What is ADHD in Adults?

Many of us struggle to pay attention at times or may act before thinking in certain situations. But adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) suffer from a serious condition that may cause persistent inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity.

ADHD isn’t just a children’s disorder—many people carry symptoms into adulthood. Others go undiagnosed as children or may develop ADHD later in life. Mercy’s behavioral health experts specialize in diagnosing and treating ADHD in people of all ages. They can help you effectively manage adult ADHD and minimize its impact on your life. 

What Causes ADHD in Adults?

While the exact cause of adult ADHD is unknown, several factors can contribute to the disorder, including:

  • Genetics – ADHD can run in families. Differences in certain brain genes can be inherited.
  • Developmental Issues – ADHD is thought to be a lack of full development of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for focus, attention, and planning and carrying out tasks.
  • Environment – Exposure to lead, smoking or having a traumatic brain injury can cause ADHD.
  • Nutrition – For some people with ADHD, certain foods like sugar, dyes or additives may make symptoms of ADHD worse. A healthy diet that includes Omega-3 fatty acids and is complete in vitamins and minerals may have a positive effect on ADHD symptoms.

Adult ADHD Symptoms 

For both adults and children, ADHD is characterized by inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity. People with ADHD may not have all the symptoms or experience them the same way. Adults with ADHD may exhibit behaviors such as:

  • Being disorganized
  • Having trouble remembering things
  • Displaying poor planning and time management skills
  • Finding it hard to focus on, prioritize or complete tasks
  • Having difficulty multitasking
  • Being excessively restless
  • Becoming very easily frustrated
  • Having frequent mood swings
  • Displaying a “hot temper”
  • Having trouble coping with stress

Many adults face significant difficulties at work and in their personal lives because of their symptoms. When these symptoms are long-lasting and disrupt your life, it’s time to talk with your Mercy doctor. He or she will meet with you to rule out other medical issues and may refer you to a Mercy behavioral health expert for evaluation.

Diagnosing & Treating ADHD in Adults

Diagnosing adult ADHD requires expertise since its symptoms can be found in many other mental health conditions. And more than one illness may be present: adults with ADHD often have additional disorders like depression, anxiety and others. Mercy’s behavioral health experts are available to diagnose your condition and help you find the treatment you need.

While there’s no single test to diagnose ADHD, your Mercy behavioral health provider will perform a clinical evaluation. ADHD is diagnosed only when symptoms are severe enough to cause ongoing problems in more than one area of your life. Examples of questions you may be asked include: 

  • How would you describe a typical day in your life?
  • Has anyone in your family had trouble with attention or learning – or were they smart but didn’t do well in school?
  • How often do you have trouble concentrating on what people say, even when they’re speaking directly to you?
  • How often do you depend on others to handle details and help keep your life in order?
  • How much caffeine do you consume daily, and do you use nicotine?

How to Treat ADHD in Adults

While there’s no cure for adult ADHD, Mercy offers treatments to help you manage your symptoms and lead a more productive life. Adult ADHD is treated similarly to childhood ADHD. Options may include medication, talk therapy and addressing other mental health conditions that occur with ADHD.

Many medications are available for treating ADHD in adults. But it’s important to talk with your Mercy doctor about your overall health and the type of ADHD medication that’s right for you.


Types of adult ADHD medication include:

  • Stimulants – These drugs increase dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals associated with attention, pleasure, motivation and movement (examples: Adderall and Ritalin).
  • Non-stimulants – These include:
    • Atomoxetine, a drug that boosts levels of norepinephrine (example: Strattera)
    • The blood pressure medications clonidine and guanfacine, which treat hyperactivity and impulsivity (examples: Catapres and Tenex)
  • Antidepressants – Antidepressants like bupropion target both norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain (example: Wellbutrin).


Talk with your Mercy doctor to learn more about the benefits and risks of adult ADHD medications.

Psychological counseling can help you effectively manage adult ADHD symptoms. Several types of therapy are available, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)  This short-term, goal-oriented form of therapy helps you change negative thought patterns and reframe feelings about yourself and your ADHD behaviors.
  • Brain training (or neurofeedback) – This approach uses brain exercises to reduce impulsivity and increase concentration.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy for adults (DBT) – This therapy focuses on four skills: mindfulness, emotional balance, distress tolerance and interpersonal relationships.


While not all therapies are available in all locations, your Mercy doctor can help you locate treatment resources and determine what works best for you.

There are several alternative approaches to the treatment of ADHD in adults. 

  • Omega 3-fatty acids - Omega-3 fatty acids boost dopamine – a brain chemical that affects mood, motivation and attention. Some adults with ADHD take omega-3 nutritional supplements for their cognitive benefits.
  • Supplements - Limited studies show some people with ADHD may find supplements such as zinc, iron or L-methyl folate helpful for their symptoms. However, additional research is needed on the effectiveness of nutritional supplements in reducing ADHD symptoms.
  • Complementary medicine - Therapeutic massage and yoga can also help ease ADHD symptoms.


Talk with your Mercy doctor about whether natural ADHD treatment is right for you, based on your symptoms and overall health.

6 Tips for Managing Adult ADHD

It’s possible to lead a productive and successful life with adult ADHD. In addition to treatment from a Mercy provider, here are a few tips to help you manage your condition.

Avoid noise and visual distractions from smartphones, televisions and other devices. Work in a space with lower levels of activity. Face away from windows, and close doors if you can.

Create a task list, and rank the tasks in order of importance. Use the list as a guide for where to focus your time and for staying on track.

If you’re overwhelmed by complex tasks, break them into smaller “chunks” or steps. Completing each step can help make the larger task feel less daunting.

Set goals for completing tasks within defined time periods. Time yourself at specific intervals (such as 15 minutes) as you work on tasks.

Background noise like running fans, air conditioners or anything that makes low, steady sounds is helpful to some people with ADHD.

Connect with others who have ADHD by joining an online community. You might learn some new tips – and even share a few of your own.

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