Ask the Experts

Is It ADHD or Anxiety Disorder?

“Is ADHD often misdiagnosed when the problem is anxiety? What should a professional treat first — anxiety or ADHD — if you have both?”

You ask good questions. When someone experiences anxiety, he or she might be restless and have difficulty staying on task and focusing. If someone has ADHD, he or she might be very active and appear to have a short attention span, resulting in difficulty staying on task and focusing. Both conditions show evidence of being overactive as well as inattentive.

The key to differentiating the two is to understand that anxiety is usually related to specific thoughts or experiences; ADHD is neurologically based and is experienced as chronic and pervasive. If the restlessness and/or inattention begins at a certain time and/or occurs during certain situations, anxiety should be considered the cause. However, if these behaviors are experienced over an extended period of time (chronic) and in many/most life situations (pervasive), they should be considered as neurologically based.

If I suspect that an individual has ADHD and an anxiety disorder, I have found it best to treat the ADHD first. By doing this, it is easier to assess the extent to which the behaviors are the result of anxiety and not reflective of ADHD.