IN A CRISIS? NEED HELP? Call 1-888-353-2273

You are currently on the:

CMHA National

Visit our provincial websites

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults

Everyone feels distracted and restless at times. For the most of us, the feelings pass and we can easily get back to work. Some people struggle with these problems for many years. Some don’t realize they have an illness until their child has similar problems and is diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Others don’t even realize that they have an illness—they assume their illness is “just who they are.” Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can affect adults too, and it can cause a lot of distress. But proper diagnosis and treatment can help you feel better and gain control of your life.

On this page:

What is it?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a mental illness that affects the way you act and focus. ADHD is usually diagnosed in school-aged children, but it can continue to cause problems into adulthood. About two-thirds of people living with ADHD continue to experience symptoms as an adult. As we learn more about the course of ADHD, it’s becoming more common for teens and adults to be diagnosed with the illness.

If you live with ADHD, you might have problems paying attention, concentrating on one task or organizing things. You might make careless mistakes at work or frequently forget things. This group of symptoms is called inattention. You might have a hard time sitting still, fidget all the time or feel very restless. This group of symptoms is called hyperactivity. Or you might have a hard time controlling urges and take a lot of risks. You might do things without considering the results or act before you think. This group of symptoms is called impulsivity. These symptoms last for a long time, don’t change in different places (such as at work and at home) and can cause a lot distress or problems.

Inattention symptoms in particular tend to affect adults, and may also make tasks like planning and setting priorities difficult. Impulsivity may be less frequent or obvious in adults than in children, but the impact of impulsive decisions can be very harmful. For example, adults may quit school, quit a job, get into car accidents or have problems with substance use.

You may be diagnosed as an adult with ADHD, but you must have experienced some ADHD symptoms as a child—there is no such thing as ADHD that starts when you’re an adult. Some people cope with symptoms when they were children, but the demands of adulthood make the symptoms more obvious and more troublesome. But if you are an adult and you suddenly begin to experience symptoms that look like ADHD, there is usually something else wrong.


Why is ADHD in adults hard to diagnose?

ADHD can be harder to diagnose in adults for some of these reasons:


Who does it affect?

About 4% of adults experience some or all ADHD symptoms.  It affects men and women almost equally.

Could I have ADHD?

Talk to your doctor if you feel that many of the above statements apply to you, happen often and cause a lot of problems.


What causes ADHD?

Researchers aren’t sure what causes ADHD. Like other mental illnesses, it’s likely caused or influenced by many different things. Examples include your genes, the environment you live in, and your life experiences. We do know that researchers haven’t found a concrete link between ADHD and factors like parenting style or watching TV.


What can I do about it?

ADHD is usually treated with a combination of medication, counselling and self-care.


Where do I go from here?

In addition to talking to your family doctor, check out the resources below for more information about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder:

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit for the Managing a Mental Illness series of info sheets, which are full of information and tips to help you learn more and take charge of your health.

Kelty Resource Centre
The BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre provides mental health and substance use information and resources, assistance navigating the mental health system, as well as free personalized support from parent peer support workers for families across BC and Yukon. Contact Kelty Mental Health at or 1-800-665-1822 (toll-free in BC) or 604-875-2084 (in Greater Vancouver).

Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance (CADDRA)
Visit for information and resources, including the Canadian ADHD Practice Guidelines for doctors.

Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC)
Visit for information and resources, advocacy tips, strategies for students pursing post-secondary education, and more.

Resources available in many languages:
*For each service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

HealthLink BC
Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call310-6789(do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2014

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

Skip to content