Why ADHD Is Hard for Young Adults; 4 Unique ADHD Tips
Dealing with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be difficult at any age, and it brings unique and especially irritating challenges when you're a young adult. Whether you're newly diagnosed or have been dealing with it since childhood if you're suddenly feeling frustrated by ADHD symptoms and the way they're interfering in how you want to live your life, know that it's natural to feel this way and that you don't have to be forever ruled by ADHD. Here's a look at how ADHD specifically affects young adults and some tips that are different than what you might have seen before.
What ADHD Is Like When You're a Young Adult
If you've lived with ADHD since childhood, experiencing it now that you're a young adult can be disappointing and discouraging. There's a common belief that kids outgrow ADHD and that once you begin adulthood and your physical brain is closer to full maturity (that doesn't happen until around age 25, by the way), symptoms settle down. In reality, for about a third of people with childhood ADHD, the experience continues into adulthood.1
If symptoms are new to you or have suddenly intensified now that you're a young adult, ADHD can be confusing and maddening. In many cases, kids and teens discover ways to succeed at home, school, in activities, and/or with friends despite symptoms because they have constant support and have figured out a way to manage. Perhaps you didn't really experience ADHD symptoms at all because of the strategies you used during your child and teen years, but now, with your changing life responsibilities, you feel like you're hitting a wall.
Whether or not you've been previously diagnosed, ADHD in young adulthood is an entirely new experience because you're entering a new stage of your life. You might be living on your own for the first time, or you might be living with your family but now have added roles and responsibilities. If you're in college, school is drastically different than high school, and you're expected to manage more work with less structure and support. If you are working, you now need to figure out new routines, responsibilities, and demands. To make these changes even more challenging, it's common to experience lots of changes in relationships and support systems as people move in different directions.
The unique demands of young adulthood affect the symptoms of ADHD. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms prominent at this stage of life include:1,2,3
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulties meeting requirements (either imposed by others like employers or instructors or the general tasks of adulting)
- Sense of being overwhelmed by daily tasks
- A building sense of stress and/or difficulties managing stress
- Emotional outbursts
- Low self-esteem
- Low mood or even depression
In young adulthood, ADHD can feel hopeless. However, it isn't a sign that you're doomed to these symptoms for life. This condition is something you experience--it isn't who you are, nor does it mean that there is something wrong with you. To be sure, it is challenging, but it most definitely isn't a sign of weakness or failure.
4 Tips for Dealing with ADHD as a Young Adult
You can gain (or regain) the upper hand over ADHD. Even if it doesn't completely disappear from your life, the effects don't have to continue to interfere with your goals and independence. Here are some tips:
- Track your symptoms and how they affect you. You're likely aware of your symptoms, but writing them down can help you face them and make a plan to minimize them. Actively notice and write down exactly what they are, when they strike, what's going on when they do, and how, specifically, they affect you.
- Decide what symptom or situation is the most bothersome, and start by tackling that one. Trying to reduce the entire experience of ADHD at once is too vague and too overwhelming. Chisel away at it by making small life changes at a time. The effects will add up to be powerful and lasting.
- Make a specific action plan focused on your goals and values. Think about what you do want for yourself and your life rather than about what you don't. What small steps can you take every day to help you get there? Think about making things a little better each day rather than attempting sweeping, overwhelming changes.
- Nurture your whole self. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder doesn't define you, and it doesn't have to severely limit you. What can you do for yourself every day to build up all the wonderful things about yourself? Keep stress (and thus ADHD symptoms) in check by nourishing yourself with healthy foods and beverages, exercising ways that fit your unique style, developing healthy sleep habits, and pursuing your interests and passions, and seeking support.
Young adulthood might be one of the hardest stages of life to deal with ADHD. It doesn't have to ruin your life, though. You are strong, capable, and can put ADHD in its place--far away from the center of your life.
- Huffstutler, N., "ADHD in Young Adults." Sandstone Care, Accessed July 3, 2021.
- Benisek, A., "ADHD in Young Adults." WebMD, March 17, 2021.
- Benchmark Traditions, "ADHD Treatment for Young Adults: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment." Accessed July 3, 2021.
Peterson, T. (2021, July 7). Why ADHD Is Hard for Young Adults; 4 Unique ADHD Tips, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, May 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalhealthforthedigitalgeneration/2021/7/why-adhd-is-hard-for-young-adults-4-unique-adhd-tips
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
I've been looking for an answer to my question for a long time - how come my ADHD symptoms only showed up now, as a young adult? I remember having a few problems that correlate with ADHD growing up, but I barely had any symptoms. How come the symptoms are showing up, now? Does it have to do with me being in another life stage, or environment? Does it have to do with puberty?
Hello ADHD Girl,
This is a frustration that many people share. While there can be multiple reasons that are different for everyone, one thing is absolutely certain: The appearance of your symptoms now is NOT because you're suddenly doing something wrong or are unable to handle this new stage of life! This isn't a flaw! It's just something annoying to adjust to (and because you adjusted to it so well when you were younger, you clearly can do it again--it just might take a little more conscious effort this time around).
The reasons your symptoms are appearing now might very well have to do with a combination of all the things you mentioned. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is one of the most significant life transitions of all, and it's the first one you really notice and think about. You have more choices and freedom now than ever before, and this transition involves changes in emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Additionally, your physical brain is still developing and is constantly adjusting to what's happening in your life as well as what's happening inside of you (including within itself). You've got continuing hormonal changes, too, which impact the brain. Everything you've been used to is changing. This can be desired and exciting and positive, but it is still change that requires adjustment. It's a perfect "storm" for ADHD symptoms to flare or really become noticeable. Skills you've used in the past don't work as well now. Your brain has to organize a ton of new information, and it needs to do it differently so you can function in your new roles, responsibilities, and environment. Planning is different and more complex. You have new priorities that your brain has to work to catch up with. Emotional reactions and impulse control are also challenges your brain has to equalize to. Your life situation has suddenly made a jump, and your brain (everyone's brain, not just "yours") has to figure out what in the world to do about it and how to handle it.
Be patient with your brain and your whole self as you transition, and know that the transition isn't instant, especially with ADHD (ADHD is directly tied to brain functioning, so you can't just order your brain to hurry and catch up to your life). Focus on identifying what will make this transition easier, and be curious about what new skills, supports, etc. you can integrate into your life. You can definitely get to the point where these symptoms don't interfere in your life!