Adults with ADHD

How is ADHD diagnosed in Adulthood?

In adulthood, ADHD is most commonly diagnosed by physicians, psychiatrists or clinical psychologists but more and more we see individuals taking online ADHD assessments and self-diagnosing. This can be confusing because ADHD diagnosis is complex. “How do I know if I have ADHD?” is becoming an increasingly common inquiry.

The inability to focus, ease of distractibility, impulsive decisions, high energy levels, impatiences, low frustration tolerance and anger, disorganization and forgetfulness have to interact in a manner that causes significant impediments and difficulties in life. They are also generally present in more than one life context. This means that frequently misplacing your car keys and also being impatient with your teenage daughter’s messiness, would not meet the criteria for ADHD. Nor would being disorganized only at work, when your work situation leaves you bored and burnt out.

The Evolution Of Therapy
The Evolution Of Therapy
The Evolution Of Therapy

Here are some reasons ADHD diagnosis is more complex than most generic, online ADHD assessments can encompass:


ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder which means, though it is often not diagnosed until adulthood, its symptoms are present in childhood. A thorough history can help to determine this.

  • Symptoms should be present in more than one environment. This helps to establish that symptoms are due to neurological causes, rather than environmental causes.
  • Symptoms have to cause a significant amount of distress or impede functioning. Forgetting reusable grocery bags in your trunk once in a while is a far cry from consistently forgetting instructions in school or the content of conversations regularly. That said, it is important to note that many individuals who are not diagnosed until adulthood have developed strategies to help manage or mask symptoms.

What are the subtypes of ADHD?

ADHD comes in an inattentive type, a hyperactive-impulsive type and a combined type.  As it implies, the key feature in each is contained in their label.  That said, it is important to note the lines between each type are often diffuse and each type can include an inability to focus, ease of distractibility, impulsive decisions, high energy levels, impatiences, low frustration tolerance and anger, disorganization and forgetfulness.

Subtypes of ADHD
What is ADHD in a Child Like?

How to spot ADHD in a Child?

In childhood, mental health professionals, parents and the school or childcare setting often have a role in establishing a diagnosis. Formal assessments exist for children, and these are often administered in order to diagnose.  Separate formal assessments exist for adult populations.  These assessments are available through schools, private psychological institutions, as well as hospitals and public agencies.  The costs and coverage for such assessments vary significantly.

The use of the diagnosis should be examined in part because of this fact, to ensure that a formal diagnosis is going to trigger treatment actions, rather than be used as an inert label or kept on a bookshelf.  For example, one of our clients was seeking a formal diagnosis of his ADHD, a hyperactive type, in order to access academic accommodations at a post-secondary institution.  In this scenario, a formal assessment was useful for the client.

Does ADHD cause substance abuse problems?

ADHD is not known to cause substance abuse issues but it is true that higher rates of substance abuse disorders exist in ADHD populations. This could be due to lower frustration tolerance, increased interest in high stimulus activities, greater susceptibility to boredom, more impulsivity or neurological features.  Where ADHD and substance use issues exist together, treatment is most effective when it addresses both concerns.

Does ADHD cause substance abuse problems?
Getting a loved one into therapy

How do I help get someone I care about into therapy?

We always want to encourage people to make their own choice about whether they are ready to start therapy or not. Having a conversation with people can be really helpful, though, especially when it takes the form of information or personal experience sharing, rather than “you should” or judgment. And, if someone you care about is suffering from ADHD sometimes the best thing you can do for them is let them know you see them and they aren’t alone.