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Undiagnosed ADHD In Adults

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. The disorder affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain - which is responsible for executive functioning, impulse control and emotional regulation. In the past, ADHD was thought to only affect children and it was assumed that they would “grow out of it” as adults. However, it has since been recognized that ADHD can emerge later on, and can last for the entirety of life.

ADHD symptoms can look different in adults than the characteristics commonly found in children and teens. Some symptoms in adults are not always obvious. It can be commonly mistaken as part of someone’s character. For example: “I am lazy”, “I am forgetful”, and “I get bored easily”.

If left undiagnosed ADHD can negatively affect self-esteem, emotional well-being and relationships and finances. Without treatment, undiagnosed ADHD can increase the chances of developing other conditions. Some sources indicate that ADHD has a 60%-80% chance of existing alongside one or more other disorders.

Symptoms of Undiagnosed ADHD in Adults


  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing

  • Easily distracted

  • Starting many projects without finishing

  • Trouble multitasking

  • Easily bored

Memory Issues

  • Difficulty remembering simple things

  • Often misplacing things

  • Consistently forget dates and appointments

Emotional Dysregulation

  • Easily overwhelmed

  • Hard time understanding their own and other’s emotions

  • Mood swings

  • Struggle with empathy


  • Acting without thought or consideration

  • Often occurring in relationships, jobs, and finance

  • Restlessness, fidgeting, interrupting others

Effects of Undiagnosed ADHD in Adults

Relationships issues

  • Lack of healthy relationships

  • Difficulty expressing emotions appropriately

  • Appearing self-centred, without concern for others

Trouble with work

  • Difficulties sitting still and concentrating

  • Getting bored easily

  • Constant dissatisfaction with work

  • Quitting and changing jobs often

Financial problems

  • Disorganization

  • Impulsive spending

  • Unable to keep a budget

  • Difficulty keeping track of bills

Self-medication as a coping mechanism

  • Substance abuse: drugs, alcohol, prescription medication

  • Addictive behaviours: eating disorders, gambling

The reality of undiagnosed ADHD and how counselling can help:

Case #1

Anna was not diagnosed with ADHD until her mid-30s. She has been struggling at work for a while. She was constantly forgetful and had a hard time completing projects. She felt bored and unfulfilled at work and found herself daydreaming of being somewhere else.

When she met with a therapist, they were able to help her recognize her strengths and weaknesses. Together they set out goals for Anna. First, they created more structure and organization in her life. Anna learned how to prioritize tasks and better schedule her day. Other tools that Anna used were meditation and exercise. By practising meditation, she was able to slow down her racing thoughts and be present in the moment. The incorporating exercise led to lowered stress levels and improved executive functioning. Executive functions include skills for planning, organization and memory.

Case #2

Carlos and Mina have been married for 5 years. They have been having issues for a while and Mina suspects that Carlos may have undiagnosed ADHD. Mina felt ignored and unappreciated by Carlos. He would zone out mid-conversation and forget what was discussed later on. He could not be depended on and rarely follow through with his promises. Carlos was impulsive and would say hurtful things without thinking them through. When she brought up her concerns with him, he would lose his temper and refuse to talk about it.

Mina noticed this pattern in Carlos and decided to learn more about ADHD and its symptoms. She wanted them to stop fighting and improve their communication. She encouraged Carlos to seek counselling, both as a couple and individually. Their therapist helped them understand each other’s perspectives. They were able to acknowledge that Carlos' ADHD symptoms were affecting their relationship. Their communication improved through practicing active listening, asking questions for clarification, and managing their emotions. Working alongside their therapist they were able to create a plan and set up systems to address the issues they have in their relationship.

Undiagnosed ADHD can be problematic and may persistently affect your day-to-day functioning. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it is important to see a mental health professional for a formal assessment. While there is no cure for ADHD, it is a condition that can be managed well when identified and diagnosed. A treatment plan may include medication and/or counselling. Methods of therapy commonly used are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Behavioural Modification. Counselling can help improve coping skills and provide strategies to work through difficulties.


McAtee Psychology is a private family psychology practice offering family counselling, assessment, and therapeutic services. Our services include counselling and assessment for individuals, couples, and children & teens. Our mission is to help you and your family create a more rich, more connected, and more meaningful life.

McAtee Psychology Sunalta: 300-1933 10 AVE SW, Calgary, AB

McAtee Psychology Douglas Glen: 105- 11500 29 St SE, Calgary, AB |

Phone: 403-902-2234

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