Is It Possible to Develop ADHD as an Adult?

May 10, 2023
Is It Possible to Develop ADHD as an Adult?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is usually considered a childhood issue, but a growing number of adults are being diagnosed with it. Did they develop it suddenly as adults? Could this happen to you?

On the surface, the question of whether or not adults can develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) seems like it should be a simple yes or no. But, as with most things, it’s a little more complicated than that. 

Experts Elyssa Blissenbach, MD and Lea-Anne Griffis, APRN at Northeast Florida Internal Medicine and their team understand the impact that getting diagnosed and treated for ADHD as an adult can have. We know that such a diagnosis can bring up many questions about how long you might have had the condition, and how it may have affected your life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD “begins in childhood and can continue into the teen years and adulthood.” In other words, the NIMH posits that you can’t develop ADHD as an adult. However, it’s entirely possible that you had it as a child but it was never diagnosed. 

The difficulty of diagnosis

No single diagnostic test exists for ADHD, so you can’t have blood drawn and find out definitively if you have the condition, nor can an X-ray or MRI reveal the condition. Instead, providers use checklists of symptoms, consider past behavior, your health history, and other tools to make the diagnosis. 

ADHD isn’t obvious during an office visit, for example. Particularly in adults, who have had plenty of time to develop strategies to help them cope with the condition, whether they know that’s what they’re doing or not.

Additionally, the signs and symptoms of ADHD vary significantly from person to person and can change over time. So, the symptoms you may have had as a child likely changed as you got older and more experienced. 

Each of these factors contribute to the difficulty of being diagnosed with ADHD, and could be part of why many adults who have ADHD aren’t diagnosed as children. 


As we noted above, symptoms of ADHD can be very different among individuals. Generally speaking, ADHD causes problems in three areas: 

  • Inattention 
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity

Within the three areas, the symptoms can be quite different. For example, you may be able to pay attention for a short span of time but struggle to stay focused for longer tasks. Or you may frequently make “careless” mistakes at work. Similarly, you may show signs of hyperactivity if you talk a lot, or if you have problems waiting in line.

Sometimes the symptoms adults experience are quite subtle. Maybe you struggle to keep your desk organized, or maybe you don’t have a regular morning routine. Sometimes it’s possible to manage your symptoms for a long time, but then you may have more demands on your time and it feels like things fall apart. 

Treatment for ADHD as an adult

Medication is a common treatment approach, and many adults are surprised by how much it helps. Stimulants are common, and can be very effective. Some people find antidepressants are more effective. 

Other treatment approaches including psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy are often helpful, particularly in situations where other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety are present. Complementary health modalities may also be helpful in managing your symptoms. 

If you find it difficult to manage your time, deal with feelings of being overwhelmed often, or have other potential symptoms of ADHD, schedule an appointment at Northeast Florida Internal Medicine. We can discuss your symptoms and help you find a path forward.