Undiagnosed ADHD in Women

Feeling overwhelmed, disorganized, scattered? Is it just stress, or could you be a woman struggling with undiagnosed ADHD?

Feeling overwhelmed, disorganized, scattered? Is it just stress, or could you be a woman struggling with undiagnosed ADHD?

Most of us are familiar with hyperactivity and attentional problems in kids, and the debate over whether Ritalin is being over-prescribed. You may have also read an article here or there about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in adults. John Ratey and Ned Hallowell's book on ADD - Driven to Distraction - made its way to The New York Times bestseller's list. But chances are that you haven't read much about girls or women with ADD. Why not? Because ADD has long been considered a male problem that affects only a few girls and women.

All that's beginning to change, however, and ADDvance Magazine: A Magazine for Women with ADD has been received with excitement by women across the country, women who are finally beginning to understand that the problems they have struggled with all of their lives are related to a very treatable, but misunderstood disorder: ADD in females.

What are the signs of ADD in women?

ADD in females can often be masked. Women with ADD are most often diagnosed as depressed. And many women with ADD do struggle with depression, but that is only part of the picture. As Sari Solden, author of Women With Attention Deficit Disorder, describes it, ADD in women is "the disorder of dis-order." In other words, for most women with ADD, their lives are filled with disorder which can feel overwhelming - piles and clutter out of control.

There are some women with ADD who have successfully compensated for their ADD, but the price they pay is to expend most of their waking energy combating their natural tendency to be disorganized. Many women with ADD feel a powerful sense of shame and inadequacy. They feel constantly behind, overwhelmed and frazzled. Some women with ADD feel that their lives are so out of control that they rarely invite others into their home - too ashamed to allow anyone to see the disorder, too overwhelmed to combat the disorder that pervades their lives.

ADD can be mild, moderate or severe. Some women are able to cope with the demands of daily life until they become mothers. For other women, their coping abilities don't collapse until baby number two comes along.

The job of housewife and mother is especially difficult for women with ADD because of its very nature. To raise children and to run a household well, women are required to function in multiple roles at the same time, to cope with constant, unpredictable interruptions, to function with little structure, little support or encouragement, and to not only keep ourselves on track, but also be the schedule for everyone else in the family. Who has soccer practice? Who has a dentist appointment? Who needs new shoes? Who needs a permission slip signed? Where is the permission slip? Who needs to go to the library? Who needs mom to drop everything this minute because they skinned their knee or because they have an earache and want to come home from school? And in the midst of all this, we are supposed to keep on track - planning meals, doing housework and laundry, planning social events, and for the majority of mothers, working full-time.

ADD has become a more challenging problem for women as the demands in our late-20th-century lifestyles become greater and greater. Now women are expected to juggle homemaking, child care, and full-time employment, along with a full complement of extra-curricular activities for our children. What is highly stressful for a woman without ADD becomes a continuing crisis for a woman with ADD. These women frequently suffer from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem because they find they can't live up to the superwoman image that so many women attempt today.

What is the difference between ADD and stress?

Stress is temporary or cyclical. A woman who feels disorganized and overwhelmed due to stress will heave a huge sigh of relief when the holidays are over or when the crunch at work has passed and will set about returning her life to order. For a woman with ADD, the stressful times are bad, but even in the best of times there is a feeling that the wave of "to do's" is about to crash over her head.

You may have ADD if you

  • have trouble completing projects and jump from one activity to another;
  • were told by parents and teachers that you should have tried harder in school;
  • are frequently forgetful; have trouble remembering to do the things you intended;
  • are frequently rushing, over-committed, often late;
  • make impulsive purchases, impulsive decisions;
  • feel overwhelmed and disorganized in your daily life;
  • have a disorderly purse, car, closet, household, etc;
  • are easily distracted from the task you are doing;
  • go off on tangents in conversations - may tend to interrupt;
  • have trouble balancing your checkbook, have difficulty with paperwork

Having difficulty with one or two of these things doesn't mean you have ADD. This list isn't meant as a questionnaire for self-diagnosis; but if you find yourself answering "yes" to many of the questions listed above, it may be very helpful to seek an evaluation from a professional very experienced in diagnosing ADD in adults. (A good place to begin your hunt for such a professional is to call the ADD experts in your community who work with children.)

If you are a woman with ADD who has not been officially diagnosed, help could be just around the corner. Women who have blamed themselves, calling themselves lazy or incompetent, have received help through ADD-oriented psychotherapy, medication and ADD coaching, and are now feeling and functioning much better.

About the author: The editors of ADDvance: A Magazine for Women with Attention Deficit Disorder - Patricia Quinn, MD and Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. - are both women with ADHD, as well as nationally recognized specialists in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Resources for women with ADD - ADHD


© Copyright 1998 Kathleen G. Nadeau, PhD

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2021, December 20). Undiagnosed ADHD in Women, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: January 2, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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