ADHD Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of ADHD can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of ADHD.

Understanding ADHD

Learn about ADHD

A mental health condition that affects numerous people of all ages throughout the world, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can cause countless challenges for those who are plagued by its symptoms. More commonly referred to as ADHD, this mental illness can cause sufferers to experience extreme difficulty performing everyday tasks and fulfilling daily obligations. Children and adolescents who have ADHD frequently struggle to perform adequately in school, while adults experience similar struggles in their work environments. The presence of ADHD symptoms can elicit countless challenges for individuals, including disturbed social interactions, a lack of healthy relationships, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness as these people fight to control their impulses. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available that are tailored to meet the specific needs of those suffering from this disorder, which can assist in greatly improving one’s overall quality of life.

A diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is typically broken down into one of three specific classifications, or as a combination of types. The inattentive type of ADHD occurs when individuals find that they are incapable of remaining focused on tasks or have difficulty adhering to directions when provided. The hyperactive type of ADHD occurs when people experience a persistent inability to sit still or remain calm and quiet, even when situations require them to do so. As the name infers, these individuals experience heightened levels of hyperactivity, which can cause much disruption to those around them. The impulsive type of ADHD occurs when individuals fail to control impulses and often engage in high-risk behaviors.


ADHD statistics

Estimates have been provided that state that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder affects approximately 5% of children and adolescents. In regards to adults, 3% of the population is believed to suffer from symptoms of this illness. Research has shown that ADHD exists more prominently in males than in females, and while males are more likely to present with symptoms of the hyperactive type of ADHD, females are more likely to present with symptoms of the inattentive type.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ADHD

The reason behind why individuals develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is believed to be the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, and environmental factors, in conjunction with other risk factors. Consider the following:

Genetic: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is widely believed by researchers and professionals in the field of mental health to be heritable. In other words, as a mental health condition that is known to run in families, a person’s genetic background can strongly influence his or her susceptibility to developing ADHD. Individuals who have first-degree biological relatives, such as a parent or sibling, with this condition are at an even greater risk for eventually experiencing symptoms of this illness.

Physical: A specific balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain is required for healthy functioning. When these chemicals become imbalanced, one’s ability to successfully and properly control impulses and appropriately regulate emotions is significantly hindered. Such hindrances then have the potential to result in the onset of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Environmental: It is believed that there are certain environmental factors that can render an individual more susceptible to experiencing the onset of ADHD symptoms. For example, research has shown that if infants are exposed to alcohol, drugs, infections, or certain toxins while in utero, they are at a heightened risk of experiencing the onset of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder than are those who did not experience such exposure prenatally. There have also been studies conducted that have shown that individuals who are persistently exposed to highly stressful environments, including environments that are rich with violence and/or chaos, are more susceptible to developing ADHD. Furthermore, being the victim of abuse and/or neglect can increase one’s risk of one day suffering from ADHD symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Family history of ADHD or other mental health conditions
  • Presence of preexisting mental health condition
  • Family history or personal history of substance abuse
  • Being exposed to certain types of toxins or infection prenatally
  • Consistent exposure to violence
  • Chronic exposure to chaos
  • Lack of a support network
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • History of abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ADHD

The signs and symptoms that may be displayed by someone who is suffering from ADHD will vary from person to person depending on a number of different factors, including an individual’s age, the specific type of the illness that one is suffering from (inattentive, hyperactive, or a combination of both), the support system one has available to him or her, and the length of time during which symptoms have persisted. Examples of various behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may be exhibited by an individual who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may include the following: Behavioral symptoms:

  • Acting on impulses
  • Decreased task completion
  • School refusal
  • Frequently missing work
  • Frequent tardiness
  • Rapid and excessive speech
  • Inability to sit still / persistent restlessness
  • Jittery
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol
  • Engaging in highly risky behaviors
  • Procrastinating

Physical symptoms:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Chronic headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Frequent urination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Repetitive thinking patterns
  • Racing thoughts
  • Patterns of ritualistic thinking
  • Chronic inattentiveness / inability to remain focused
  • Forgetfulness
  • Memory disturbances
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Inability to remain patient
  • Becoming easily bored
  • Paranoia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Excessive irritability
  • Excessive agitation
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Feelings of insecurity
  • Mood swings
  • Depression


Effects of ADHD

While there are many viable treatment options available for individuals of any age who are plagued by the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, there are many people who do not receive such beneficial interventions. For these individuals, there can arise any number of negative long-term effects, of which may include the following:

  • Decline in one’s ability to perform at the expected level in work or school, potentially leading to job loss or academic failure
  • For children and adolescents, the presence of severe behavioral disturbances in school can lead to disciplinary action, such as suspension or expulsion
  • Becoming socially withdrawn or isolated
  • Beginning to use, and subsequently becoming addicted to, drugs and/or alcohol
  • Experiencing the onset of symptoms that are synonymous with the presence of other mental health conditions
  • Being rejected by one’s peers
  • Lacking healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Familial discord and strife
  • Financial struggles
  • Deterioration of one’s self-esteem or sense of self-worth
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

ADHD and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to also experience symptoms that are characteristic of other mental health conditions, eliciting the need for a dual diagnosis. Examples of some of the mental illnesses that have been known to co-occur with ADHD include the following:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Tic disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Substance use disorders
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