Suzanne Watson MD, MDiv, MEd

Del Mar Psychiatry


In-Person Appointments & Telemedicine Available, 317 14th Street, Suite D
 Del Mar, CA 92014

Adult ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, is a chronic disorder that includes symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. ADHD is commonly diagnosed in young children; however, many people continue to suffer from this condition as adults. Adult ADHD is typically more subtle and harder to diagnose. Most adults with ADHD had ADHD as children, even if it was never diagnosed. Some people with ADHD have fewer symptoms as they get older, while others continue to have significant symptoms as adults.

Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and difficulty at work. Mood swings, angry outbursts and irritability may cause troubled relationships. Impulsive behavior may cause problems with family and in a person's personal life. Many adults with ADHD also suffer from other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

Symptoms of Adult ADHD

Many adults that seek treatment for depression or anxiety may actually suffer from adult ADHD. Symptoms of adult ADHD are similar to those in children, only they may be more subtle. Symptoms of adult ADHD may include:

  • Easily distracted
  • Restlessness
  • Unstable relationships
  • Trouble relaxing
  • Trouble organizing
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Bouts of anger
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsiveness

Causes of Adult ADHD

Adults with ADHD often suffered from ADHD as a child and in some cases, it was never diagnosed. As with ADHD in children, the exact cause is not known, however research has indicated that one of the main causes may be genetic. Other possible causes of ADHD may include:

  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Certain brain injuries
  • Premature birth

Diagnosis of Adult ADHD

In cases where ADHD was not already diagnosed as a child, it can be more challenging to identify ADHD, as symptoms in adults may be vague. Initially a doctor will perform a complete physical examination to rule out any other medical conditions. Other conditions including some mental health disorders or alcohol and substance  abuse can cause similar symptoms to ADHD. A doctor will conduct an interview with the patient and carefully evaluate all symptoms as well as how they impact the individual's current life, job performance and relationships with friends and family. Once ADHD has been diagnosed, a treatment plan will be established.

Treatment of Adult ADHD

Treatment for ADHD usually includes therapy, medication or a combination of both.


For many adults, ADHD medications can reduce inattention and impulsiveness and improve their ability to focus. Common ADHD medications include stimulant drugs such as Ritalin that help to balance the levels of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Other ADHD medications may include atomoxetine or antidepressants, which work slower than stimulant drugs but are an option for those individuals who cannot take stimulants because of other health reasons.

Psychological Therapy

Psychological therapy aims to help adults with ADHD manage their behavior. Therapy may be effective in helping individuals improve their time management and organizational skills and improve their self-esteem. Often, therapy also helps adults with ADHD learn ways to improve relationships with family and friends.

Adults with ADHD may also benefit from making lifestyle adjustments, such as keeping to a consistent routine, making a list of tasks, and using a planner or appointment book to help manage their activities and condition.

Additional Resources

Del Mar Psychiatry