What to Know About Joining the Military With ADHD

photo of man with glasses and woman wearing a military uniform

SDI Productions / Getty Images

Enlisting in the military can be a complicated and hectic process. Part of that process includes sharing your medical and mental health records, and it can be confusing to understand how your history informs whether you will be permitted to enlist. One group who might have to complete extra hurdles when enlisting in the military are those who have been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). People with ADHD can be very successful in many careers, but when it comes to joining the military, there are some added challenges for those with the diagnosis.

What Is ADHD?

According to the DSM, ADHD is marked by inattentive and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity which interfere with functioning. It has a genetic component, and people with ADHD have it from birth. Additionally, although symptoms may manifest differently at different points in someone’s life, people who have ADHD continue to have ADHD throughout their lifetime.

Symptoms might not emerge until later in life if an individual gets adequate support or if they are able to compensate for their symptoms (for example, gifted children might perform well in school despite significant issues with focus).

The inattentive symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Missing details or making careless mistakes
  • Difficulty holding attention to tasks
  • Not listening when spoken to directly
  • Inability to follow through on or finish tasks
  • Disorganization
  • Avoidance of tasks that require significant mental effort
  • Frequently losing things
  • Distractibility
  • Forgetfulness in tasks

The hyperactive-impulsive symptoms of ADHD are:

  • Fidgeting
  • Leaving one’s seat at inappropriate times
  • Running or climbing at inappropriate times
  • Inability to engage in activities quietly
  • Often being “on the go” or behaving as if “driven by a motor”
  • Excessive talking
  • Blurting answers before a question is finished
  • Difficulty waiting one’s turn
  • Interrupting or intruding on others’ conversations

If an individual has six or more symptoms of inattention, they can be diagnosed with Inattentive-Type ADHD. If they have six or more hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, they can be diagnosed with Hyperactive-Impulsive-Type ADHD. If they experience both sets of symptoms, they can be diagnosed with Combined-Type ADHD.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobehavioral condition that is usually first diagnosed during childhood. More than six million children between the ages of two and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD.1 It is characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that make it difficult for people to pay attention and control their behaviors.

Will Having ADHD Prevent Me From Being Able To Join The Military?

People with ADHD can join the military, but they might be asked to undergo a psychological evaluation before enlisting. The evaluation will give current information about symptoms, functioning, and possible support needs. The recruiter will use information from this evaluation to determine whether or not someone with ADHD will be permitted to join the military.

Each branch of the military has its own rules regarding enlisting with ADHD and regarding ADHD medication. Generally, people who are enlisted are not permitted to take ADHD medication, particularly stimulant medication.

In addition, the recruiter will want to verify that the individual is able to function adequately while unmedicated. Symptoms of ADHD can improve with age, and so it is possible for someone who was diagnosed with ADHD but does not currently require medication to enlist in the military.

Different branches have different rules, but it is often advised to discontinue ADHD medication one to three years before attempting to enlist. This allows time to ensure that the medication is not essential to an individual’s day-to-day well-being and functioning.

Individuals must pass entrance examinations before enlisting in the military. In school and work settings, people with ADHD are permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act to request accommodations such as taking tests in a private room or extended time to complete testing.

These accommodations are not permitted for military entrance exams. If someone is unable to complete these tests successfully without accommodations due to their ADHD, they might not be able to join the military.

If someone who has ADHD wants to join the military, they might still be permitted to enlist. They would need to demonstrate that they are able to function without medication and can pass entrance examinations without accommodations. They might also need to provide documentation from a psychologist or psychiatrist indicating that their current symptoms do not prohibit them from doing tasks required of them by the military.

Do I Have To Disclose That I Have ADHD Before Joining The Military?

When enlisting in the military, you are required to provide full, honest, and accurate information about your medical history. This includes disclosing if you have been diagnosed with ADHD.

If your recruiter learns you were dishonest about your medical history, you might not be permitted to join the military even if you might have qualified even with a diagnosis of ADHD. Additionally, if you enlist under false pretenses and are later found out, you can be dishonorably discharged.

It is best practice to be honest about your medical history. Some branches of the military do not automatically disqualify someone with ADHD from enlisting.

In other branches, recruiters are allowed to grant a waiver to someone who has ADHD if they are able to demonstrate that symptoms will not prohibit them from doing tasks required of them in the military. This might include taking a psychological evaluation to demonstrate your current level of functioning.

If you have ADHD and want to join the military, let your recruiter know early in the process, and ask them what steps you will need to take in order to enlist. They can give you details about what criteria you will have to meet for a waiver or what steps you will need to take to demonstrate competency.

What Happens When The Military Knows I Have ADHD?

As with any DSM diagnosis, people diagnosed with ADHD risk stigma in their daily lives. This might include your recruiter or peers in the military treating you differently if they are aware of your diagnosis.

If you receive a waiver and are able to complete necessary requirements, you will be able to engage in your role in the same capacity as someone who does not have ADHD. Since the military generally does not allow accommodations, your job expectations will be the same as someone who does not have ADHD.

Should I Join The Military If I Have ADHD?

The decision to join the military is personal and based on your own goals and skills. The various branches of the military require intensive training and structure, and like all jobs, not everyone is a good fit. If you want to join the military and are able to function in your day-to-day life without medication, you might still be able to get a waiver and join the military.

Symptoms related to ADHD can interfere with functioning and job performance. If you are unable to function adequately (for example, follow an appropriate daily routine, get to appointments on time, et cetera) without ADHD medication, you might not be able to join the military.

Can I Be Kicked Out Of The Military For Having ADHD?

If you disclosed your ADHD diagnosis prior to enlisting and received a waiver, you are unlikely to be discharged from the military for having ADHD.

You can be discharged from the military for failing a drug test, so if you take ADHD medication and do not have permission, you might be kicked out of the military. In addition, people with ADHD are at higher risk for substance use disorders (SUDs) than people who do not have ADHD, and you can be kicked out for misusing alcohol or drugs.

While an ADHD diagnosis can be a barrier to someone trying to enlist in the military, it does not automatically disqualify someone from applying, especially if they can demonstrate that they do not require medication or accommodations.

A Word From Verywell

Having ADHD won’t necessarily eliminate your chances of joining the military, but you may face some challenges. If you’re someone who functions better with medication and accommodations, the military might not be the best option for you. If you expect to be able to pass the entrance exam and complete duties of service without accommodations, it could be an option.

It may be tempting to hide your ADHD diagnosis if you’re worried about being rejected from service, but this will only hurt your chances of entry. If you don’t get into the military, don’t despair. There are lots of jobs that are perfectly suited to your strengths and your ADHD.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. How do you cite the DSM in AMA?

    Put the title of the manual first if citing the book.Example: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed., American Psychiatric Association, 2013. DSM-V, doi-org.db29.linccweb.org/10.1176/

  2. USA.gov. Join The Military.

  3. Thomson P, Vijayakumar N, Johnson KA, et al. Longitudinal trajectories of sustained attention development in children and adolescents with adhd. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2020;48(12):1529-1542.

  4. CHADD. ADHD And The Military.

  5. Speerforck S, Stolzenburg S, Hertel J, et al. ADHD, stigma and continuum beliefs: A population survey on public attitudes towards children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorderPsychiatry Research. 2019;282:112570.

  6. Van de Glind G, Brynte C, Skutle A, et al. The international collaboration on adhd and substance abuse (Icasa): mission, results, and future activities. Eur Addict Res. 2020;26(4-5):173-178.

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.