7 Symptoms Never to Ignore With Adult ADHD

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • Businesswoman looking at laptop while sitting in office

    About 4% of American adults have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by impulsivity, distractibility and hyperactivity. If you are an adult with ADHD, you are at higher risk of developing certain co-occurring conditions that can complicate your disorder, such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and substance abuse. Treating these complicating conditions can help prevent more serious illness from occurring. Find out which troubling symptoms of adult ADHD should prompt a call to your doctor.

  • 1
    Feeling sad and hopeless
    Deep thinker

    Mood disorders such as depression can leave you feeling withdrawn, worthless, and wondering if you'll ever be happy again. About 47% of adults with ADHD have major depression. Overall, 38% of adults with ADHD have some type of co-occurring mood disorder, which can also include bipolar disorder and dysthymia, or chronic mild depression. Additional symptoms to watch for include difficulty focusing, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and losing or gaining weight. Call your doctor if these develop. If you feel compelled to hurt yourself or are thinking of suicide, call 911 or a suicide hotline.

  • 2
    Trouble sleeping
    Woman having trouble sleeping

    Sleep disorders are common with ADHD. Four out of five adults with ADHD—or about 80%—report difficulty with falling asleep or staying asleep. Other sleep problems, like circadian rhythm disorders, restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnea, also occur more often in those with ADHD. Sleep disorders can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, making you more inattentive or drowsy during the day. ADHD's hyperactivity symptoms and the stimulant medication you may take for it may also contribute to sleep issues. Discuss this problem with your doctor, as sleep issues affect both mental and physical health.

  • 3
    Feeling anxious
    Man with mask looking out of window

    Anxiety disorders co-occur in 53% of adults with ADHD. Such disorders can run in families and include generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety, and phobias. Symptoms to watch for: excessive worry and fear that's out of proportion to your current situation; feeling on-edge, stressed out, tired, tense and irritable; or having difficulty concentrating. You also may experience problems sleeping (which can be caused both by anxiety and ADHD). If you have adult ADHD and anxiety, your symptoms can be successfully treated. Contact your doctor or mental health professional.

  • 4
    Gaining too much weight

    If you have ADHD, you are more likely to become obese than someone who does not have ADHD. This may be due to ADHD symptoms of impulsivity and inattention, which make it harder to deny food cravings or develop planned, nutritious menus. Adults with ADHD also are almost four times as likely as those without it to have an eating disorder, especially binge eating and bulimia. Studies show ADHD medication can reduce the risk for obesity and may help cut behaviors such as binge eating. Report altered eating habits, including excessive weight gain, to your doctor.

  • 5
    Drinking or using drugs

    Adults with ADHD are more likely to have problems with substance abuse than people who don't have ADHD. One large study found about 15% of ADHD adults met the criteria for substance use disorder, compared with nearly 6% without ADHD. Adults with ADHD are more likely to start using alcohol or drugs at a younger age than people without ADHD. They’re also more likely to continue using them for a longer time period, with more difficulty achieving recovery.

    However, this doesn't mean treatment can't work, especially if ADHD symptoms are addressed as well. If you have difficulty with addiction to alcohol, drugs or other substances, contact your doctor for help.

  • 6
    Aggressive behavior
    Angry driver.

    Those with ADHD may have hot tempers, low tolerance for frustration, and difficulty controlling their emotions. Problems with anger are also prevalent with antisocial personality disorder, a condition that can overlap with ADHD and is characterized by violent outbursts and destructive behavior. One study found 18 to 25% of 25-year-olds with ADHD had this condition (compared to 2% of the general population). Those who had both conduct disorder and ADHD as children are more at risk. If you have a loved one with these troubling symptoms, urge him or her to seek help.

  • 7
    Compulsive handwashing
    Close-up of handwashing

    Nearly 9% of adults with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) also have ADHD. Some studies suggest OCD patients with ADHD have more severe symptoms than those without it. OCD symptoms include obsessive or repetitive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, such as cleaning, handwashing or counting.

    When ADHD and OCD overlap, treatment can be tricky. Some studies show stimulant medication used for ADHD can make OCD symptoms worse, while others show it can help. But leaving ADHD untreated can make it more difficult for OCD therapies to work. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of OCD to find an effective treatment plan.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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