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How Does a Psychiatrist Diagnose ADHD in Adults?


How Does a Psychiatrist Diagnose ADHD in Adults?

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Although children are most commonly diagnosed with ADHD, it does occur in adulthood as well. To diagnose ADHD, a psychiatrist uses a combination of psychological tests, behavior rating scales, and symptom checklists to determine whether or not a patient has ADHD. 

Thorough evaluation by a psychiatrist is essential in accurately diagnosing and treating ADHD in adults. In this article, we’ll discuss the process of how a psychiatrist diagnoses ADHD in adults, including the various methods and assessments used to determine the presence and severity of the disorder.

If you experience symptoms consistently associated with ADHD, you could be a diagnosis away from improved focus and attention span. Klarity can connect you with a mental health provider within just 48 hours of booking your appointment – no insurance needed. 

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Who Can Diagnose ADHD in Adults?

If you suspect that you have ADHD as an adult, you should be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. 

A professional in the mental health field that can diagnose ADHD can be a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, family doctor, clinical social worker, and more. When choosing a professional to conduct an ADHD diagnostic test, you want to make sure that you are choosing someone who is experienced in this field of mental health treatment. 

Choosing the right professional is very important because ADHD, especially inattentive ADHD, can be difficult to recognize in adults. The correct diagnosis and treatment plan are essential for improving a patient’s mental health, so you want to avoid any possibility of misdiagnosis. 

Tests for ADHD Diagnosis

DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD Diagnosis

The DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is used by a majority of mental health professionals in the United States as a reference handbook. It helps physicians and psychiatric professionals properly diagnose mental health conditions in adults and children. 

The latest version of the DSM is the DSM-5, which was released in March of 2022. It provides criteria that can be used by professionals to evaluate a patient and come to a diagnosis if one is applicable. 

For ADHD, the criteria that have to be met for a diagnosis vary by age. Children up to 16 years old must show six or more of the criteria, and adults above 17 years old need to show five or more criteria for at least six months. This is the same for all three kinds of ADHD.

ADHD Self Tests

There are a lot of self-assessments available online that will tell you how likely it is that you have ADHD. However, these tests are not a diagnosis. In order to be diagnosed and receive any prescriptions, you will need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. 

A study conducted by the NCBI in 2020 assessed the accuracy of two self-tests, the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) and the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS). The study concluded that both tests have high diagnostic accuracy. However, this is only a tool and not an official diagnosis. 

Three Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD: attentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination of these two. 

Inattentive Type Diagnosis Criteria

Formerly known as ADD, inattentive type ADHD is identified in individuals who have difficulty with the following

  • Following detailed instructions
  • Organization
  • Memory
  • Listening
  • Following through with tasks
  • Paying attention 
  • Keeping track of things 

Inattentive ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in women and girls and manifests as forgetfulness, being easily distracted, and disengaging often. It can be confused with certain mood disorders and anxiety, especially in adults. Individuals with this kind of ADHD are also often seen as lazy or apathetic.

Hyperactive/Impulsive Type Diagnosis Criteria

Hyperactive and impulsive type ADHD is different from the inattentive type, and it is also the one that people think of more when someone mentions ADHD. Hyperactive/impulsive type ADHD is commonly characterized by an inability to sit still and focus. People who have ADHD at any age may show the following symptoms

  • A need to constantly be moving
  • Fidgeting often
  • Excessive talking
  • Interrupting others
  • Blurting out thoughts or answers
  • Struggle with impulse control

This kind of ADHD is often diagnosed in children and is much more noticeable even to a person who is not a doctor or professional. 

Combined Type Diagnosis Criteria

It is possible to have a combined form of these two conditions, and this is called combined type ADHD. Individuals have combined ADHD when they meet six or more criteria for each of the two types of ADHD. 

Comorbid Illnesses and ADHD

There are a lot of mental health conditions that can occur at the same time, or they share symptoms that make it look like you have one or the other. When diseases occur simultaneously, it is referred to as comorbidity. Recognizing the comorbidity of some mental health conditions is very important for determining treatment options.  

ADHD has a high rate of comorbidity with other disorders, and a majority of individuals with ADHD also have an additional condition or learning disability. If you are diagnosed with more than just ADHD, it is important to treat the condition with the larger problem first, not always at the same time. 

Depression or ADHD?

About a quarter of adults who have ADHD also have symptoms of depression, but in some cases, the two can exist at the same time. In people who have ADHD, the comorbidity of depression is about three times more likely. However, many of the symptoms overlap, so just because you may have some of the symptoms of depression, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have both.

In some cases, ADHD and depression can present very similar symptoms, and distinguishing between the two can be difficult. For example, restlessness and boredom can be symptoms of both, and some side effects of ADHD medication can cause symptoms of depression like loss of appetite, mood swings, fatigue, and more. 

Anxiety or ADHD?

Individuals with ADHD may also share symptoms with or have anxietyl. Anxiety is a natural response to situations that are difficult, scary, or uncomfortable, but it becomes an issue when the anxiety is excessive and persistent. One of the common symptoms that anxiety shares with ADHD is the avoidance of responsibilities and tasks. 

The major difference is what is causing the lack of focus. Anxiety may cause you to avoid something because you are afraid of doing it or what may come after. Whereas when a person has ADHD, they avoid tasks or have trouble completing them because they cannot maintain focus. 

Bipolar Disorder or ADHD?

Bipolar disorder (BD) is often comorbid with ADHD, and in fact, recent research shows that around 1 in every 13 patients has ADHD and BD comorbidly. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood changes and shifts in energy levels, known as depressive and manic episodes. 

Individuals with BD will experience periods of extreme depression, followed by mania and overly elevated energy levels. This cycle will repeat itself continuously, and many individuals with undiagnosed BD mistake manic episodes as a sign that their depression is improving. 

ADHD shares symptoms of both the manic and depressive sides of BD, such as increased energy, being easily distracted, talking a lot, impulsivity, inattention, and more. BD is a very serious condition, so distinguishing between the two during diagnosis is very important. 

Thyroid Disorder or ADHD?

The thyroid is a gland that has many very important functions in the body by creating two additional hormones called triiodothyronine and thyroxine. A person’s thyroid regulates heart rate, breathing rate, calorie burning, and heat production. Thyroid hormones are also incredibly vital for brain development and function later in life. 

Disruptions in brain function can cause symptoms similar to those of ADHD due to cognitive and behavioral impairment. ADHD shares symptoms with both hypothyroidism, such as insomnia, but it shares more symptoms with hyperthyroidism. Difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia, and anxiety can all be symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and ADHD. 

Treatment for ADHD Diagnosis

If you are diagnosed with ADHD by a professional, there are a few treatment options. There are several medications available as treatment, and they are usually an important part of improving patients’ symptoms. A medical provider will work with you to choose the medication that is going to be right for you, and sometimes they only need to be taken at certain times, such as before work or school. 

Often central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are prescribed for ADHD, and they work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The stimulants provide a calming effect and, as a result, improve attention span and concentration. Common CNS stimulants include Adderall, Dexedrine, Desoxyn, and Focalin. 

For some patients, a provider may prescribe non-stimulant medication for ADHD treatment. This is usually considered an option when stimulant medication is not working, or the side effects are too severe. These medications increase levels of norepinephrine and help with memory and focus. Antidepressants like Pamelor, as well as other medications like Strattera, can also be used to treat ADHD.

Get an ADHD Diagnosis and Treatment With Help From Klarity

ADHD is commonly diagnosed in children, but it can also occur in adults and often looks different at this time as well. Living with undiagnosed ADHD as an adult is incredibly disruptive to everyday life and can make big responsibilities like work more difficult. ADHD can also affect your ability to get simple tasks done, such as cleaning the house or doing your laundry. 

However, having ADHD does not mean that you are lazy, and there are treatment options available so that you have less difficulty focusing. If you resonate with any of the symptoms discussed above, Klarity can connect you with a provider who specializes in ADHD.

All providers on Klarity are certified & licensed mental health medical professionals who can diagnose your symptoms and help you find the right treatment (if applicable). If you receive a diagnosis, your provider will determine the best treatment option to keep ADHD out of your way. Book and appointment today to get started.


“What Are the 3 Types of ADHD?” ADDitude Magazine

“Diagnosis of ADHD in Adults” Chadd

“Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD” Center for Disease Control and Prevention,diagnosed%20and%20treated%20for%20ADHD.

“What Is the DSM-5? Resource Guide” PsychCentral

“Validity and accuracy of the Adult Attention‐Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Self‐Report Scale (ASRS) and the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS) symptom checklists in discriminating between adults with and without ADHD” National Library of Medicine

“Is It Depression or ADHD? Or Both” ADDitude Magazine

“ADHD and Depression: Are The Two Linked?” NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

“Is it ADHD or Anxiety” Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine

“Is It Bipolar Disorder or ADHD? Learn the Signs” Healthline

“What is the link between ADHD and thyroid disorders?” Medical News Today

“ADHD Treatment Options: Therapy, Medication, and More” Healthline

“How Does a Psychiatrist Diagnose ADHD in Adults” Evolve Psychiatry

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