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Conditions Related to ADHD

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

ADHD doesn’t always travel alone. The condition may also appear alongside other mental health conditions or neurodevelopmental disorders; common companions include depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities. If more than one condition is present, treatment may need to be adjusted, as some ADHD treatments (particularly stimulant medications) can exacerbate the symptoms of comorbid conditions.

Similarly, the symptoms of ADHD can appear quite similar to the symptoms of other conditions, such as bipolar disorder or learning disabilities. Such conditions may be mistaken for ADHD and vice versa. It’s important for healthcare providers to conduct a thorough examination before granting an ADHD diagnosis, in order to rule out other lookalike conditions and assess for any potential comorbidities.

Is it possible to have both ADHD and depression?

Yes, ADHD and depression can appear alongside one another. It’s also possible for ADHD to be misdiagnosed as depression—particularly if the individual’s symptoms are primarily inattentive and manifest as a struggle to stay engaged in work, relationships, or other activities. One additional possibility is that the challenges of living with untreated ADHD have themselves triggered feelings of depression. In those cases, treating the ADHD may also function as a depression treatment, as increased feelings of competence and focus resulting from ADHD treatment may help overcome a depressed mood.

Do I have ADHD or bipolar disorder?

ADHD and bipolar disorder are often mistaken for one another. Symptoms of ADHD, such as impulsivity or hyperactivity, may appear similar to the manic symptoms of bipolar disorder; someone with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, may have the ability to focus intently on a task, which may look like ADHD-related hyperfocus to an outside observer. Both conditions can also trigger mood swings and may also come with episodes of depression. Though a thorough evaluation will be necessary to tease apart symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis, bipolar disorder most often (though not always) first appears in late adolescence or adulthood, while ADHD typically starts in childhood; the age when symptoms first appeared may help a clinician zero in on the appropriate diagnosis.

Can ADHD cause depression?

Undiagnosed or inadequately treated ADHD can manifest as lifelong struggles at work, at home, or in relationships. For some children and adults, these challenges can trigger feelings of persistent sadness, inadequacy, low self-esteem, or difficulty setting and accomplishing goals—all characteristic traits of depression. In such cases, the depression is thought to be secondary to the ADHD (i.e. triggered by the ADHD, rather than existing comorbidly); treating the ADHD is likely to result in improved mood, heightened self-esteem, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Can stimulant medications increase anxiety?

Increased feelings of anxiety are one possible side effect of stimulant medications, as well as some non-stimulant medications that can be used to treat ADHD. Anxiety may also occur when a stimulant medication wears off, in the period sometimes known as the “crash”; during this time, irritability, sadness, or fatigue may also be present.

How common is it to have both ADHD and a learning disability?

Extremely common. Some research suggests that as many as half of children and adolescents with ADHD may have a comorbid learning disability like dyslexia, dysgraphia, or auditory processing disorder.

Can someone have both ADHD and OCD?

Despite their seemingly opposing symptoms, ADHD and OCD can and often do occur together; some studies have found the rate of ADHD among people with OCD to be as high as 51 percent, though other studies have reported lower rates. The disorders tend to run together in families, leading experts to speculate that they have similar neurological underpinnings.

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