10 Things That Influence the Severity of Adult ADHD Symptoms

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10 Things That Influence the Severity of Adult ADHD Symptoms

Understanding the risk factors that have an influence on the type and severity of ADHD.
— by Carl Yazbek

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that may interfere with daily activities and overall quality of life. While ADHD symptoms can be debilitating, the severity of the condition can vary from person to person. ADHD may also have different manifestations in adults compared to children. For instance, what is perceived as hyperactivity in a child can be seen as restlessness in an adult.

Recognizing ADHD Symptoms in Adults

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual identifies the main symptoms of ADHD, which generally fall into the same categories through childhood and adulthood. These categories are inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. However, not everyone will display their symptoms in the same way, and their intensity will fluctuate throughout the three categories.

ADHD symptoms in adults may look like:

  • restlessness
  • acting impulsively
  • difficulty focusing on work
  • trouble staying organized at home or work
  • problems following through
  • difficulty prioritizing tasks, planning, and managing time
  • anger, irritability, or shifts in mood
  • trouble multitasking
  • difficulty managing stress


Moreover, ADHD symptoms manifest differently as people age. Inattentive symptoms often become more visible in adulthood, while hyperactive symptoms are felt more internally than displayed outwardly. Hyperactivity may instead manifest as feelings of uncomfortable restlessness.

Adults with ADHD are more likely to report having a lower quality of life. Impulsive behaviors are often more subtle and internalized in adults. ADHD affects things like spending and gambling, which often become problems that influence their financial well-being. Risky behavior like substance use may become problems that could cause unemployment. Impulsive sexual behavior may affect relationships and other areas of social life.


Diagnosing ADHD in Adults

Although many individuals are diagnosed with ADHD as children, there are some who are not diagnosed until adulthood. However, it is important to note that ADHD does not develop in adulthood. ADHD symptoms in adults are easily mistaken for other conditions like depression and anxiety. Even if you were not previously recognized or diagnosed, you likely experienced symptoms during childhood. A diagnosis is made by mental health professionals through ADHD symptom checklists from the DSM-5.

It is possible for individuals with ADHD as adults to also have other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder and learning disabilities. Additionally, like children, many adults with an ADHD diagnosis may also have a higher likelihood of experiencing mood swings and other symptoms of a co-occurring mental health condition.

These mental disorders may include:

  • personality disorders
  • bipolar mood disorder
  • substance use disorders
  • anxiety disorder
  • intermittent explosive disorder
  • learning disorders
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)


Risk Factors That Influence The Severity of Adult ADHD

The severity of adult ADHD symptoms can be influenced by various factors, including genetics, lifestyle factors, medication management, environment, and age. Here are 10 things that can influence the severity of adult ADHD:



ADHD is a heritable condition, and research has shown that genetic factors play a significant role in the development and severity of ADHD symptoms. Studies have shown that individuals with a family history of ADHD are more likely to develop the condition, and those with certain genetic variations may have more severe symptoms.


Co-existing Conditions

Adults with ADHD are more likely to have other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. These co-existing conditions can worsen ADHD symptoms and make them more challenging to manage. For example, anxiety may exacerbate hyperactivity, and depression may worsen inattention. It is important to identify and treat any co-existing conditions to achieve better outcomes for individuals with ADHD.


Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors can influence the severity of ADHD symptoms. Poor sleep habits, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet can all contribute to the severity of symptoms. On the other hand, getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can help improve ADHD symptoms and overall well-being. It is important to encourage healthy lifestyle habits as part of the management plan for individuals with ADHD.


Medication Management

Medication is a common treatment for ADHD, and it can be very effective in reducing symptoms. However, the type of medication, dosage, and timing of medication can all influence the severity of symptoms. Working with a healthcare provider to find the right medication and dosage can help manage symptoms effectively. It is important to note that medication is not the only treatment option, and a comprehensive treatment plan should be tailored to the individual’s needs.



Stress can worsen ADHD symptoms, and individuals with ADHD may experience more stress than those without the condition. Stressful situations can exacerbate inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Learning stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises, can help reduce the severity of symptoms during stressful situations. It is important to incorporate stress management techniques into the individual’s daily routine.



The environment can also influence the severity of ADHD symptoms. A loud, chaotic environment can exacerbate symptoms, while a quiet, structured environment can help manage symptoms. It is essential to create a supportive environment that is conducive to focus and concentration. This can include reducing distractions, organizing the workspace, and creating a routine.



ADHD symptoms can change as individuals age. Hyperactivity and impulsivity may decrease, while inattention may become more prominent. It is important to monitor symptoms and adjust treatment accordingly as individuals age. It is also important to consider how age-related changes, such as declining cognitive function, may impact the individual’s ability to manage ADHD symptoms.


Treatment Adherence

Effective management of ADHD symptoms requires consistent treatment adherence. Skipping medication or therapy sessions can worsen symptoms and make them more challenging to manage. Sticking to a treatment plan can help reduce the severity of symptoms and improve overall quality of life. It is important to involve the individual in the treatment plan and address any barriers to adherence.


Social Support

Social support can also influence the severity of ADHD symptoms. Having a supportive network of family and friends can help reduce stress and provide emotional support. Support groups and therapy can also be beneficial for individuals with ADHD. It is important to address any social or emotional barriers to treatment, such as stigma and shame, and provide resources to support the individual’s social and emotional well-being.


Perception of ADHD

Finally, the perception of ADHD can influence the severity of symptoms. Some people experience ADHD as a challenge, while others view it as a strength. Managing your perception of your condition gives you a better chance at a positive outcome. Individuals with a negative perception of the condition may experience more significant symptoms due to the stigma surrounding ADHD. On the other hand, individuals who view ADHD as a manageable condition may experience fewer symptoms and have a better quality of life.

In fact, many people find that ADHD provides them with more excitement and motivation, giving them the space to foster creativity and apply it to the benefit of their lives. It is important to address any negative perceptions of ADHD and educate individuals about the condition to reduce stigma and promote positive perceptions.


Adult ADHD Is Manageable

Understanding these risk factors and developing effective management strategies can help individuals with ADHD manage their symptoms effectively, while early diagnosis and treatment can help to improve their quality of life. A comprehensive and individualized treatment plan that addresses these factors can help individuals with ADHD achieve their full potential. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have ADHD, it is important to see a doctor or mental health professional for evaluation.


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