Common Symptoms of ADD in Adults

many faces

1. We are easily distracted and have difficulty paying attention. We have a tendency to tune out or drift away. For example, we might say:

It is a struggle for me to stay focused or centered. When I least expect it, my brain changes channels, and I respond to the beat of another drum.

Although I can hyperfocus a times, I am more often distracted, and have difficulty staying on target.

At times I feel scattered and confused, like iron shavings attracted by competing magnetic fields.

I set out to clean the kitchen, and often find myself reading a cookbook and deciding to try a new recipe. I eventually finish the kitchen, but it takes me a while.

2. We are impulsive, and we make hasty decisions without considering the consequences. For example, we might say:

I make plans without consulting my family, and then wonder why they don't share my enthusiasm. I jump to conclusions before analyzing all the facts. This creates problems in my personal and business life. I make decisions, commitments, purchases, even major life changes without adequately considering the consequences. I buy things I don't need, and then wonder where all my money went. The worst part is having to justify my actions.

3. We are restless, often hyperactive, and full of nervous energy. For example, we might say:

I usually feel edgy and am always "on the go." My insides are constantly churning. I drum my fingers, twist my hair, pace, shift positions while seated, or leave the room frequently. I'm always looking for a way to release my excess energy. I channel-surf with the TV remote control and find it hard to relax. I am an aggressive driver and love to weave in and out of traffic. My favorite game is looking for "hole shots" and creating my own car race.

4. We have a strong sense of underachievement and always feel that we fail to live up to our potential. For example, we might say:

Whether I am highly accomplished or floundering, I feel incapable of realizing my true potential. I feel like a failure and view success as something that only others achieve. In spite of my accomplishments and a satisfying relationship, I find it difficult to feel happy and fulfilled. In school I was called an underachiever, and that message still affects me today. I tend to be critical of my performance, even if others compliment me for a job well done.

5. We have difficulty in relationships. For example, we might say:

My inability to stay focused in the present moment gives others the impression that I don't care. I get bored easily and have a hard time listening to others. I feel uncomfortable in group activities where social interaction is required. I prefer not to be noticed, because I'm afraid I will say the wrong thing. Sometimes I forget to say hello or goodbye, and others accuse me of being rude.

6. We are procrastinators and have trouble getting started or feeling motivated. For example, we might say:

I put things off until the last minute, but the last-minute adrenaline rush makes the task possible, more interesting, and stimulating. I use deadlines as a way to create panic and chaos. This enables me to hyperfocus, so that I can complete the task on time. I allow piles of work to accumulate because I can't get organized. Only in times of hyperfocus can I actually get something accomplished. I'm inclined to start a project the night before it is due, stay up all night to finish it, and be totally burned out the next day.

7. We cannot tolerate boredom and are always looking for something to do. For example, we might say:

I become bored with activities, conversations and situations that do not interest me. I'm always looking for highly stimulating activities that keep my adrenaline flowing. When I sense boredom approaching, I look for something new and stimulating, rather than accept the idea of being bored. All of my waking moments need to be filled with something to do or something to think about. I cannot risk the possibility of having nothing to do.

8. We have difficulty getting organized. For example, we might say:

I have organizational plans, to-do lists, schedules and resolutions, but still end up with piles on my desk, missed appointments and unanswered phone calls. I have difficulty managing my time effectively. I am often late for meetings, and I lose track of everything from keys to commitments. I often feel out of control and confused because I don't know how to organize my time and activities. My kids do a better job of organizing than I do. I do better when others remind me of appointments and give me direction and structure.

9. We are impatient and have a low tolerance for frustration. For example, we might say:

I become impatient when things don't happen fast enough for me. I have a tendency to withdraw or react in anger. I like to know the bottom line without having to listen to all the details that I consider unimportant. If a line is held up because of coupons, price checks or check cashing, I get impatient and want to lash out at the person creating the delay. I don't like waiting for people or dealing with people's problems.

10. We have mood swings with periods of anxiety, depression or loneliness. For example, we might say:

Periods of depression affect my work, relationships and perception of reality. I sometimes withdraw and isolate myself. A simple setback can bring on feelings of overwhelming hopelessness for me. My moods are unpredictable and can cause me to be either verbally and physically active or quiet and inactive. In the midst of a seemingly endless stream of thoughts, a memory of past failure or loss can submerge my mood instantly.

11. We worry excessively and often have a sense of impending doom. For example, we might say:

Within minutes after awakening or after arriving at work, I seem to search my mind for a topic to worry about. I use worry as a way to stay focused. It's like cutting my finger; all my attention can be in one place. A feeling of impending doom seems to hover over me. I worry constantly about my health. I fear that I'm too fat, too thin, or have some fatal or debilitating disease.

12. We have trouble going through established channels or following proper procedures. For example, we might say:

I am a maverick at heart and do not like to follow rules or go through proper channels to complete a task. I tend to be critical of those in charge, and prefer being free to do things my own way. I feel smothered by procedures, policies, and being directed by others. Being required to conform stifles my productivity. I have a hard time teaching my children to respect authority and follow the rules, because I have a hard time doing those things myself.

13. We have many projects going simultaneously, and have trouble following through with a project or task. For example, we might say:

I assume responsibility for more projects than I can realistically accomplish. I lose interest quickly and have difficulty completing one task before starting a new one. I prefer simple tasks that I can complete before I get an urge to start another one. I am capable of juggling lots of projects or commitments at the same time, but it creates anxiety and pressure for me.

14. We are poor observers of ourselves and are often unaware of our effect on others. For example, we might say:

I have difficulty discerning how others perceive me. I rarely pick up the signals that indicate how well I am being received or if I'm talking too much. I tend to monopolize a conversation without knowing it. My friends tell me I talk too much about myself and don't give them a chance to share their story. I often exaggerate a story to make my point, and don't notice that others don't believe me. At work I think others agree with me. In reality they are confused by my "idea-a-minute" mentality.

15. We tend to say what comes to mind without considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark. For example, we might say:

I blurt out inappropriate comments without considering the possible consequences. Later, when I take time to reflect on what I said, I beat myself up for saying something so stupid. I have a hard time waiting my turn in conversations, and I interrupt others while they are talking. I speak out of turn in meetings. This makes people angry, and I often lose the main point of the meeting or lose the respect of those present. I have a reputation for making one-liner comments that hurt people's feelings.

16. We have a tendency toward addictive behavior, and use mood-altering substances to medicate ourselves. For example, we might say:

I use cocaine to help me focus, alcohol or marijuana to calm me down, and food to comfort me. I take prescription drugs as a way to speed up or slow down, depending on my needs of the moment. I use coffee and cigarettes to keep me energized and to numb my feelings. I use work to give me focus, motivation, and a sense of accomplishment. At times I use it as a way to avoid boredom.

17. We have difficulty in the workplace. We either change jobs frequently or have trouble getting along with our coworkers. For example, we might say:

I become bored with a job and cannot convince myself to stay, even though my financial security is at stake. I assume too much responsibility or take on too many tasks, and then cannot fulfill my obligations. I change my mind frequently and create confusion among my coworkers.

I waste time and resources on insignificant projects and spend time on things that keep my interest but have little value to the overall scheme of things.

18. We have a family history of ADD or other disorders of impulse control or mood. For example, we might say:

I have biological family members with strong evidence of ADD or other disorders of impulse control. I can trace ADD symptoms back several generations. I have family members who are considered high-strung and who have unstable careers. A lot of my close relatives have trouble controlling their tempers. I have biological children with ADD, and I learned of my own ADD through their diagnosis.

Adapted from The Twelve Steps: A Key to Living With Attention Deficit Disorder (Friends in Recovery, RPI Publishing Inc


  1. Noelien says

    Painful, yet “comforting” to read. I’ve beaten myself up for years for not being able to stay focused and motivated. So many incompleted tasks, goals, dreams. I tick almost every point on this list. I’ve been distracted a few times and that was while reading this peace.

  2. Ellen says

    Most of this rings true for myself. I really struggle and want to do something to help myself, but at this stage in my adult life I rather like who I am and don’t really want to change. But, unfortunately, it does affect my relationships with others (I can be rude, not interested, etc).

  3. Jim says

    This is simply my experience! But i thank God it has not gotten out of hand yet, and now i know what my problem has been.
    Need a change.

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