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Can You Outgrow ADHD?

Kerry R. McGee, MD, FAAPSophie Vergnaud, MD
Written by Kerry R. McGee, MD, FAAP | Reviewed by Sophie Vergnaud, MD
Published on February 17, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that persists throughout life.

  • The symptoms of ADHD can change with age, so ADHD often looks different as you get older.

  • Whether or not you’ll need medication for ADHD as you age depends on many factors, including your lifestyle and the severity of your symptoms.

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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often considered a childhood problem. After all, the hyperactive, impulsive, or inattentive behavior it causes usually shows up for the first time during the school-age years. But what happens as people with ADHD get older? When do the symptoms disappear — or do they?

Medical experts used to believe that ADHD would just go away during the teenage and young adult years. As we learn more, though, we’re beginning to understand that many ADHD symptoms don’t completely disappear — they just change as we go through life. 

Adults and older adults who struggled with ADHD as youngsters can often still identify symptoms of ADHD in their adult lives and behavior. But this doesn’t mean that people with ADHD will always have problems or need medication. Keep reading to learn more about how ADHD changes across the lifespan.

At what age is ADHD usually diagnosed?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that stays with you throughout your life. Most often, it is diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 12, but it can be diagnosed at any age. 

When an older person gets an ADHD diagnosis for the first time, they can often look back over their life and realize they’ve had symptoms all along. In fact, it would be unusual for an adult to develop ADHD symptoms out of the blue. If that were to happen, they’d want to get a medical workup to make sure nothing else — like a stroke — was going on.

That said, some people with mild ADHD might not be diagnosed until they get older. There are two reasons why this can happen: 

  1. A smart kid with mild ADHD might be able to navigate school just fine, especially if there are clear expectations and they’re in a supportive and forgiving environment. This could change as they enter the workforce.

  2. The definition of ADHD is different for adults than it’s for children. A child with mild symptoms might not meet the definition of having ADHD, while an adult with the same symptoms might. 

How does ADHD change as you get older?

Most people with ADHD have some degree of symptoms during childhood. But if they don’t talk to a doctor about them, they might not realize that ADHD is the cause. 

The symptoms of ADHD change as you get older for a number of reasons. For one thing, you mature and learn coping strategies for different situations. Your circumstances and responsibilities change as you finish school and build an adult life for yourself. The expectations that other people have of you change, too.

ADHD symptoms in kids

Young kids with ADHD tend to be always on the move. They often show:

  • Hyperactivity and difficulty slowing down or playing quietly

  • Impulsiveness, or acting without thinking

  • Trouble paying attention or listening

  • Trouble making friends

  • School problems

ADHD symptoms in teenagers and young adults

As people with ADHD get older, their symptoms are often less about being active and more about feeling restless. Symptoms in teens can include:

  • Difficulty sitting still or excessive fidgeting

  • Procrastination and trouble focusing on things that need to get done

  • Disorganization, distractibility, and difficulty making decisions

  • Overtalkativeness

  • Relationship problems

  • Increased risk-taking behaviors and driving accidents

  • Emotional lability (mood swings) and angry outbursts

ADHD symptoms in adults

Trouble paying attention is often the biggest problem for adults and older adults with ADHD. They also might be suffering negative effects after living with ADHD symptoms for so many years, especially if they haven’t received proper treatment. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty focusing

  • Relationship problems

  • Problems with employment or holding a job

  • Low self-esteem

Will I always need to take medication for ADHD?

Maybe — but not necessarily. 

The symptoms of ADHD change over time, so your need for medication can change, too. With age comes experience, and as you gain experience you may be able to keep your symptoms from causing you problems. 

Some people do need to take medication for ADHD throughout their lives. Others might stop taking it for a while, then find they need to restart. It’s common for people to change the way they treat ADHD over time.

Deciding whether or not to take medication for ADHD depends on how much your symptoms are getting in the way of the day-to-day life you’re living. 

Does ADHD ever go away completely?

About 15% of children with ADHD go on to be adults with ADHD. Another 65% of children with ADHD grow up to have personality traits that are similar to ADHD symptoms — but not severe enough to cause problems.

Factors linked to ADHD that continues to be a problem in adulthood include:

  • More severe symptoms as a child

  • Also having conduct disorder as a child

  • Also having depression or depressive symptoms as a child

For some people, ADHD simply stops being a major problem as they get older. The symptoms it causes are no longer a big deal, and it’s no longer getting in the way of life.

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