What Are the ADHD Symptoms in Women?

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Women

Disorganized woman making a dress
Many females with ADD remain undiagnosed until adulthood. Some are overlooked altogether and never diagnosed. John Burke/Getty Images

Do Women Have ADHD?

Women and girls often live with undiagnosed ADHD, as it is a condition that was traditionally thought to affect only boys and men. In school, ADHD symptoms in girls might get overlooked because females are more likely to have inattentive ADHD. This type of ADHD does not show as visible behavior problems like hyperactive/impulsive ADHD can. 

ADHD symptoms in girls are often explained as character traits rather than ADHD.

For example, a girl might be thought of as ‘spacey,’ a day-dreamer, or a chatty Cathy. Later in life, a woman might reach out for help for her ADHD, only to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

The good news is that there is an increasing awareness about ADHD symptoms in women, which means women are able to get the help they need.

ADHD Symptoms in Women Are Real

Women with ADHD face the same feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted that men with ADHD may feel. Psychological distress, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and chronic stress are common. Often women with ADHD feel that their lives are out of control or in chaos, and daily tasks may seem impossibly huge. 

Though many women are expected to be caretakers, this role can be extremely difficult for a woman with ADHD. When things feel out of control and she has trouble organizing and planning her own life, taking care of others seems nearly impossible.

This role also may greatly increase her feelings of inadequacy.

Understanding ADHD Symptoms in Women

Here are some ways that ADHD might show up in your life.

  • Your desk at work is piled high with papers. Even when you make a big effort to tidy it, it only stays clear for a day or two.
  • Being at the office feels difficult. The noise and people make it hard to get work done.
  • You often stay late at the office, as the only time you can work well is when everyone else has left and it is quiet.
  • You spend a lot of time and effort to look ‘normal,’ and hope no one notices the real you.
  • You feel like you are drowning in paper. At work, home, in your car, and even in your handbag. You have an uneasy feeling that unpaid bills and forgotten projects are hiding under the paper.
  • You dislike going to parties and other social gatherings, as you feel overwhelmed and shy.
  • Your mind drifts during conversations unless you are talking or it is very interesting.
  • Friendships can be difficult to navigate because social rules seem complicated.
  • You talk more than anyone else you know. 
  • Growing up, you were always described as a tomboy because you had so much energy and liked to be busy.
  • You do not feel organized with money, and are usually behind with bills. 
  • You often overspend to compensate for other problems. For example, you do not have a clean outfit to wear for an office party so you buy a new one. Or you forgot someone's birthday so you buy an expensive present to make up for it.
  • Shopping trips make you feel better in the moment, but you feel regret later when the credit card bill arrives.
  • You spend a lot of time, money and research on products to help you be more organized, but then you do not use them.
  • You feel very embarrassed to have guests visit your home because it is so cluttered and disorganized.
  • You wish you were able to be a better friend, wife, or mom, and that you would do the things that other people do. For example, that you could remember birthdays, bake cookies, and arrive on time for a date.
  • Because you are not able to do the things that society expects women to do, people think you do not care.
  • Grocery stores overwhelm you, and you find it hard to make decisions about what to buy.
  • You often forget a key ingredient for a meal even though you take longer in the store than most people do.
  • It feels like each day is spent responding to requests and limiting disasters rather than moving forward with your goals.
  • You feel frustrated that people you went to school with pass you by with their achievements, even though you know you are just as smart.
  • You feel crushing sadness and frustration that you have not met your potential.
  • ‘Little’ things can push you over the top and you become emotional.
  • You find it hard to relax.

Many women are relieved to learn that behaviors they have been struggling with for so long are because of ADHD.

Conditions that Commonly Occur Along with ADHD in Women

Other conditions can also be present along with ADHD. When you have more than one condition, they are called comorbid conditions or coexisting conditions. Here are some conditions that women often have in addition to their ADHD:

  • Substance Use Disorders
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Mood Disorders

It is good to be aware of these coexisting conditions, as they can cause symptoms that look similar to ADHD. This in turn can make diagnosing ADHD more complex. However, an experienced clinian will be aware of this challenge. 

If you think you might have ADHD, it is important to be diagnosed by a health care professional. An accurate diagnosis and treatment will allow you to get relief from your symptoms and greatly improve the quality of your life.

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