ADHD Comorbidities

It’s not unusual for ADHD to occur alongside another mental health condition. In fact, around 80% of people with ADHD receive a diagnosis for at least one other psychiatric disorder at some point. You might hear medical professionals describe this as having comorbid conditions or comorbidities. When someone has two conditions, it is sometimes referred to as a dual diagnosis. A newer term sometimes applied is complex ADHD, which recognizes the way that having ADHD along with one or more neurodevelopmental, psychiatric, or learning disorders can make it more difficult to diagnose and treat.

If this is news to you, it can be a little overwhelming. But while having ADHD along with another mental health condition is more common than you might have imagined, it doesn’t mean it will be a lifelong problem or become something that you won’t be able to manage with help from a trusted team of healthcare providers.

You may be wondering: Which ADHD comorbidities are the most common? Here are some of the conditions which are most closely associated with ADHD:

Other common comorbid conditions with ADHD include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Learning disabilities

Symptom Confusion

A number of symptoms closely associated with ADHD can also come up with other mental health conditions. This can make it more difficult to discern whether the symptoms are caused by ADHD or something else. For example, consider how the following ADHD symptoms can overlap with other conditions:

  • Restlessness, which can also happen with anxiety
  • Inattention, which can be a symptom of depression
  • Impulsivity, which can also occur with oppositional defiant disorder
  • Hyperactivity, which can be a symptom of bipolar disorder
  • Hyperfocus, which can also happen with OCD and autism
  • Sleep problems, which can occur with a number of mental health conditions

Because there are so many symptoms of ADHD which are closely associated with other conditions, it’s possible that you might receive an incomplete diagnosis or a misdiagnosis. For example, you might be diagnosed with ADHD and start receiving treatment. If some of your symptoms persist, your healthcare providers may realize that something else is going on, such as anxiety or OCD. It doesn’t mean that your initial ADHD diagnosis was wrong, but there was more to the story than you and your doctors originally thought.

Comorbid Disorders vs. Secondary Problems

It’s important to note that, while many people with ADHD suffer from comorbid conditions, there is also a chance that some conditions may actually be secondary problems to ADHD. Comorbidities are typically chronic and pervasive, while a secondary problem may only develop in response to the primary problem (in this case, ADHD).

For example, if your anxiety only really spikes in conjunction with troublesome ADHD behaviors, it may be a secondary problem rather than a true comorbidity. This type of anxiety may no longer be a prominent issue once you find the right ADHD treatment to effectively manage your symptoms. If the anxiety persists and comes up in circumstances unrelated to your ADHD, it’s more likely to be a comorbidity.

Tips for Diagnosis and Treatment

To get the right diagnosis, it’s important to be aware of your symptoms and become your own best advocate. You may need to see more than one healthcare provider in order to get the correct diagnosis. A licensed ADHD clinician will be more familiar with the specifics of that condition than they are with autism or OCD. Don’t hesitate to ask for referrals to get additional assessments and treatment, especially if a diagnosis and treatment plan for ADHD doesn’t seem to address your symptoms adequately. When you have ADHD comorbidities, it’s a good idea to assemble a team of healthcare providers who can work together to come up with a personalized treatment plan that meets your needs.