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Untreated ADHD in Adults: Symptoms, Long-term Effects & Treatment

Untreated ADHD in adults
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
Reviewer:

Dr. Bradley Noon

MD

Content

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood disorder but it can last into adulthood if untreated. Even after the diagnosis, people often underestimate the importance of managing symptoms. Moreover, sometimes, they may not know their challenges in daily life are caused by a mental health condition. So, before going into the long-term effects of untreated ADHD in adults, let’s learn more about its key symptoms.

ADHD is manageable. Find out how to live a fulfilling life by getting professional help.

Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

ADHD symptoms are divided into two categories, being associated with either inattention or hyperactivity. In adults, inattention is more common because the signs of hyperactivity tend to decrease over time [1*] . People may also have symptoms from both categories, which means they have ADHD of a combined type. More specific examples of ADHD in adulthood are the following:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Impulsiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Poor time management
  • Forgetfulness
  • Emotional instability
  • Hyperfocus
  • Lack of motivation
  • Disorganization
  • Trouble in social connections

Sometimes, these symptoms are considered to be the signs of immaturity, which increases the stigma around ADHD. Also, they may be mistaken for other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders. That is why it’s important to consult an experienced healthcare provider to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

See a medical professional specializing in adult ADHD treatment online.

Is ADHD in Women and Men Different?

ADHD can affect both men and women, but there are differences in how it manifests and is diagnosed between the two genders. Here are some main differences:

  • Disparities in diagnosis: Females are less likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis [2*] . This may be because males frequently exhibit more hyperactive and impulsive behavior, which are more pronounced, compared to females’ more frequently occurring inattentive symptoms, which can be less noticeable.
  • Presentation: Males with ADHD frequently exhibit externalizing behaviors [3*] , including impulsivity and hyperactivity, which can result in disruptive behavior. In females with ADHD, internalizing behaviors are more prevalent, such as forgetfulness, disorganization, and inattentiveness.
  • Comorbid conditions: Males with ADHD are prone to possess a history of conduct disorder [4*] or oppositional defiant disorder as comorbid conditions. Females with ADHD tend to have co-occurring mood disorders like depression and anxiety [5*] .

Long-term Effects of Untreated ADHD in Adults

The effects of ADHD, if not treated, can go beyond inattentiveness and impulsivity and impact others too. A few potential consequences of untreated ADHD are explained below. 

Relationship Issues

Young adults with ADHD have elevated levels of emotional dysregulation [6*] (low ability to manage emotions). They may experience impatience, irritation, and anger that are challenging to control. All this can affect relationships and the overall mental well-being of the person and those around them.

For instance, a person with ADHD can drop off during conversations, leaving their significant others feeling unheard and undervalued. On the other hand, they can carelessly agree to something they later regret or neglect essential things, which can frustrate their loved ones and strain relationships.

Consequences of untreated ADHD in adults

Poor Self-Esteem

Self-esteem issues are also common in adults with ADHD [7*] . Significant psychological distress, such as severe anxiety and depression, is also more likely to affect them. Irritation from seemingly uncomplicated remarks and negative messages about their symptoms may also influence how they see themselves.

Job Problems

It may be more difficult for someone with ADHD to tackle projects that require routine actions, adherence to deadlines, strict instructions, and close interaction with coworkers. People with ADHD may discover that they are not as focused, motivated, or productive as they would like to be at work.

Poor Financial Management

People with ADHD tend to have problems with financial decision-making [8*] more frequently than those without the disorder. These include different factors, from inattention that results in missed checks and bills to impulsivity leading to overspending. A person with ADHD may also find it more challenging to plan and organize finances, save money, and stick to the set budget. However, with professional advice and care as well as suitable strategies for financial management, it’s possible to improve the situation.

Substance Abuse

Adults with severe ADHD who leave it untreated are more likely to develop substance abuse disorder because they may self-medicate to ease their symptoms. Treatment for both addiction and ADHD can be challenging because certain ADHD medications have increased risks for habit forming. For example, central nervous system stimulants Ritalin and Adderall are frequently successful in treating ADHD symptoms but also have a significant risk of misuse [9*] .

Increased Risk of Injuries and Accidents

According to several studies, adults having ADHD are at higher risk of having accidents. The disorder may increase the tendency for risky behaviors and impulsiveness, which also can play a role in injuries and undesirable events. In addition, the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute report has revealed that 19 genetic regions are associated with both ADHD and lower life expectancy. The study emphasizes the need for early diagnosis and intervention to address potential risks, including impulsive behaviors and unhealthy habits.

Physical Health Problems

Untreated ADHD in adults can make it challenging to keep up with regular healthcare routines. They might neglect preventive healthcare measures or miss appointments or prescriptions. They also have a higher risk of engaging in unhealthy living practices such as eating poorly, exercising not often, and getting too little sleep. These choices may exacerbate physical health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and associated difficulties.

Higher cortisol levels in response to stress [10*] is also one of the signs of untreated ADHD. Consequently, it can affect physical health and sometimes exacerbate issues with the immune system or hypertension.

The Link Between Untreated ADHD and Other Mental Health Conditions

ADHD is frequently comorbid with learning disabilities and mental conditions. It is estimated that about 80% of people with ADHD [11*] also have at least one other co-occurring mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. Sometimes, these disorders can go away when ADHD is treated, but a healthcare provider should take all the symptoms and diagnoses into account when creating a treatment plan.

Can Untreated ADHD Cause Anxiety?

For some individuals with ADHD, worry and anxiety are a source of mental focus, similar to how physical pain captures attention. This search for something to worry about can be a double-edged sword: it keeps their mind engaged, but at the same time, it may lead to anxiety disorders. However, the reasons for the co-occurrence of ADHD and anxiety can be different. For example, worrying can result from frequent negative social feedback [12*] and specifics of brain functioning.

Can Untreated ADHD Cause Depression?

Untreated ADHD often results in ongoing frustration and disappointment, which can lead to depression. According to different studies, this comorbidity takes place in 18,6 – 53,3% of cases [13*] .

Difficulties at work, relationships, and daily tasks can amplify negative emotions, fostering low self-esteem and a pessimistic self-image.

Contact us to discuss any disturbing symptoms, from the signs of ADHD to depression or anxiety.

Why Can ADHD Be Left Untreated?

Adults with ADHD may not take steps to manage the condition for many reasons. First, they may be unaware of having ADHD or underestimate its impact on their day-to-day life. Second, the societal stigma surrounding mental health issues and shame-related fears can discourage them from seeking treatment. In addition, individuals may be afraid of the potential side effects of ADHD medications. However, an open discussion with a healthcare provider and patience while determining the right treatment can decrease the chances of adverse reactions.

Some people with ADHD may also see specific symptoms as “benefits.” For example, they may want to save hyperfocus on interesting tasks, periods of high energy and enthusiasm, and spontaneity as a means to be more open to new experiences. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that ADHD is a disorder, and even though it can bring extra creativity, it can also bring serious disadvantages, such as co-occurring conditions and negative effects on different areas of life.

Treating ADHD in Adults

Treatment for adult ADHD usually involves a comprehensive strategy. It may include medications (stimulants or non-stimulants), psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. By affecting brain chemicals, medication can help improve focus, control impulsivity, and enhance cognitive functions. On the other hand, talk therapy aids in maintaining the achieved results of treatment.

Another element of managing adult ADHD is the modification of lifestyle. With the help of a mental health professional, patients can learn methods for stress reduction, incorporate a healthier diet, engage in consistent exercise, and improve their sleep schedule. In addition, establishing an accepting network of family and friends or attending support groups can be beneficial in overcoming the difficulties associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In Conclusion

ADHD is not completely curable, but it is manageable. Living with untreated ADHD can lead to low self-esteem, substance abuse, increased risk of accidents, and financial or legal difficulties. On the contrary, different treatment approaches, including non-pharmacological ones, can help cope with ADHD symptoms and improve overall well-being. Book an appointment today to learn more about the treatment options that can work best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

There is no one exact cause that contributes to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a combination of neurological, genetic, and environmental factors that vary from one person to another.
If you think you might have ADHD, consider consulting a healthcare provider. They will assess your symptoms, medical history, and specific behaviors that affect your daily life to make a diagnosis. Moreover, this disorder typically develops in childhood, so if you had any symptoms as a kid, there are increased chances of having adult ADHD.
Generally, age doesn’t affect ADHD, and adults can even deal with its symptoms better by developing coping strategies. However, there might be a change in the way the condition manifests itself. For example, hyperactivity often appears during childhood ADHD, while adults have signs of inattention more frequently, and ADHD becomes more noticeable. Also, note that untreated ADHD can get worse, so it’s usually recommended to see a psychologist or a medical professional to choose appropriate methods to manage it.
While adult ADHD is not naturally harmful, it can cause difficulties in different spheres of life. A person may have problems at work, strained relationships, and co-occurring mental health problems. Untreated ADHD in adults also causes a higher risk of accidents, so it’s recommended to consult a healthcare professional who can diagnose ADHD and suggest proper treatment.

If ADHD goes untreated, it can lead to increased distractibility, difficulty paying attention, recurrent feelings of frustration, and time blindness. An adult with ADHD may also have mood swings, problems with planning and organization, and restlessness. Specific symptoms may vary from one person to another, so consider seeing a healthcare professional to get assessed for ADHD.

Sources

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13 sources
  1. Prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults: Umbrella review of evidence generated across the globe
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  2. Sex differences in predicting ADHD clinical diagnosis and pharmacological treatment
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  3. Sex differences in the prevalence and expression of externalizing behavior
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  4. What are Disruptive, Impulse Control and Conduct Disorders?
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  5. A Review of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Women and Girls: Uncovering This Hidden Diagnosis
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  6. Emotional dysregulation is a primary symptom in adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
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  7. Long-Term Outcomes of ADHD: A Systematic Review of Self-Esteem and Social Function
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  8. Financial decision-making in a community sample of adults with and without current symptoms of ADHD
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  9. Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report
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  10. Cortisol Response to Stress in Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
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  11. Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach
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  12. Early Development of Comorbidity Between Symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety
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  13. Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology
Reviewer:

Dr. Bradley Noon

MD
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