20 tell-tale signs of adult ADHD

By Dr. Kevin Ross Emery

With high profile celebrities like NBC’s “The Voice” judge Adam Levine, TV news broadcasters like Phoenix-based Kaley O'Kelley and others like “The ADHD CEO” Greg Selkoe now publicly owning their ADHD diagnosis, it begs many questions: How does one know if they have adult ADHD — what are the signs? Can problems with punctuality, organization and focus be due to adult ADHD or are these difficulties simply related to stress or other lifestyle issues? Is adult ADHD sabotaging your career, business or relationship? And, can ADHD actually manifest itself later in life after a diagnosis-free childhood? does not truly outgrow ADD/HD. One hopefully just learns how to better understand, work with and manage both the gifts and drawbacks of the ADD/HD impact. In some cases the individual finds passions, talents and gifts and through hyper-focusing them to become enormously successful. Yet another may struggle with addictions, low self-worth, self-esteem issues, or never “get their act together,” living far beneath their potential.

To outgrow ADD/HD is similar to saying, “I am going to outgrow having blue eyes or brown hair.” It is simply part of the package.

Some of the most troublesome of the ADD/HD issues that showed up in childhood do get mediated through them physiologically “catching up” to their peers. Nevertheless, the emotional and psychological damage of not fitting in, never living up to potential, never understanding why one is different are issues for both the diagnosed and undiagnosed.

Here are 20 signs and character traits that may signify adult ADHD:


  • Organizationally challenged
  • Trouble starting and finishing projects
  • Miss social cues
  • Difficulty being subtle
  • Hyper-focused to the point of losing track of time
  • Multi-tasks to the point of distraction
  • Does not work well in traditional workplace setting
  • Marital troubles
  • Poor listening skills
  • Chronic lateness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Trouble prioritizing
  • Gets bored easily
  • Naturally rebellious
  • Addictive personality
  • Tendency towards self medicating
  • High energy
  • Highly creative
  • Good problem solver, innovator, inventor
  • When interested love to learn, share and teach new things

There are untold millions of adults who were never diagnosed in childhood and are dealing with ADD/HD symptoms in an unproductive manner. The result are unhappy, underutilized lives that are not harnessing the incredible potential that comes with the ‘gift’ of ADD/HD.

Recognizing that, with proper self-awareness and management, there are many ways adult ADD/HD can prove beneficial is key for those with the condition to be genuinely happy and succeed at home and at work.

Whether ADD/HD was identified in childhood or later as an adult, the emotional and psychological damage of not fitting in, never living up to your potential, never understanding your why you are different, or feeling like you are a failure often takes its toll into adulthood. Many may struggle with addictions, low self-worth, self-esteem issues or, in extreme cases, end up in the criminal justice system.

Yet, in some cases ADD/HD individuals channel their passions and talents to achieve enormous personal and professional success. Knowledge is power, and a proper adult ADD/HD diagnosis is paramount to managing the condition and actually realizing the many gifts ADD/HD has to offer the individual — and society at large.

Dr. Kevin Ross Emery is an international speaker and the author of Managing the Gift of your ADD/HD Childand Managing the Gift: Alternative Approaches to Attention Deficit Disorder,which are built upon more than 14 years of experience working with individuals of all ages living with Attention Deficit Disorder – and a lifetime of personal experience with the condition. He may be reached online at

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/


aj  276 days ago

Maria.. my story is same as urs.. im 34.. i actually tick everybsign on this.. i too have jst cryed like a baby.. because my older brother whos 36 has adhd.. but the lower end of the spectrum and still has careers today.. my 6yr old has tourettes syndrome and comorbid conditions adhd..ocd.sensory.. his dad has very mild tics .. throat clears etc. My son is very complex.. i always thought i knew what adhd was.. in my brother. I watches a video of a girl who spoke about adhd on the higher end.. where the brain active and smart and creative etc.. and its jst hit me watching this.. that i have it myself and i never realised.. i thought bi bolar yh haha but no this is me.. the girl in the video i watched today.. is me.. and it hit a core in my stomach... I am creative.. very.. i see things others dont.. from dimensional world. I love art..colour.. i ve always worked for myself and had success and failure. Always late all the time that had major impact of my life.. i paint.. i read alot. I have ocd of symmetry.. and if the shopping bags ate not packed properly it fucks my day up.. irrates me.. im smart and i see energy and light.. numbers.. maths and science i like.. ita really freaky weird. Im defo having a moment today.. i feep like wow... Is this why my fkin mind is constantly on the fucking go... ? I have suffered and taken it out on others.. but im in a good place now.. i can talk about neurology like a doctor.. haha i see how the brain works.. and its very much how the universe works xxx

Swallowed Under City Lights  443 days ago

I feel like the guy from the first comment . Im 20 and reading the signs also gets my eyes watery. I would love for the public to see this comment. I've been diagnosed with ADHD since the 5th grade, and I stopped taking the medicated patches in the 9th grade . I am now 20 and have been in trouble with the criminal justice system a number of times, and I feel as I am stuck in quick sand and there's nothing I can do to stop the downhill train I'm on in life . My mind knows and I naturally feel the ADHD is something that is hindering my life in a very fast destructive way. I'm desperately searching for help this is what led me to this article in the first place. I can't imagine the amount of black lives lost to the system due to lack of proper knowledge & diagnosis of ADHD. Something that is very self destructive.

Maria  1962 days ago

Reading this article - esp those 20 signs- makes me want to cry! I'm 34 years old and just recently started seeking professional help for my 6 yr old son whom I believe has ADHD- only to find out that I actually have it! I knew long ago that these 18 signs (i don't self medicate nor do i have marital problems- well except in relation to my ADHD-ness) largely defined me but i always thought that it was just my personality. I still can't believe that all this time and I never realized I had ADHD!! But why would I? I actually had some great teachers - esp in Maths and Sciences, who somehow kept me "interested", which is probably why I did exceptionally well both in school and university -- of course a lot can be attributed to my, then useful, hyper-focus ability. Unfortunately, unlike my single life years when the world was mine, I struggle now being married with kids- more to juggle, more forces pulling on me, more effort to balance it all! Yes I typically get on a high when Im pressured and can sometimes perform even better that way... but im realizing I cant manage the impossible anymore- my brain feels more scattered than ever! I felt like I've been failing as a mother for a long time- only to know now why I feel this way... a lot had to with my ADHD! I have just started to read a few good books and other resourceful material to help me understand ADHD. The funny thing is I am so sure my dad has it too! He hyper-focuses just as I do... I even recognized that as a teen and was proud to be "smart" like dad! He was extremely successful and have started his own medical distribution companies from literally nothing. Proud of him and hope to be proud of myself as well - one day! I know at least I have the positive thinking in my genes :) Just need to master motherhood for now- instead of being its slave! Difficult journey for a normal woman- let alone one with ADHD! Thanks for an insightful article... will be reading more from Dr. Kevin!

Tonia Nance  1995 days ago

I loved seeing this I have had ADHD my whole life and have always felt different and people have often treated me badly like they didnt like being around me only for me to find out 4 yrs ago I have this I have always put myself down for not being able to do or keep jobs most others have and do. This has really helped me Thanks

AnnJ  1997 days ago

I have ADHD and so do my children and my father. I am so frustrated with being moved up the ladder in my work and then being chastized because I don't work like everyone else. I am now 57 and it has been the story of my life. It is very frustrating and disappointing. It affects your self-esteem and self-worth. People don't understand but they always are there for my ideas for change and process improvement ideas. It is so disappointing and I feel like I have failed in so many ways but when I read this list it reminds me that it is the way my brain works and that I am blessed. If only I could be paid for my brainstorming ideas...I would be a millionaire. Instead I feel used and taken advantage of. They get the credit for my ideas and I get in trouble for not being able to stay on task.

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