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If You Think You Have ADHD, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

Identify the source of your challenges to get the right solutions.

Key points

  • Generally, if one family member has ADHD, they’re not the only one.
  • Some people with ADHD find their symptoms, such as forgetfulness or messiness, affect their relationships with other people.
  • The ability to regulate emotions when they become intense is a skill that many people with ADHD struggle with.

Unless you’ve been stranded on an island for the past decade, you’ve probably heard and read a lot about the phenomenon of adults getting diagnosed with ADHD. Many people age 18 and over feel like they have significant problems focusing, getting things done, procrastinating, and generally being efficient in their jobs and their personal lives. Many of these individuals have been successful academically; they may have even been honors graduates and high achievers. Their experiences look typical on the surface, but they say their life is a mess. Not to mention, social media has thousands of blogs, testimonials, and other resources about adult ADHD. There’s even a YouTube channel called “How to ADHD.”

This post gives you questions you can ask yourself to help decide if you might have ADHD and benefit from a formal evaluation from a psychologist.

1. Do your symptoms disrupt your ability to function at work or at school?

People often think they might have ADHD if the problems they have functioning are quite disruptive. Their struggles prevent them from being efficient, which means things take much longer than they should to complete. Many people hate their jobs because they feel like their responsibilities highlight the weaknesses they have in being efficient and organized. Or they get incredibly bored with their work, so they can’t always put their best foot forward. They may question their career choices or majors in college because they don’t feel motivated to complete tasks on time.

2. Do you struggle in personal relationships?

Some people find their ADHD symptoms affect their relationships with other people. They may be forgetful, which annoys their friends or partner, they’re messy and disorganized, they talk too much or too loudly, or they constantly interrupt people. The quality of their relationships is therefore compromised by their challenges.

Note: If similar problems are disruptive to your professional or personal life, it’s definitely time to seek support from someone with expertise in assessing and treating ADHD.

3. Do you experience intense emotions?

The ability to regulate emotions when they become intense is a skill that many people with ADHD struggle with. They talk about losing control of their emotions, becoming reactive quickly, and being unable to calm down after getting really upset or excited. There are other mental health conditions for which this is also potentially an issue, but it’s much more common among people with ADHD than has been talked about in the research until recently.

4. Do other people in your family struggle with, or have they been diagnosed with, ADHD?

You may not know if other people in your family have been diagnosed, so it’s worth having a conversation with a parent or sibling to find out more. There is a genetic component to ADHD, so it can run in families. Generally, if one family member has it, they’re not the only one.

5. Are you struggling with other conditions or circumstances that might mimic the ADHD experience?

It is true that you could be one of those people who have compensated and functioned well, despite having ADHD that was overlooked when you were younger. It happens, and I do evaluations routinely with clients who meet the criteria, according to the DSM-5. But you may not know that there are other mental health conditions that affect focus, which can result in many of the other problems that we attribute to ADHD. Individuals with a history of trauma, for example, may exhibit some of the same cognitive symptoms, such as inattention, trouble making decisions, difficulty with organization, and trouble finishing things they start. These symptoms are also present in many people with depression and related mood disorders and anxiety. Additionally, individuals with chronic medical conditions, like thyroid disease and anemia, can also experience cognitive symptoms similar to those of ADHD.

Sometimes people struggle with focus and disorganization if they’re overcommitted. Our society encourages us to be busy, to be involved in a lot of things, and to fill our days, but it’s possible to be too busy, and when this happens, it’s hard to focus on what is right in front of us. We have high expectations for ourselves and struggling to meet them may create an experience that feels like ADHD.

Understanding the underlying source of your challenges is important because interventions, including medication, may change, depending on the reason for them. Getting to the bottom of why you struggle with these challenges needs to be investigated if they are becoming disruptive to the life you want to have. Talk to a mental health professional about your concerns, so that you can get the right answers.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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