should seek out medical support.
“With an influx in this kind of information on social media, it’s really valuable to listen to the perspectives of people with lived experience, while also balancing that with evidence-based information,” Carvin explained.
Seek out health care and resources.
Nwogwugwu explained that “evaluation is key” when it comes to undiagnosed ADHD in adults, adding that “it is never too late to receive treatment for ADHD when diagnosed.”
Seeing a health care provider can aid someone in receiving a formal diagnosis and treatment, as well as accommodations at work or school. For Hannah, finding the right combination of medication and therapy has been key to managing ADHD.
However, it’s important to note that factors such as stigma, a lack of health insurance, costs of medical care and general misinformation can bar someone from receiving treatment for ADHD. If you cannot access health care, free resources such as support groups, workbooks and expert-led podcasts can be informative, validating and beneficial.
Ultimately, experts say it’s important to recognize and take action if you feel your habits are impacting your health or day-to-day life.
As Nwogwugwu noted, “receiving a diagnosis of ADHD can be a relief and life-changing moment for adults as it explains struggles and problems that a person may have been dealing with all their life.”