Do You Have ADHD?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on November 29, 2023
6 min read

Has anyone ever asked you if you have ADHD? Maybe you've even wondered yourself.

The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor. That's because the disorder has several possible symptoms, and they can easily be confused with those of other conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

Not sure whether you should get checked by a doctor? It's a good idea to get checked out if many of these apply to you:

1. People say you're forgetful

Everyone misplaces car keys or jackets once in a while. But this kind of thing happens often when you have ADHD. You might spend time looking for glasses, wallets, phones, and other items every day. You may also forget to return phone calls, pay bills, or show up at medical appointments.

2. People complain that you don't listen

It's normal for most of us to lose focus once in a while when people are talking, especially if there's a distraction, such as a TV nearby or something else that grabs our attention. This happens often, and to a greater degree with ADHD, even when there are no distractions around. But still, ADHD is more than that.

3. You’re often late

Managing your time and schedule is an ongoing challenge when you have ADHD. It often leads to missed deadlines or appointments unless you work hard to avoid that.

4. You have trouble concentrating

One of the hallmarks of ADHD is having problems with attention, especially when focusing for long periods or paying attention to details. Depression, anxiety, and addiction disorders can also take a toll on your focus, and many people with ADHD have one or more of these issues. Your doctor can ask you questions to get to the bottom of what's causing your attention problems.

5. You leave things undone

Problems with attention and memory can make it tough to start or finish projects, especially ones that you know will take a lot of focus to complete. This symptom can point to depression, too.

6. You had behavior issues as a child

You need to have had attention problems or other signs of ADHD as a child in order to be diagnosed as an adult -- even if those early symptoms didn't come with a formal diagnosis.

People may have accused you of being lazy back in childhood. Or they may have thought you had another condition such as depression or anxiety.

If you were diagnosed with the disorder as a child, you may still have it. The symptoms change as you age, but most people don't outgrow it.

7. You lack impulse control

This is more than tossing a candy bar into your cart at the checkout line. This is doing something even though you know it could have serious consequences, such as running a red light because you think you can get away with it or not being able to keep quiet when you have something to say, even though you know you should.

8. You can’t get organized

You may notice this more at work. You could have trouble deciding what's most important, following through on tasks, and getting things done on time.

9. You’re fidgety

Kids with ADHD are often hyperactive, but adults are more likely to be fidgety or restless. You might also talk too much and interrupt others.

10. You can’t control your emotions

You might be moody or irritable, express frustration often, feel unmotivated, or be prone to angry outbursts. ADHD can make it hard to manage emotions that don't feel good or show good behavior when you’re upset.

ADHD isn't just for kids. About 60% of people who have it as children continue to have symptoms through adulthood.

But most adults with ADHD, 3 out of 4, didn't know they had it as kids. This means you shouldn't assume that you don't have ADHD as an adult just because you weren't aware of it during your childhood. There's a good chance you had it when you were a kid and just didn't know.

ADHD doesn't simply show up one day. What often does show up is a new responsibility in life that's too much for someone with ADHD to handle. Maybe you managed to get through elementary school or high school fine, but you are struggling to meet the demands of college or the expectations from a job or a relationship.

That tipping point depends on your symptoms and how well you deal with them. People who are more hyperactive and impulsive may be more likely to get diagnosed in childhood because their behavior was disruptive in school. If you had trouble paying attention but didn't act out, you may have been more likely to fly under the radar.

Women often don't find out they've got ADHD until college or later. That's even more likely if you have a high IQ. In fact, the higher your IQ, the more likely it is you'll get your diagnosis late because you'll do such a good job making up for your ADHD. One reason for this is that the “hyperactivity” you have may be internal or your ADHD symptoms may look “normal.” For instance, you may:

  • Talk a lot

  • Fidget or need to walk around more than other people

  • Look like you're daydreaming when your mind is moving fast from one thing to the next

  • Make friends easily but have trouble keeping them

  • Hurt yourself or choose activities that make you do more than you should

  • Work harder or longer to do as well as other people

  • Worry about losing your friends or stay in relationships that aren't good for you

A regular doctor (you might hear them called a primary care provider) who has worked with adult ADHD or a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist with expertise in ADHD can help you figure out if you meet the criteria and have ADHD. They can also find out if your symptoms are explained by another condition.

There’s no one test for ADHD. Instead, doctors and psychologists get information about what and how many symptoms you have, when they started, how long they've lasted, and how severe they are.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, you need to have several symptoms, not just one or two. And they have to have affected your jobs, relationships, or other important areas of your life. Maybe the triggering event is when you start working your first job and can't meet deadlines. Or maybe your spouse threatens to leave because they can't rely on you to follow through on what you said you would do. Your doctor will also want to rule out other conditions or find out if you may have more than one disorder.

ADHD is very often passed down from parents to their kids. Some studies say 75% of your odds for the condition is attributed to genetics. Don't be surprised if you think back and realize maybe one of your parents had ADHD, too. Your doctor might even ask if ADHD runs in your family.

Several treatments can help you manage the condition. Talk therapy can help you learn strategies to handle what challenges you most, whether it's time management, organization, or follow-through. So if a lot of this sounds familiar, consider making an appointment with your doctor. The sooner you find out, the sooner you can start treatment and learn other ways to cope with your ADHD.

If you're finding out later in life that you've had ADHD all along, you might feel like you've missed out or made mistakes you might have avoided. Therapy can help you sort through your feelings -- the relief and the regrets.

If you have a partner or spouse, consider starting couples therapy so you can learn together how the condition has affected your relationship and the ways to work through it together in the future.

Having ADHD and learning how to live with it can be a lifelong experience and process. It may help you focus on your strengths while working toward accepting your weaknesses. Look for ways to pitch in at work or in other areas of your life that involve things you're good at while letting others do the tasks that won't work as well for you. Over time, you may find you're feeling better and more confident.