Reasons Why It's Tough to Keep Friends When You Have ADHD

Smiling friends talking at dinner party

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One of the best ways to find happiness in your life is through close friendships. But if you have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may already know that finding and maintaining these friendships can be a lot harder than it sounds.

The first step in improving your friendships is understanding how your symptoms affect them. Fortunately, there are many ways you can address your challenges and support healthier relationships at the same time.

This article discusses why it can be difficult for adults with ADHD to have lasting friendships. It also addresses how to manage symptoms so that relationships can improve, including getting treatment for ADHD.

ADHD and Friendships

The symptoms of ADHD can make it hard for people living with the condition to make friends and have lasting relationships.

For instance, problems with attention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and mood regulation often make it difficult for those with ADHD to develop social skills. Others might misunderstand your behavior. Your peers might interpret your lack of attention as shyness or your impulsiveness as aggression, for example.

Cynthia Hammer, MSW and ADHD coach, says that in general, people get preoccupied with their own lives, and they often don't prioritize friendships. Someone with ADHD who is also trying to manage their symptoms may find it even more challenging to find and maintain connections with others.

Challenges

Maintaining friendships can be a struggle for adults with ADHD. Hammer provides some insight into ADHD and social relationships, along with tips to help you improve them.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Adults with ADHD often have trouble managing day-to-day tasks such as keeping appointments, making deadlines, and focusing on one task at a time.

You might feel overwhelmed by the friendships in your life. You might have a lot of other things going on, and you find it difficult to pay attention to your friends and keep the commitments you make to them at the same time.

Over time, your friends might become frustrated. They might think you don't care or that they are simply unimportant to you.

Getting Bored

Some people with ADHD enjoy having friends but often get bored with them, feeling the need for a break. They find it hard to be consistent in regularly enjoying their company and regularly paying them attention.

You might find yourself inattentive when you're with someone—not listening when they speak or daydreaming about what else you could be doing instead of spending time with them.

You might choose to learn to use a new video game over going to a movie with a friend, for instance, if the video game interests you more.

Being Inconsistent

Erratic, fickle behavior, such as acting like you want to be with someone one day but then not wanting to see them again for several months is not the way to handle friendships. The person on the receiving end of this kind of inconsistency might feel used and think you only contact them when you have nothing better to do.

Having a Poor Memory

An additional challenge for many with ADHD is a poor memory. What are the names of your best friend's three children? Who is due to have a baby? Being told these kinds of personal details and then not referring to them in future conversations can present a huge stumbling block to creating long-term relationships.

People want to feel that they're important—that their activities and successes and failures are shared and valued by their friends. Friends who consistently say, "I don't remember that" or "I forgot you told me that" give the impression that they didn't care enough to remember.

If you avoid certain topics because you don't remember key information, you're going to find it hard to build a long-term relationship. When you're unable to share memories and details of your time together, you give the impression that you're not truly interested in your friends and don't value their friendship.

Low Self-Esteem

ADHD is linked with the development of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can make it even more challenging to meet new people and make friends. You might not have the confidence to put yourself out there. Maybe you don't think anyone would want to be your friend, which can hold you back from making connections.

Anxiety and Depression

Many people with ADHD also cope with anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder (SAD). If you have SAD, social interactions may make you especially anxious making you less likely to put yourself in situations with other people. People with SAD often worry about being rejected by their peers, which makes it even harder to make new friends.

Adults with ADHD are also likely to have depression. If you cope with depression, you know that you're not always in the mood to talk to people or even leave your house.

These conditions can put added strain on your relationships, especially if people don't understand what you're going through.

Improving Friendships

According to Hammer, there are steps you can take to improve your friendships.

Be Aware

The first step to improved social interactions is to become aware of what you're doing that's harmful or counterproductive. Monitor yourself. Are you actively listening or are you only waiting until you can put in your own two cents?

If so, make a commitment, that for the next month, you will focus completely on being a good listener—you will hyperfocus on this. If you say anything at all, it will be only to ask a simple, short question to clarify or expand on what the other person is saying.

Repeat It Back

If you're listening to just one other person, occasionally ask them if you can say back what you heard them say, and then just do it, simply and concisely. Don't add anything.

Give them a chance to tell you if you've correctly understood what they said and then let them proceed while you return to your role as a good listener. Practice these skills.

Don't Interrupt

Are you interrupting others? Again, awareness is the key. Become aware of your behavior in your interactions. If you're interrupting, take steps to stop it.

When you feel the urge coming on, take a sip of water, make a note, take a deep breath, and hold it for a second, or think, "relax." Don't interrupt, and if you do, immediately recognize it, apologize for interrupting, and encourage the person to go on.

Stick to the Topic at Hand

If you have a tendency to change the subject and go off on an unrelated tangent, become aware and stop yourself. People usually don't appreciate this, especially if they are trying to tell you something that's important to them.

Know What Your Friendships Mean to You 

For the bigger problems—not paying enough attention to your friends—reflect on how much you want to improve your relationships. How much do you value having good friendships and what are you willing to do to get and maintain them?

Good friendships don't just happen. They take nurturing and care. Are you willing to do what is necessary? Will you make good friendships and relationships a priority?

When you have the choice between learning about your new computer and going to a movie with a friend, will you put a higher value on going to the movie because of the long-term payoff? The choice is yours.

Nurture Your Relationships

When you're talking with a friend, make your plans for the next time you'll get together, commit to it, and put it on your calendar. Learn to use a computer-based program that will remind you of important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

Get all the contact information for each of your friends. Buy assorted cards and stamps to have on hand so you can easily let your friends know you're thinking of them on birthdays and anniversaries.

When shopping, pick up some items you can use as unexpected gifts for your friends. Or buy tickets to some activity and ask them to go with you.

Tell Your Friends You Care

Purposely tell them how much you appreciate their friendship, how much you enjoy the time you spend together, and how much you look forward to getting together in the future. Don't let too much time go by without being in touch with those you value the most.

Offsetting Poor Memory

Struggling with poor memory is one of the hardest challenges listed here, and unfortunately, it isn't simply going to go away, says Hammer. Here are her strategies to minimize the impact:

  • Make notes on your friends including their likes and dislikes, their interests, their important relationships, and activities, and review them before your next get-together.
  • Subscribe to a service that will send cards on birthdays and other important events for you. You can set it up for the whole year at one time.
  • Write down the names of anyone new you meet and review them occasionally.
  • Prepare before meeting with someone you haven't seen for a while. Ask about what you know is important to them and what's going on in their lives. Demonstrate that you remember important details of things they have told you.

Maintaining Friendships

Once you have made a friend, you may be wondering how to keep the relationship going.

Communication

People often use communication to create a sense of intimacy and trust between them. You might be worried about the impact your ADHD will have on your long-term friendships—it's OK to share your fears with a close friend.

While you aren't obligated to share information about your ADHD with anyone, confiding in a trusted friend may actually serve to bring you two closer together.

Sharing with them might help them understand you better, too. They'll know that your occasional lapses in memory or inattention are part of your ADHD, not a sign that you don't care.

Commitments

An important part of keeping friends is following through on your commitments. If you set a time to meet, do your best to show up. If you tell a friend you'll do something for them, do your best to keep your word.

Fulfilling commitments is a key action that shows your friend they can trust you. Likewise, if you asked them to meet you somewhere, you would want them to show up. This mutual respect helps keep the friendship going.

Boundaries

While you might become impatient, bored, or even annoyed with your friends, it's important to think about the bigger picture. Everyone gets frustrated with their close friends sometimes. Taking a step back to acknowledge how you're feeling will go a long way in making sure you're not projecting your feelings onto them.

If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, try taking some time to yourself. You don't need to see your friend every day or every weekend in order to maintain the relationship. Time apart is healthy and key to a successful relationship.

Likewise, if you invite your friend somewhere and they are unavailable, try not to take it personally. Everyone needs time and space to themselves. You can always wait a few days and ask them again, but you should respect their wishes for space when they ask for it.

Self-Care

While you want to be considerate and thoughtful in your relationships, you should always be your first priority. One study found that physical health, mental health, and satisfaction with your own life have a connection with successful relationships.

Make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and engaging in physical exercise, all of which can help manage any anxiety you have and improve your mental health.

Especially when you have ADHD, it's important to check in with your doctor if you notice any medications or therapies in your treatment plan don't seem to be working so they can adjust as needed.

ADHD is often treated using a combination of medication and therapy. A doctor may prescribe stimulants or non-stimulants to help manage impulsivity, attention, and concentration. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is commonly recommended for treating ADHD alongside medication. A therapist specializing in CBT can also help you cope with other mental health conditions that often occur alongside ADHD.

ADHD-tailored cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to build social skills around organization and time management as well as improve self-defeating patterns.

Summary

There are plenty of challenges people with ADHD experience that can interfere with forming lasting friendships—from feeling overwhelmed or bored to experiencing anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, you can improve your relationships by making time for your friends and being present when you're with them. Take the time to let them know they're important to you, and honor their boundaries.

Most importantly, taking care of yourself and receiving proper treatment for your ADHD will help you have healthier relationships.

A Word From Verywell

People with ADHD have so much to contribute to relationships—enthusiasm, creativity, energy, humor, and more. Don't keep those amazing traits from others by not giving them the chance to know you better.

By learning and practicing simple techniques for healthy social interactions, you will be on your way to a bounty of good relationships and an ever-ready supply of meaningful friendships.

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