Getting a Diagnosis

Fast Facts

  • Almost 90% of adults with ADHD are undiagnosed (1) yet suffering from the impact of ADHD, nonetheless
  • 80% of adults with ADHD will also suffer from depression during their lifetime. (2)
  • Most adults with ADHD will have at least one co-existing psychological condition - so getting a full diagnosis is helpful for getting proper treatment (2)
  • Sleep deprivation (less than 7.5 hours/night), stress and lack of exercise all make ADHD symptoms worse
  • A psychiatrist, psychologist or primary care physician can diagnose ADHD.  The first two tend to provide a more in-depth analysis
  • A full evaluation for ADHD often takes a couple of hours, and may include computer testing

Diagnostic criteria

Link to Mayo Clinic overview of the process and criteria for diagnosis of adult ADHD.  This simplified approach gives you a good feel for general diagnosis. 

Link to Dr. David Rabiner's more in-depth review of the new (DSM-5) criteria for diagnosing ADHD in adults vs. the old diagnostic criteria.  This is useful for those who want more information about how the criteria apply to adulthood, and who wish to understand in more detail exactly what sort of diagnosis they may receive.  Note that a lot of internet sites have not updated their material from what was in the old DSM-4 to include the new criteria of DSM-5.

New research suggests ADHD may be physiologically diagnosed by tracking involuntary eye movements.  The research needs to be replicated, but may finally provide a way to diagnose ADHD besides the art of taking a history and comparing it to attention tests.

Clinical Neurology News provides information about differentiating ADHD from early signs of dementia in older patients.

ADHD Plus Other Issues - rates of depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, conduct disorder, learning disorders, celiac disease, sleeping disorders and alcohol dependence are all higher than average in those with ADHD.  So when you are evaluated for ADHD, make sure to have your doctor assess whether you have any of these other concurrent conditions.  Click on the link to find out more information about any specific condition.

This quick self test can help you understand if you might have adult ADHD.

ADHD or something else?

Bipolar disorder:  Here are some facts about Bipolar disorder.  Read the chapter, Bipolar Disorder or ADD?  How to Tell the Difference? from Hallowell and Ratey's Delivered from Distraction for an excellent overview.  The chapter was written about children with bipolar, but is still very relevant.  Another very good overview of bipolar is at HelpGuide.  Not only are bipolar and ADHD sometimes confused in diagnosis, but they can also co-occur.  Here an article about how to tell them apart and about why treating bipolar first is important.

Sleep apnea:  Obstructive sleep apnea (which can be observed with snoring and/or stopped breathing at night) creates symptoms that mimic ADHD.  There is a strong overlap between ADHD and sleep apnea and sleep disorders.  All ADHD adults who have difficulty getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night should consider an evaluation for sleep issues as resolution can significantly decrease - and sometimes eliminate - symptom expression.  Research on the topic is here.

Executive function disorders:  This article from ADDitude Magazine is about kids, but the distinction in three diagnoses helps underscore some of the basics of separating ADHD from other executive function issues.  For more on executive functions and what they are, go to this blog post.

ADHD or early dementia in the elderly?  This article from Clinical Neurology News explores late in life diagnosis of ADHD vs. possible types of dementia.

Working memory (also known as short-term memory) issues are common with ADHD.  This quick self-test can help you understand if you need to talk with your doctor about this issue.

How to find a doctor or coach

Go to our professionals section for recommended ADHD-savvy professionals.  We also provide coaching sessions and counseling.

Download the free Treatment E-Book on optimizing treatment for ADHD for details about finding a doctor for evaluation, or a therapist.  (Or purchase The Couple's Guide to Thriving with ADHD, which contains similar information.)

Go to for a geographically searchable database of therapists (you enter your zip code to find people in your area.)  Make sure to ask the therapist how much of their practice is devoted to ADHD - some list ADHD experience but are not ADHD experts.

Try Googling "ADHD Evaluation (name of your town)" or "ADHD Treatment (name of your town)"  This often will bring up specialty clinics in your area.

Another source for good information about the process of getting an evaluation is the first section of Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell Barkely and Christine Benton.

You might also like...

  • The Start Here section of this online treatment guide
  • The treatment e-book (don't miss this - it's free and very good!)
  • ADHD Effect blog posts on Diagnosis and Treatment



(1) Parker, Harvey (2014) Co-founder of CHADD.

(2) Orlov, M. (2010). The ADHD effect on marriage: Understand and rebuild your relationship in 6 steps. Plantation, FL: Specialty Press.

Last updated:  4/4/14