Find out why stammering can start in adults and learn how to support yourself if you experience it.
It's most common for stammering, also known as stuttering, to start in early childhood. (See What Is Stammering?) But it can sometimes start in adults too. This is sometimes called 'acquired stammering' or 'adult onset stammering'.
On this page:
What it can feel like
It can be a shock to go from speaking fluently to not feeling in control of your speech. Everyday things like making phone calls and ordering coffees can become harder. So too can speaking to family members, friends and colleagues. You might feel a loss of identity as you grapple with your new pattern of speech. Or it might not be a big issue for you. For some it is just something to adapt to.
Why does stammering start in adulthood?
Here are the main reasons why stammering starts in adulthood. Find out how to get help and support yourself below this list.
1. A returning stammer
For some people, stammering starts in early childhood, disappears and starts again later. It's not always easy to know why for several reasons. Firstly, you may have gone through a period of stammering when you were very young but don't remember it.
Secondly, stammering can sometimes be almost completely covert or hidden. From an early age, a lot of people cope by avoiding words they may stammer on so that it's less noticeable. Or they might avoid certain speaking situations. Some might go to great lengths so that no one finds out they stammer. This is sometimes called 'covert' stammering. See Covert Stammering for more information. These habits can become so ingrained that over time you stop seeing yourself as someone who stammers. But these ways of coping can sometimes break down without warning. As a result, you might notice yourself stammering again.
2. Medication and drug side-effects
Stammering can sometimes start as a side effect of taking medication or other drugs.
Are you taking a prescribed medicine and experiencing any changes in your speech? If so, and if you're worried, consult your doctor immediately. They may be able to prescribe a different medicine or adjust the dosage to reduce the side effects.
Drug-related stammering will almost certainly disappear completely if you stop using the drug. However, it can be dangerous to stop taking medication. This can be because of the way the body reacts to withdrawal of medication. Or it could be because of the loss of the associated health benefits. Seek medical advice before considering any changes to your medication.
3. Changes in the way the brain works
Sometimes, changes in the way the brain is working can lead to stammering. This can happen even if there are no physical changes to the brain. This is sometimes called 'functional stammering' or 'functional neurological stammering' (FNS). Or sometimes 'functional neurological disorder' (FND).
It is sometimes associated with a traumatic event. Or it can be caused by prolonged stress over time. But quite often, there is no obvious cause for the change in the way the brain is working. Stress-related stammering is likely to reduce when events or situations become less stressful.
4. Changes in the physical structure of the brain
Sometimes stammering can start after having:
- a stroke
- a head injury
- a brain tumour
- Parkinson's disease
- some forms of dementia.
This is sometimes called 'neurological stammering' or 'neurogenic stammering'.
5. Individual causes of stammering
Sometimes it may not be possible to find out what has caused a stammer that starts in adulthood. It might relate purely to the person concerned and does not fall into any of the above categories. This is sometimes called 'idiopathic stammering'.
If you have recently started stammering and don't know why, speak to your GP. It's important that they can rule out any of the serious medical conditions listed under number 4 above. A GP might refer you to a specialist consultant and can help you seek support from a speech & language therapist.
If stammering starts after a traumatic event or prolonged stress:
The NHS provides a range of psychological therapies you could try. Contact your GP for details. If you live in England, you can refer yourself to a talking therapies service without seeing your GP. See the NHS website for more details. Alternatively you can look into NHS counselling services. Some speech & language therapists also have advanced counselling skills. See Adults Stammering Therapy & Courses for details of NHS or private speech & language therapy services.
If you're not comfortable with stammering:
You might be looking for help to communicate with confidence or tackle your concerns. If so, speech & language therapy or stammering courses can help. See Adult Stammering Therapy & Courses.
Other things you can do
Chat with us
Meet others and share experiences
Join the online Adults New To Stammering Group. It's a chance to speak with others who have experienced the same thing. Or see if there's a stammering group near you where you can meet other people who stammer.
Get reasonable adjustments
Read others' experiences
Read these articles from adults who have started stammering:
If you'd like to write about your experiences, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Become a STAMMA member
Join our community. Become a STAMMA member for free and we'll keep you updated with news and events you can join with.
If you know someone who has started stammering
If you know someone who has started stammering later in life and are looking for ways to support them, see: