Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders diagnosed in kids. But while it’s often considered a children’s condition, it can affect adults, too.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 1 in 10 kids have ADHD. The number diminishes when looking at adults—about four percent of the total population is affected, with more men than women suffering form it—but it’s by no means insignificant.
And the ADHD diagnosis in adults might be becoming more common, too. In fact, a 2016 study in Psychiatric Services found that doctor visits where men received an ADHD diagnosis grew from just 0.4 percent of all total visits in 1999 to 2002 to one percent of them in 2007 to 2010—meaning they more than doubled. What’s more, the rates of adults receiving ADHD meds to manage their diagnose also increased from 2009 to 2014, while the percentage of kids taking drugs for ADHD actually fell, a 2017 study from Germany found.
The hallmarks of ADHD are difficulty staying focused or paying attention, trouble controlling behavior, or acting hyperactive. It’s a developmental disorder, meaning that it begins when you’re a kid, says Anthony Rostain, M.D., the medical director for the adult developmental disorders section at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
But ADHD commonly can persist into adulthood, causing problems with your job, other responsibilities, or your relationship. Fortunately, it can be treated—you just need to be aware that you have it.
Here are 10 surprising symptoms of adult ADHD. If any sound familiar, talk to your doctor. Just remember: Sharing these characteristics doesn’t mean you definitely have ADHD—and they’d have to be causing some degree of impairment in your life to qualify, says Dr. Rostain.
Adult ADHD sign: You take lots of bathroom breaks
Come on, ask yourself: Do you really need to pee? Taking lots of bathroom breaks when you don’t need to go can be a sign of ADHD. Adults with ADHD often feel like they have to be on the move—almost like they’re powered by an invisible motor—making something like a long presentation or meeting feel unbearable. They might just fidget, but they can also be more likely to actually get up and go, whether it’s to the water fountain or the bathroom.
“They’re not able to settle easily,” says Dr. Rostain. “We also see adults having trouble just sitting and waiting for whatever.”
Adult ADHD sign: You interrupt constantly
The guy you’re chatting with is taking forever to get to the point. Do you often interrupt him or even finish his sentences? That’s a common behavior seen in guys with ADHD.
You might be impatient, but it also can have something to do with working memory. There’s growing evidence that suggests adults with ADHD might have difficulty holding information in their minds before applying it, such as in conversation, says Dr. Rostain.
“They might be afraid if they don’t say what’s on their mind, they’ll forget what they have to say,” he explains.
Adult ADHD sign: You hate waiting
There’s a famous experiment in the field of psychology, where researchers offered children one marshmallow now, or two if they could wait until a later time, to measure whether they were able to delay their gratification. Which would you choose?
People who can wait for their rewards can delay their gratification, but that’s something that can be difficult in adults with ADHD.
In fact, research suggests that people with ADHD show abnormal activation of the reward pathways in their brain, which may explain the challenge in delaying gratification, says Dr. Rostain.
And it’s not just about marshmallows. Same thing applies if you feel the need to buy the first thing you see instead of shopping around, or even if you constantly reload your Facebook app to see if anyone’s liked your posts.
Adult ADHD sign: You start a new hobby every week
“Start” is the key word here. Adults with ADHD tend to be novelty seekers, meaning they’re always on the lookout for new, fun things. The problem, though, is that they may not follow through with the hobbies, says Dr. Rostain.
Take a look at your closet. Is it crammed with skis you’ve used twice, then tossed inside? How about some Rosetta Stone software from when you vowed to teach yourself French?
Now, there’s no shame in wanting to try, say, bird watching, only to discover a couple weeks in that you can’t stand the noisy critters. It’s when it starts to become habitual—like if you bail on rock climbing a few weeks after bidding farewell to the fowl—that it may signal a bigger issue.
Adult ADHD sign: You have serious road rage
Yep, your propensity to flip other motorists off might actually be a symptom of adult ADHD. Throwing the finger doesn’t really have anything to do with driving, though—it serves as a vehicle for your anger, frustration, and impatience to boil over.
Think of what happens before you even get behind the wheel: You’re probably already running a few minutes late, maybe because you had some last-minute things to take care of that morning. Then once you cruise to the main road, you’re stuck behind a car crawling at 20 mph on a 50 mph road. Your temper flares, and you yell some choice words, pull some aggressive driving techniques—or both.
“It’s a combination of being angry at the situation they are in, feeling trapped, and feeling like they’ve misjudged their time and are going to be late,” says Dr. Rostain. “A lot of people are afraid of what those consequences will be.”
Adult ADHD sign: You’re a professional procrastinator
We’ve all crammed to finish that report after starting it at the last minute. But adults with ADHD tend to struggle with procrastination more habitually: The night before the big presentation becomes their normal get-started time.
“We see a lot with our patients that they put off what they don’t feel like doing to the very last minute, and that’s what gets them into difficulty,” says Dr. Rostain. “Then it takes them longer than expected.”
And this can be related to other symptoms, too. Maybe you delay starting a project because of disorganization—your files were all over the place or you never gathered the necessary information. And then as a result of your procrastination, the clock starts ticking just a little bit faster, making you more likely to run late.
Adult ADHD sign: You place priority on things that don’t matter
People with ADHD will often go to great lengths to avoid getting started on that boring thing they need to do. Credit something called “pseudo-efficiency,” says Dr. Rostain. That means you’ll begin working on something else—like cleaning off your desk or organizing your wallet—that doesn’t really matter rather than bearing down at the big picture at hand.
Sound like you? The best thing you can do is set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes and dive in. Having a quick end in sight can make even the most boring report tolerable, since you know you don’t have to work on it for hours. Plus, putting a dent in a project makes it easier to start back up again later—and you might end up working longer than you thought, anyway.
Adult ADHD sign: You’re attached to your cell phone
A hallmark of ADHD is the need for distraction, and what better to keep you preoccupied than your phone? You might find yourself texting while someone’s trying to talk to you, or tapping out a quick status update on the sly during a meeting.
Another risk factor: Playing with your phone while driving, says Dr. Rostain. You might do it because of instant gratification—traffic jams are boring, you think, but skimming through some tweets can break the monotony. Resist the urge: Texting while driving can raise your risk of a crash by 23-fold, according to research from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Adult ADHD sign: Your mood varies
Adults with ADHD may notice extremes and variations in mood, even if they don’t necessarily have a clinical mood disorder. You might feel really high highs only to experience basement-level lows a little while later—a result of emotional regulation issues in ADHD, says Dr. Rostain.
One important note: ADHD in adults often goes hand in hand with mental conditions like anxiety or depression. In fact, many adults with ADHD who have not been diagnosed actually have been treated unsuccessfully for a mood disorder. So people who haven’t responded to typical treatment for these disorders may want to also investigate whether they also have ADHD as a complication, Dr. Rostain says.
Adult ADHD sign: You struggled with school as a kid
Even if you weren’t diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, chances are there were still some signs. Academic difficulties don’t necessarily point to the disorder, but certain ones might be more telling.
Ask your parents about what kinds of comments your teachers left on your work. Did they mention you couldn’t sit still, and were bouncing from one thing to another? That you were late with your assignments or made careless errors? Or how about that you had trouble listening to lectures or taking direction? These signs point to issues with hyperactivity, restlessness, and impulsivity—all factors in adult ADHD.