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ADHD in adults

Aroreretini ki ngā pakeke

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) causes problems with your concentration, memory and impulsive behaviour. These symptoms are around from when you were a child, and sometimes they improve with time. But some people continue to have problems as adults.

Having ADHD can also have positive effects. You may have lots of energy and be very creative. You may also be able to focus extremely well on interests and preferred activities.

Sometimes ADHD is first diagnosed when you are an adult.

Adult ADHD is common. It affects about one person in 20 (5% of the population), and more men than women are diagnosed with it.

We do not know the exact cause of ADHD, although we do know it is a neurological (brain) disorder. There is also a genetic link (it can be passed on from your parents). You are much more likely to have ADHD if it runs in your family.

Diagnosing ADHD in adults

If you suspect that you may have ADHD, you may like to take a screening test. The results are not a diagnosis, but they may help you decide whether to seek a formal assessment.

To get a formal diagnosis of ADHD, a doctor or psychologist needs to do a detailed assessment. They also need to rule out other conditions that may explain the symptoms. Other possible conditions include depression, anxiety, trauma and drug or alcohol dependency. If these conditions are present, they will need to be treated first.

Thumbnail image. Follow the link to the CADDRA formThey may ask you and someone close to you to complete an assessment form. This will help them decide if your symptoms are likely to be caused by ADHD.

If you think you might have ADHD, talk to your general practice team about what assessment is best for you. If your symptoms are severe (for example, if you are unable to work), they may refer you to the public adult psychiatry service for assessment and treatment.

If your symptoms are less severe, your general practice team may suggest that you see a private psychologist for further assessment. You will have to pay for this assessment. Your general practice team can use this assessment to get medication advice from the public adult psychiatry service. Or you can choose to pay to see a private psychiatrist or psychologist.

Treating ADHD in adults

The treatment for ADHD will vary between individuals. It will depend on how much of a problem the symptoms are. Approaches include talking therapies and learning how to manage symptoms such as inattention. For some people, the treatment may include medication.

If medication is an option for you, methylphenidate is most commonly prescribed. If this does not work or you are unable to take it, alternatives are dexamfetamine and atomoxetine.

You need approval from a psychiatrist before starting an ADHD medication. Your general practice team may be able to get this approval without you needing to have an appointment with the psychiatrist.

If adult ADHD is not treated, it can lead to difficulties at work and relationship problems. It can also lead to struggles with managing bills or home-based chores. If it is more severe, it may lead to involvement in the justice system or more complex difficulties in other parts of your life.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Self-care for ADHD in adults

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2023.


See also:

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children

Page reference: 117521

Review key: HIAHA-117521