6 Unexpected Signs You Might Have High-Functioning ADHD

High-Functioning ADHD


You’ve probably heard of the downsides of ADHD/ADD—short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, impulsivity, and poor judgment. The list of symptoms can make it seem like anyone with this condition would have a difficult time being successful at work, in relationships, or in sports. But that is not always the case. Some people who are high achievers may have a form of the condition known as “high-functioning ADHD/ADD,” and they may not know they have it.


Some people who are high achievers may have a form of the condition known as “high-functioning ADHD/ADD,” and they may not know they have it. Click To Tweet

Bestselling author and nutrition specialist Jonny Bowden is a good example. A real go-getter, Bowden studied at Julliard, earned a music degree at NYU, and got a Master’s degree in psychology. After a downward spiral, he found his way out of addiction, earned a Ph.D. in holistic nutrition, and became one of the nation’s most popular nutrition, health, and wellness experts with over a dozen books to his name. When this high achiever visited Amen Clinics for an episode of Scan My Brain, he wanted to know if getting a brain SPECT scan could offer clues to how he could improve his “ADD-like brain that makes it very hard to concentrate.”


High-functioning ADHD/ADD is not considered a formal psychiatric diagnosis. However, it applies to a subset of people with the condition, which affects approximately 5.4% of adult men and 3.2% of adult women. High-functioning ADHD/ADD can look different in different people.

For example, some people with high-functioning ADHD/ADD:

  • develop strategies to compensate for symptoms
  • have mild symptoms that don’t interfere greatly in daily life or work
  • experience only some symptoms but not others

One study found that adults with significant ADHD/ADD symptoms who achieve professional success do so largely thanks to compensation strategies. Because these people are high achievers despite their symptoms, they may not even realize that they have ADHD/ADD. They may be so adept at employing workarounds or relying on other strengths that they don’t consider their deficits as a problem that requires treatment. However, putting in extra mental effort to find daily workarounds can be stressful and exhausting and may lead to burnout.


Functional brain imaging can be helpful in determining if a person has ADHD/ADD. In people with this condition, SPECT scans typically show decreased blood flow and activity in the brain in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) during concentration. When Bowden saw his SPECT scans, he could clearly see what looked like holes (areas of low blood flow and activity) in his PFC. This telltale pattern is very common and is a sign of a “sleepy” brain. People with a sleepy brain often look for ways to stimulate the brain with substances—such as caffeine or nicotine—or exciting activities.


1. People think you’re a workaholic.

Some people may admire you because you work late, come in on weekends, and take calls on your vacation. It may not be dedication that’s driving you but rather the fact that you have to work harder or put in extra effort just to get your work done.

2. You get a lot of stuff done.

Are you one of those people who can’t seem to relax? Your high productivity may be related to a need to stimulate an underactive brain. Bowden, for example, has a hard time sitting down to watch TV. He’ll hop up to get water or do a host of other tasks rather than focus on what he’s watching.

3. Your work style involves lots of breaks.

Even if you manage to complete your work, you may find that you have to do it in short spurts. Bowden says this is his style. “I work on something very hard, take a break and do something else. I come back to it. If I take a break and do something else, I often get involved in that and forget that I was working on this. Now, it all gets done,” he says. “But the working process is very scattered.”

4. You rely on your phone to stay on time.

Do you routinely set alerts and or multiple notifications to prompt you to get dressed for work, prep for meetings, complete assignments, or send messages? If you need constant reminders to stay on time, it may be a workaround for a natural tendency to procrastinate, which is a common ADHD/ADD symptom.

5. You excel when you’re under pressure.

If you’re one of those superstars who performs best when the pressure is on, it could be a sign of ADHD/ADD. Feeling a sense of urgency stimulates the brain, which is beneficial for those with the condition. If you’re in a high-pressure profession, it could be one reason why you’re successful.

6. You’re an entrepreneurial risk-taker.

Research has shown a link between having ADHD/ADD and entrepreneurship. One study in a particular points to a genetic link between a dopamine receptor gene that is associated with having ADHD/ADD and a tendency to be an entrepreneur. If you’ve reached success by taking big risks or starting your own company, it could be a sign of high-functioning ADHD/ADD.


Even if you have found ways to compensate for symptoms doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek treatment for ADHD/ADD. With a treatment plan that is targeted to your ADHD/ADD type and symptoms, you can maintain the level of success you’ve achieved with less effort, or you can rise to even greater heights of achievement. For Bowden, this looks like a regimen of nutritional supplements, some changes to his thinking patterns, and avoiding smoking marijuana, which an Amen Clinics study shows prematurely ages the brain.

ADHD/ADD and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I have a daughter 26 years of age. She is being treated for Depression and Anxiety with three medications. I do not see any changes in her symptoms but increasing in weight! She manifest all of the signs mentioned above regarding ADHD/ADD. She is qualified in Bachelor of Arts Honours in Music Performance In Malaysia. Need help and would like to consult

    Comment by Dr Johannah V Arulprakasam — October 18, 2022 @ 1:41 PM

  2. OMG I think this is me. I constantly do all of the things above. I also sometimes become absolutely paralysed to the spot when I need to do something until it becomes really painful and then I get loads done in a smaller amount of time. I am very easily distracted and have to use immense amounts of self discipline to keep my brain on track

    Comment by Fiona — October 22, 2022 @ 12:43 PM

  3. My daughter is a very high achiever. She is 16 and has 11 grade 9s (A++) at GCSE. She has now entered 6th form and is studying 4 A-levels. She has many extra-curricula music activities which we have ensured she cuts down. However, she there are times when she is unable, completely unable, to bring herself to work. Even if the task is easy for her, she just cannot dig herself out of a head space where she is ok if she does nothing. She experiences a similar thing is certain social situations. She suddenly finds herself unable to communicate, or even get up and leave the room. She feels ok where she is, provided she doesn't have to move, talk, work. This is very puzzling and extremely upsetting for her. Any advice, gratefully received.

    Comment by Jacqui Dyer — November 13, 2023 @ 3:13 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us