Speaking in Forbes magazine, Dr. Rob Baskind (ADHD specialist consultant) reports that “the prevalence of ADHD in adults is widely reported as between 2.5%-4% although this is felt to be a conservative figure. Only approximately 10-20% of individuals with ADHD will be treated” (Forbes).
While ADHD (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) usually begins during childhood, the neurobehavioural condition can last into adulthood – regardless of whether a diagnosis has been attained.
Lack of a proper adult ADHD assessment and diagnosis prevents a person seeking the treatment they need. However it can, at times, be extremely difficult for an adult to be diagnosed with ADHD – for a number of reasons, which we will explore in more detail below, but not least are the pressures of day-to-day life, such as family commitments or work ties.
Unfortunately, untreated ADHD can cause challenging and unwelcome consequences in the lives of both women and men with ADHD, but proper understanding is the first step towards accurate diagnosis, treatment, and navigation of the condition. If you’re wondering, how does untreated ADHD affect adults?, read on as we explore this important question.
What are the Symptoms of Untreated ADHD in Adults?
The first thing to say is that, though adult ADHD more commonly manifests in symptoms of impulsivity and inattention, it is also possible for ADHD in adults to present hyperactivity symptoms.
Adulthood ADHD can lead to symptoms that vary greatly from those seen in children, which goes part of the way to explaining why the condition can go untreated.
According to research by NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), ADHD may affect the life of an adult through the following signs and symptoms.
Common symptoms of untreated ADHD in adults:
- You become easily distracted
- You experience mood swings or a low tolerance to frustration
- You find time-keeping and time-management problematic
- You have poor listening skills
- You find it hard to multitask
- You tend to act impulsively
- You’re often restless (eg., restless legs, fidgeting, etc.)
- You find it difficult to stay on task
- You struggle with planning and organisation
In real-world terms, these symptoms can manifest in a wide range of thoughts, actions and behaviours.
For instance, you might find that you regularly miss important deadlines, or that you are often late (or simply forget about) meetings and appointments. Perhaps you tend to interrupt others while they are speaking, misplace things around the house, or have a hard time dealing with stressful or frustrating events.
Why adulthood ADHD often goes untreated
Symptoms of inattention might present in adults as poor time-management or ‘careless’ mistakes, while hyperactivity may show itself in fidgeting or impulsive decisions. But the central issue is that these behaviours are all-too-often mislabeled: as another mental health condition, immaturity, a personality trait, or something else entirely.
It’s also true that, where ADHD symptoms are more pronounced and ‘obvious’ in children, among adults with ADHD the picture is often less clear.
Adults have more options and experience in managing the condition (for instance, relying on a partner to organise their time, or pursuing a career that allows them to rapidly switch tasks).
Below, we list some of the other reasons why ADHD in adults may be missed or misdiagnosed:
- Lack of understanding around ADHD
- Social stigma
- ‘Masking’, ‘camouflaging’, ‘impression management’ or other adaptive behaviours
- Co-occurring conditions or mental health disorders (eg., depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc.)
- Poor availability of treatment (therapy or medications)
- Gender or ethnic inequalities
How Does Untreated ADHD Affect Adults?
So, how does untreated ADHD affect adults?
Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD can affect the life of an adult in various ways. ADHD symptoms may affect your health, work or school life, as well as another person or people (such as a partner or children).
Below, we’ll consider the different areas of your life that may be affected by untreated ADHD.
Work and relationships
Most of us spend a significant portion of our time at work or school, and for an adult with ADHD, this can present a number of challenges. ADHD affects work in both job-related tasks and interactions with peers.
Though the exact nature of this impact will likely vary, adults often find that ADHD symptoms lead to workplace challenges: missed deadlines, forgotten meetings, difficulty staying on task, or strained professional relationships, for instance.
That strain on relationships can also extend into your personal life. It may be that the connection between you and a partner, a friend, or your children suffers as a result of ADHD.
They may complain that you don’t pay attention to them, or don’t listen to what they say. A good way to overcome this is to involve the people in your life with your ADHD; familiarise them with helpful resources, loop them into your course of therapy and/or psychiatry, and let them know of other ways they can be helpful in dealing with ADHD symptoms.
Difficulty with time management and organisation
It’s common for adults with ADHD to struggle with time management. To friends, family and colleagues, it can seem that they are always late, not sure when to do something, or oblivious as to how much time is left before tasks need to be completed.
Time management issues can create challenges such as:
- Frequent lateness
- Difficulty sticking to a schedule
- Struggling to identify how long ago something happened
- Feeling like time is passing too quickly or slowly
- An inability to ascertain how long will be needed for a given task
Similar challenges extend to an adult with ADHD’s ability to self-organise. To others, their life can seem hectic or chaotic: they may seem to constantly lose things, be unable to keep a space tidy, frequently abandon an activity before it is completed, or store objects in places that are (in another person’s brain) illogical.
Moreover, this tendency towards disorganisation can encompass speech and thought patterns. Adults with untreated ADHD might struggle to plan what they want to say, lose track of ideas, find it difficult to stick to routines or forget about important appointments.
Struggles with financial management and decision making
You may find that you often lose track of bank balances, checks, bills and taxes; that you tend to overspend; or that you are unable to save money effectively.
If this sounds familiar, there are a number of effective strategies that can help you manage money with ADHD. In general, making an effort to keep records about your spending can be extremely useful, and is a truly beneficial habit to develop.
You may also want to draw a distinction between ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’ expenses, or the things you have to buy (like food, utilities and means of transportation) versus the things you’d like to buy. Aim to ensure that the monthly total of your ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’ expenses does not exceed your income over the same period.
In a wider sense, important decisions in general can be difficult for adults with ADHD to navigate. You might find, for example, that you:
- Tend to choose things at random
- Cannot commit to a decision
- Allow other people to decide things for you
- Feel overwhelmed when faced with a decision
- Feel anxious over making ‘wrong’ decisions
Research (Schulze et. al.) indicates that these behavioural and cognitive traits may be rooted in untreated ADHD symptoms such as impulsiveness, distractibility, issues with the working memory, or inattention.
Emotional, psychological and mental difficulties
As we’ve seen, emotional regulation can present a significant challenge for some adults with ADHD.
This means it is difficult to control your emotional response to things. You may be unable to calm down when angry, exhibit low levels of motivation, often become overly frustrated, only be able to think about your own emotions, or experience mood swings or outbursts.
Unfortunately, emotional dysregulation is one of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of adulthood ADHD. Without knowledge of other ADHD symptoms, a professional might diagnose these elements as a (co-occurring or completely separate) mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or BPD (borderline personality disorder).
Emotional challenges such as the ones mentioned here can lead to and/or exacerbate psychological wellbeing and mental health. If you or someone you know seems to be struggling with emotional regulation, seek an adult ADHD assessment today.
Increased risk of car accidents and injuries
According to CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder): “Adults with ADHD have a higher risk for poor driving incidents,” and “tend to have more accidents than adults without ADHD.”
Research (Lenartowicz et. al, published in NIMH) has suggested that people with ADHD have trouble filtering out distractions, such as background music, events going on outside, or the conversation of people nearby.
In turn, this reduces the ability of the brain to focus on higher-priority matters – in this case, the road and other road users – and can therefore make adults with ADHD more likely to be involved in a collision or incident.
Some theories and articles also point to reduced executive function skills (the ability of the brain to identify, organise, process and control actions and behaviours) as contributing to an increased risk of injury for adults with ADHD.
Treatment Options for ADHD in Adults
Given the above, it can be easy to build the perception of ADHD as something ‘negative’ or ‘damaging.’
But this doesn’t need to be the case.
ADHD is double-sided. While it’s true that its symptoms can bring about unwelcome or challenging situations, it can also be used positively, and may present the foundation of a productive and happy life; in fact, many choose to see their ADHD as giving them ‘superpowers’, as we’ll see in a moment.
The key is to find and follow the correct treatment plan for your ADHD.
Here at The ADHD Centre, we recommend an individual and tailored approach to treatment for people with ADHD. It all starts with an adulthood assessment for ADHD – this is the first step to finding effective and healthy ways to deal with your condition.
Based on the results of your assessment and our specialist opinion, we may recommend one or more of the following ADHD treatment plans:
- ADHD-specialised behavioural therapy and coaching
- A course of medication (either stimulant or non-stimulant medications)
- Wellbeing and holistic health programmes
- Mindfulness therapy and meditation
The Positives, Benefits & Superpowers of Adult ADHD
Treated with care and channelled correctly, adulthood ADHD can be a powerful thing. Rather than viewing the condition as a detriment or obstacle to success and happiness, aim to see ADHD as one of your most unique personal resources.
ADHD can affect a number of advantages in your work, school or personal life; indeed, there are a number of jobs for someone with ADHD that are well-suited to your qualities. The ‘superpowers’ that come with treated ADHD include:
- Hyperfocus – the ability to sustain long periods of high productivity
- Creativity, humour and affability
- A willingness to take risks
- A sense of fairness and compassion
- Contagious motivation
- Empathy and generosity
Finding the Right Treatment: The ADHD Centre
As we’ve seen, there is no simple answer to the question how does untreated ADHD affect adults?
In adulthood (as in childhood) ADHD can manifest in a wide range of ways, from challenges with professional/personal relationships, to impulsive decision making, to heightened emotions. With that said, the condition can also be the root of a number of positive psychological or behavioural traits; it’s all about finding the right treatment plan to help you navigate the symptoms and deal with ADHD effectively.
Here at The ADHD Centre, we possess a wealth of experience in dealing with adulthood ADHD. Our team of specialist consultant psychiatrists, psychologists and behavioural coaches have been diagnosing and treating people with ADHD since 2009, and we’re available to offer expert guidance on your condition.
Get in touch today to obtain an adult ADHD assessment and find the treatment plan that works for you.