Is it ADHD or just distractedness?

Adult man thinking of something while sitting in an office

You might think if you’re having trouble focusing at work and often tune into the latest ping, text or alarm, that you must certainly have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What else could explain why you frequently ping pong from one task to another?

Limited ability to focus is only one symptom of ADHD, so it’s possible for you to be easily distracted without having ADHD.

People vary in how long they can concentrate on something. Some people can focus on a task for an hour or several hours without any problems. Others, like me, work for a half hour or maybe an hour, but then we need a break to get outside or shift to something else.

You could be diagnosed with ADHD if, besides problems with focusing, you also have other symptoms of the disorder and your symptoms are affecting you in significant ways. You might have problems with relationships, with your work performance and/or your finances.

ADHD diagnoses increasing

Worldwide, 2.5% of adults and 7.2% of children have been diagnosed with ADHD. In recent years, there’s been an increase in people being diagnosed with ADHD. That’s partly because more is known about the disorder, so parents are more apt to suspect ADHD now than decades ago and get their child diagnosed. It’s often an inherited disorder, so when children are diagnosed with ADHD, that can lead a parent to wonder: Do I have ADHD, too?

Something else is fueling the surge in ADHD diagnoses as well. Some videos on TikTok and Instagram have misled people into thinking they have ADHD, and businesses have sprung up that claim they can assess someone for ADHD after a brief and less-than-thorough evaluation.

What are five of the most common symptoms of ADHD in adults?

  • Distractedness
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty with organization
  • Restlessness
  • Talking too much

What does ADHD feel like in adults?

As you age, some of the hyperactivity of ADHD can turn to internal restlessness. Sometimes you feel a frequent need to get up and move. A lot of adults describe ADHD as having a general inability to focus. They might intend to sit down and do work, and they get distracted, instead.

The ADHD brain tends to gravitate toward things that are fun, interesting or life–threatening. Office jobs can be really challenging for someone with ADHD, especially if it involves working on a computer a lot and you have little to no interest in the content matter.

Can people develop ADHD later in life?

ADHD doesn’t just show up. Nothing can “trigger” it. If you have it, you were born with it. Still, sometimes you may not realize you have ADHD until you’re an adult.

Some people are able to compensate when they’re young, making it over the hurdles of distractedness, impulsiveness, disorganization and trouble completing goals. But as an adult with more and more responsibilities at work and at home, some people have trouble keeping up.

What’s different about the brain of someone with ADHD compared to someone who doesn’t have ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder of the frontal lobe, which deals with executive functioning, meaning the ability to plan, organize and carry out tasks needed to complete a goal such as finishing your taxes, cleaning a room or planning a dinner party. The frontal lobe of the brain is less alert in people with ADHD because their brains have less dopamine, a chemical in the brain that’s involved in focus.

Does ADHD look different in men and women?

Women with ADHD tend to be more distracted than hyperactive. That’s true in young girls with ADHD as well, which is why others may not suspect they have ADHD because they’re not getting in trouble at school or frequently misbehaving.

However, compared to boys, girls with ADHD are at higher risk of eating disorders or self-injury, such as cutting themselves. That’s because anxiety and depression often accompany ADHD in girls and women.

Men and boys with ADHD tend to be more hyperactive. As adults, they may act impulsively, driving fast, having unprotected sex, spending a lot of money or getting into fights — sometimes physical fights.

What are some of the strengths of people with ADHD?

People with ADHD, if they are interested in something, can hyperfocus on that activity, spending hours on it. It could be a computer program, a book or a topic they’re researching. They can be very effective in situations with high demands and high stakes, such as a paramedic or an athlete.

The best way to seek ADHD diagnosis, and why

If you think you have symptoms of ADHD, it’s important to get evaluated by a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist who can do a full evaluation, ruling out other possible causes and examining your past history as well as any current struggles. If you don’t already have a relationship with a mental health counselor of some sort, you can begin with your primary care provider. Most referrals we get for an ADHD evaluation come from primary care providers.

You might wonder, “Why bother getting diagnosed if I’ve made it this far?” Getting a diagnosis as an adult can give you insight into your previous struggles. It can also open the door to treatment or accommodations that may make your life easier going forward.

Help for mental health conditions

Ohio State offers personalized, compassionate care for your mental health concerns.

Learn more


Related websites

Subscribe. The latest from Ohio State Health & Discovery delivered right to your inbox.


Get articles and stories about health, wellness, medicine, science and education delivered right to your inbox from the experts at Ohio State.

Required fields

Tell us more about yourself

By clicking "Subscribe" you agree to our Terms of Use.
Learn more about how we use your information by reading our Privacy Policy.