No, You Don't Have Adult ADHD. You're Probably Just Distracted.

<p>Illustration by Zoe Hansen for Verywell Health</p>

Illustration by Zoe Hansen for Verywell Health

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

Key Takeaways

  • ADHD is often misdiagnosed and goes untreated in adults.

  • There’s no evidence that technology or social media use causes adults to develop ADHD.

  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression often overlap with ADHD, so it is important for adults to get the right diagnosis and treatment.

If you spend enough time scrolling through ADHD content on social media, you might think some of the ADHD symptoms describe you: spacing out, forgetting your keys, and always running late for work.

ADHD is one of the most popular health topics on TikTok, but the videos are often misleading. Still, some people say it has helped them realize they should seek out a diagnosis and treatment for it.

About 2.5% of U.S. adults have ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and this condition is often misdiagnosed and untreated in adults. However, you can’t just develop ADHD as an adult if you didn’t have it as a child, according to David W. Goodman, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“You don’t wake up one morning and decide to have ADHD,” Goodman told Verywell. “It’s a very specific disorder that starts in childhood or early adolescence, and then continues for most children into adulthood.”

Some symptoms must be present before age 12 for a healthcare provider to confirm an ADHD diagnosis, according to the DSM-5, a mental health diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

“Everyone has the experience as an adult of being distracted and forgetful and inattentive, can’t follow through, or doesn’t want to get things started,” Goodman said. “While those are symptoms of ADHD, if it’s something that just occurs periodically in your life, and didn’t start in childhood or adolescence, that’s not ADHD.”

Related: Understanding the Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

But Can Excessive Social Media Use Cause ADHD?

Some studies suggest that frequent use of social media or technology is associated with a higher risk of developing ADHD symptoms in teenagers.

However, there’s no evidence that adults could develop ADHD because of overstimulation. Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes ADHD, but the condition is thought to be related to genetics, lead exposure, brain injury, or low birth weight.

“The stimulation of the environment contributes to inattention and distractibility,” Goodman said. “It causes cognitive changes, but it doesn’t cause ADHD.”

Some people could receive an ADHD diagnosis for the first time as an adult, although this is likely due to a missed diagnosis in their childhood.

Usually, this happens when they have real-life demands or challenges that “are exacerbating their symptoms so much that they must find out what is causing the impact and how to fix it,” said Jenny Cowen, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and administrative director of clinical trials in the Program for ADHD and Related Conditions at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Related: Can ADHD Cause Anxiety?

How Is Adult ADHD Diagnosed?

Online screening tools can give “some insight into the potential for a diagnosis,” but it’s not easy for individuals to verify if these are credible, Cowen said. If you relate to the ADHD social media posts, you shouldn’t be afraid to explore your feelings with a professional who specializes in adult DHD, she added.

“This person will meet with you to conduct a thorough evaluation, which will involve an interview with you in which many questions will be asked to better understand how these symptoms may be affecting your ability to function,” Cowen said.

There is no definitive adult ADHD test, but mental health professionals can use the DSM-5 and behavior screening tools.

The American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders is also currently working on the first U.S. guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in adults to help standardize adult ADHD care.

Getting an accurate ADHD diagnosis is important because multiple mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, can co-exist or have overlapping symptoms with ADHD.

“Unless you have a very skilled diagnostician who can differentiate between these diagnoses, you could get an inaccurate diagnosis, which means you could be treated for the wrong disorder,” Cowen said.

Medications, mental health counseling, and behavioral management techniques are some strategies for treating adult ADHD.

“Once the individual finds a professional who can offer a treatment plan that works to reduce the impairing symptoms, they’re then able to focus on those parts of their lives that bring them joy and contentment,” Cowen said.

Read Next: Understanding the Adult ADHD Diagnostic Process

What This Means For You

If you think you have ADHD symptoms that are disrupting your personal life or work, consider speaking to your healthcare provider about what you've been noticing. You may get a referral for an official diagnosis based on your symptom severity and functionality in everyday life.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.