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The Risks of Undiagnosed ADHD in Adults: Understanding the Impact

The Risks of Undiagnosed ADHD in Adults: Understanding the Impact

By Your Health Staff
Posted: March 11, 2024

Undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults can significantly affect various aspects of life, leading to challenges in managing emotions, behaviors and relationships. Left untreated, ADHD can pave the way for mood disorders, substance abuse and difficulties in daily functioning at work, school, and home. To reduce the risks associated with undiagnosed ADHD, it's critical to recognize the signs and seek proper treatment.

"Undiagnosed ADHD in adults can be a silent storm, as the condition can impact virtually every aspect of life," says Laura A.S. Shultz, PsyD, ABPP, clinical neuropsychologist, licensed psychologist, and senior director of behavioral health-ambulatory care at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. "When it goes unrecognized and untreated for years or even decades, it can lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, and patterns of job loss and relationship issues. Thankfully, it's never too late for a diagnosis and a plan of action for managing the condition. 

What Does Undiagnosed ADHD Look Like in Adults? 

If you have undiagnosed ADHD, you might exhibit behaviors that impact various aspects of your life. You might struggle with staying focused on tasks, often finding it hard to concentrate and frequently becoming distracted. Often, you might start one task and then move on to another without completing the first one. You may find it hard to control impulses, which means you could act without considering consequences or interrupt others during conversations.

You might also display restlessness or an inner feeling of being "on the go," even in situations where it's not appropriate. Even if you can control your body and sit still when needed, your mind might be running ahead and unable to be fully present. You may be unable to regulate your emotions, leading to mood swings or irritability. Relationships might suffer due to forgetfulness, inattention or impulsive reactions.

If you have ADHD, you may face challenges in work or academic settings and struggle with organization, time management and completing tasks. Despite your potential, you may need to improve in various areas of life due to these persistent challenges.

Signs of Undiagnosed ADHD in Adults

Identifying signs of undiagnosed ADHD in adults includes:

  • Difficulty in organization: You could have problems organizing tasks or effectively managing daily routines.
  • Forgetfulness: People with ADHD frequently misplace items, forget appointments or neglect responsibilities.
  • Poor time management: You could struggle to meet deadlines or complete tasks despite effort. You may frequently be late to appointments or events.

What Does Undiagnosed ADHD Feel Like?

Living with undiagnosed ADHD can be overwhelming. You may feel constantly overwhelmed by responsibilities, have trouble controlling your emotions or feel as though your mind is always racing, making it challenging to focus on one thing at a time. You may feel disappointed or frustrated with yourself as you frequently feel like a failure when you cannot complete tasks, maintain employment, or succeed in your relationships despite your best efforts.

3 Warning Signs of ADHD

The three significant warning signs indicating potential undiagnosed ADHD are:

  1. Hyperactivity: Restlessness, an inability to sit still for prolonged periods, fidgeting or feeling constantly on the go, even in situations where it's not appropriate
  2. Impulsivity: Acting impulsively without considering consequences, interrupting others, speaking or acting without thinking, and having difficulty waiting for their turn in conversations or activities
  3. Inattention: Persistent difficulty in maintaining focus, easily becoming distracted, overlooking details and frequently making careless mistakes, especially in tasks that require sustained attention.

These symptoms often persist over time, significantly impacting various aspects of an individual's life, such as work, relationships or academic performance, indicating the potential presence of undiagnosed ADHD.

The Biggest Indicator of ADHD

One of the primary indicators of undiagnosed ADHD is a persistent and pervasive pattern of inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity that significantly interferes with daily life, impacting work, relationships or responsibilities. These symptoms persist over time and cause challenges in various aspects of functioning, indicating the potential presence of undiagnosed ADHD.

At What Age Does ADHD Peak?

Symptoms can emerge in childhood but may change with age. For some individuals, ADHD symptoms may peak during adolescence, but they can persist and cause challenges in adulthood if undiagnosed and left untreated.

What Are the Risks of Untreated ADHD in Adults? 

Untreated ADHD can cause a cascade of challenges:

  •    Mood disorders: Increased risk of depression and anxiety stems from difficulties in managing emotions and low self-esteem.
  •    Professional challenges: Trouble maintaining focus or impulsivity can negatively impact job performance and career growth.
  •    Strained relationships: Difficulties with communication and impulsivity might strain relationships at work and home.
  •    Substance abuse: Individuals might turn to substances to cope with ADHD-related challenges.


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Seeking Treatment for ADHD

To diagnose ADHD, primary care or mental health professionals consider a comprehensive assessment of symptoms, medical history and evaluation. As many other conditions can lead to difficulty with attention, it is crucial to start with getting an accurate diagnosis, which can then appropriately guide treatment. 

If you are diagnosed with ADHD, treatment may include:

  •    ADHD medications: Stimulants or non-stimulants to manage symptoms
  •    Support groups: Community created through shared experiences
  •    Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address coping strategies and executive functions

Where to Seek Treatment for ADHD

Seeking help from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor, is crucial for adults with ADHD.

"Seeking treatment for undiagnosed ADHD in adults isn't just about managing symptoms, but it's also about finding hope," Dr. Shultz says. "Many adults have lived with these problematic symptoms undiagnosed for so long either due to fear of stigma or lack of awareness of options for care. Learning that there are effective treatments to help with their symptoms often results in hope that their situation can and is likely to improve. Accepting the diagnosis and pursuing effective interventions and management techniques not only creates a path to better focus and organization but also leads to self-awareness and resilience."

Undiagnosed ADHD in adults can significantly impact mental health and daily functioning, leading to various challenges in day-to-day life. Recognizing the signs of ADHD and seeking proper treatment is crucial at every stage of life, including adulthood.

Help Is Available for Adults With ADHD 

If you suspect you or someone you know may have ADHD, the mental health professionals at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare are here to help. We have the experience and understanding needed to treat this often frustrating condition, and we want to help you manage it in the most effective manner possible. Talk with your Methodist Le Bonheur primary care provider about your concerns and they will help connect you to a behavioral health consultant who can explore your symptoms with you, help you find the correct diagnosis, and get you on the path to hope and healing.