August 12, 2021

ADHD in Adulthood: Do You Outgrow It, and Does ADHD Go Away?

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11
min read

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has received more attention in the media over the past few decades. ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder associated with inattention and, for some people, impulsive behavior. It is most often thought of as a childhood disorder, but ADHD also affects adults. 

Childhood ADHD occurs in 6.4 million children, and males are about three times as likely to have ADHD compared to females. Some children grow out of ADHD symptoms, while many have ADHD as adults. Sometimes ADHD goes undiagnosed until adulthood. This means some adults have untreated ADHD. 

This article will outline symptoms of ADHD, answer the question if you can grow out of ADHD, and summarize how ADHD affects adults and young adults.  

Symptoms of ADHD

According to the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), symptoms of ADHD include: 

  • Trouble paying or keeping attention (shown by five or more symptoms of inattention, listed below) 
  • Significant impulsivity or hyperactivity (shown by five or more symptoms of hyperactivity, listed below)

Symptoms of inattention include: 

  • Careless mistakes or low attention to detail
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Not listening when spoken to directly
  • Trouble following through on tasks and instructions
  • Poor organization
  • Avoiding or disliking tasks that require high mental effort
  • Frequently losing important items (like keys, wallet, etc.)
  • Easily distracted
  • Frequently forgetful in daily activities

Symptoms of hyperactivity include: 

  • Frequent fidgeting or squirming
  • Restlessness
  • Acts "on the go" or as if "driven by a motor”
  • Talking excessively
  • Blurting out answers
  • Difficulty waiting for a turn
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Has difficulty with quiet activities
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected (e.g., church or school)

In order to be diagnosed with ADHD, these symptoms need to cause someone distress. They also need to cause impairment, which means the symptoms negatively impact their life in some way. Symptoms of ADHD can affect various aspects of life, including relationships, work, school, or leisure time. Lastly, a diagnosis of ADHD can only be made if these symptoms start before age 12 and are observed and documented by an adult, such as a parent, teacher, or doctor. 

A diagnosis of ADHD can involve many different symptoms, resulting in three different types of ADHD. The first type is the Inattentive Type, which occurs when someone mostly has inattention. The second type is called Hyperactive-Impulsive Type and exists when someone mostly has hyperactivity or risky behavior. Lastly, there is a Combined presentation, which is when someone shows both types of symptoms.

Does ADHD go away as someone gets older?

To have ADHD, someone must show symptoms of ADHD before age 12. ADHD can be diagnosed after age 12 as long as symptoms were present before then. However, some children can grow out of ADHD as they get older. 

Recent research shows that anywhere from 25-30% of people can grow out of ADHD.

Researchers from Cambridge University note that brains become more developed in adulthood, which might explain why some ADHD symptoms go away. However, even if someone does not grow out of ADHD, symptoms can change as someone reaches adulthood. Studies have shown that as someone gets older, they display fewer hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms, likely because of brain development. However, as someone ages, inattentive symptoms become more prominent because of the demands of adulthood (e.g., need for organization, ability to juggle multiple tasks, etc.). 

Adult ADHD: Managing symptoms in life

Many people continue to experience ADHD through adulthood. An ADHD diagnosis affects many life areas, including other areas of mental health, relationships, stress, work or school, self-esteem, and overall general wellness.

Research shows adult ADHD is associated with:

  • High levels of perceived stress
  • Inattentive symptoms
  • Sluggish brain activity
  • Changes in the workplace (including frequent absences and unemployment)
  • Marital problems

Adults with ADHD may have to take some extra steps to manage these challenges. Management tools like self-care, medication, and therapy can provide help and relief from ADHD symptoms.

Medication

For some adults, medication is a helpful option to manage the symptoms of ADHD. ADHD is often treated with stimulant medications that can manage both inattentive symptoms and symptoms of hyperactivity. If you're an adult struggling with ADHD, it could be helpful to seek medical advice from a primary care physician or psychiatrist. ADHD is considered a neuro-developmental disorder rooted in biology, and psychiatry can give relief. 

Therapy

Adults with ADHD may also benefit from therapy. Certain types of therapy can help manage symptoms. In particular, cognitive behavior therapy has been shown to help manage symptoms of adult ADHD. 

ADHD has core brain features like challenges with inattention and self-regulation, which leads to difficulty with organizing and planning. Trouble planning and organizing can cause other problems, like underachievement, relationship problems, depression, anxiety, guilt, or anger. 

Behavioral therapy works by helping adults better plan, organize, and manage distractions. Because it helps with these symptoms, it can also reduce negative emotions and other problems.

Stress Reduction

Adult ADHD is associated with high levels of stress. Therefore, adults may find it helpful to use stress reduction strategies to cope. Here are some ways you may be able to minimize distractions, increase productivity, and reduce stress in the workplace:

  • Create a schedule
  • Establish a daily routine
  • Create a quiet workspace
  • Communicate boundaries
  • Take frequent breaks when needed
  • Practice single-tasking (do one thing at a time) 
  • Use self-compassion 

Another thing that might help reduce stress is self-care. Self-care is any activity you engage in to care for your own health. Contrary to popular belief, self-care is not about self-indulgence. It is about caring for yourself so you can prevent illness, be more effective at work or in relationships, prevent burnout, and feel better overall.

You may think about creating a self-care routine. A self-care routine is a regular ritual you use to unwind. It can include being outside in nature, doing things that calm you, taking days off, getting quality sleep/nourishment/hydration/exercise, or doing things that help you feel supported by your support system. 

Start by brainstorming a list of things you can do in your everyday life. According to licensed psychologist Marina Harris, Ph.D., the best self-care routine includes things that are easily integrated into what you already do as well as special things that you don't normally do for yourself (like planning a spa day, taking a day off, or buying yourself flowers). You want your self-care routine to include physical, psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to determine the best routine for you, so get adventurous and try some different things out! 

Having a self-care routine is great for adults with ADHD because it provides consistency. It’s also helpful for reducing general stress. It can feel hard to start, but it will make a big difference in how you feel overall.

You can manage adult ADHD

Some people diagnosed with ADHD will grow out of it, but many adults still struggle with symptoms of ADHD as they get older. If you're one of the 70-75% of adults diagnosed with ADHD still struggling with symptoms, don't worry. There are things you can do to manage the symptoms. You can start by managing distractions at home and at work, creating a self-care routine, and looking after your overall wellness. Also, ADHD is a true medical condition, and it’s important to remember there are treatments to give you relief. In particular, ADHD medications or behavioral therapy could be a big help. 

SOURCES:

SonderMind: "ADHD."

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Cambridge University Press: “Persistence and remission of ADHD during adulthood: a 7-year clinical follow-up study.” 

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: “When diagnosing ADHD in young adults emphasize informant reports, DSM items, and impairment.”

European Neuropsychopharmacology: “Live fast, die young? A review on the developmental trajectories of ADHD across the lifespan.” 

Journal of Attention Disorders: “Perceived stress and ADHD symptoms in adults.”

Cambridge University Press: “Impairment associated with adult ADHD.”

Journal of Clinical Psychology: “Pharmacotherapy of adult ADHD.” 

Behavior Research and Therapy: “Cognitive-behavioral therapy for ADHD in medication-treated adults with continued symptoms.” 

Psychiatric Clinics of North America: “Psychosocial treatments for adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”

Psychiatric Clinics of North America: “Current status of cognitive behavioral therapy for adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.” 

SonderMind: “#TherapyExplained: CBT, IPT, & EMDR.”

SonderMind: “Reducing stress in the new workplace.” 

SonderMind: “A fresh take on self-care.”

Research in Nursing & Health: “A measure of self-care self-efficacy.” 

SonderMind: “Tips on starting your own self-care routine.”

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