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ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood (Part 2)

My last post looked at the transition to adulthood with ADHD. I talked about some of the ways ADHD can complicate the process of learning how to adult with ADHD. Then I promised a future post with some specifics on what the research says about the transition to adulthood with ADHD and what people with ADHD can do to make the process easier. So here’s that post!

The first basic point to acknowledge is that although ADHD is stereotypically a disorder for kids, ADHD symptoms do not magically stop being a problem when people become adults. In fact, ADHD can mess with pretty much every aspect of young adults’ lives.

For example, a 2014 study from University of Valencia found that in 17-24 year-olds, ADHD can have an impact on all of the following:

  • Academic performance
  • Life skills (this goes back to the whole being an adult thing)
  • Family functioning
  • Self-concept

So we know that ADHD symptoms can raise a lot of problems for young adults.

Now, here’s something else we know: despite the fact that ADHD continues to really impair people during the transition to adulthood, many young adults fall through the cracks when it comes to actually getting treatment.

This issue is pretty wTransition to Adulthood With ADHDell studied, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s actually been fixed. A 2013 review found a sharp dip in ADHD treatment as people reach adulthood. A 2016 study of 91 British 14-24 year-olds found that only 9 percent of participants successfully transitioned to adult health services.

Why? No doubt some of it is a catch-22: people with ADHD are less able to organize their daily lives, which makes them less likely to find time to seek treatment, which keeps their symptoms from improving, etc.

But some of it is a systemic problem. A study from the Connecticut Clinical Research Center identified a number of factors that interfere with people’s ability to transition to adult mental health services with ADHD, including:

  • Medical professionals having poor training in ADHD
  • Understaffed clinics
  • Wariness about prescribing stimulants
  • Poor health insurance coverage
  • Inadequate treatment options in the college health care system
  • A lack of a planned process for how patients can transition to adult treatment services

In the UK, meanwhile, a study published in BMC Psychiatry found that adult mental health professionals report feeling unequipped to treat ADHD because they lack both the necessary knowledge and resources.

For young adults with ADHD, there’s an important takeaway here: you have to make your mental health care a priority. No one else is going to make sure you don’t fall through the cracks.

Sometimes that means it’s going to take a lot of work to get access to the treatment that will improve your life. All the studies that have been done indicate that gaining access to ADHD treatment in the opening years of adulthood can be a messy, inconsistent process with the health care system we have. The only option we’re left with is to not get discouraged and to stay persistent.

This also means not ignoring the reality that some health professionals simply don’t know much about ADHD. Just because you have access to some kind of mental health treatment doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right treatment. So be on the lookout for doctors who have real experience treating ADHD.

Another thing to keep in mind is that as you’re seeking out treatment as a young adult, it’s a good idea to make sure that treatment includes psychotherapy.

Research suggests that one trait that predicts how well people with ADHD will manage the transition to adulthood is resilience. I say “trait,” but it might be more accurate to call resilience a “skill.” And therapy is a great way to develop that skill.

Therapy is also a tool for building adult ADHD coping skills. Remember, the main point of my last post was that the transition to adulthood is more complicated with ADHD because you have to build all the normal adult life skills plus a separate set of adult ADHD coping skills. Working on those coping skills in therapy can accelerate the process.

The research that’s been done on transitioning to adulthood with ADHD isn’t necessarily comforting. It paints a picture of a mental health care system where young adults with ADHD are missing out on the treatment they need en masse.

For young adults with ADHD, the solution is to specifically recognize that building ADHD coping skills and prioritizing ADHD treatment can go a long way. If you meet the whole being an adult with ADHD thing head-on by being intentional about developing coping skills and doing whatever you have to in order to find treatment that works, it’s possible not just to weather the transition to adulthood with ADHD but to thrive in the process.

Image: Flickr/Jonathan Emmanuel Flores Tarello under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood (Part 2)

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). ADHD and the Transition to Adulthood (Part 2). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 9 Feb 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Feb 2017
Published on All rights reserved.