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The Relationship Between PTSD and ADHD: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

ADHD cannot "cause" PTSD, but childhood trauma may trigger ADHD. Due to overlapping symptoms and tangled roots, distinguishing between the two can be difficult and nuanced. Learn the similarities and differences here.

3 Comments: The Relationship Between PTSD and ADHD: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

  1. Based on what I’ve read and seen in my personal and family history and genetics, I question the statement “ADHD cannot cause PTSD”. Based on extensive research and observation, genetics play a large role in whether one is diagnosed with ADHD. This is one of the fundamental “truths” of ADHD based on experts and scores of families with obvious evidence. This “truth” suggests that ADHD, or a predisposition to such, is likely genetically present in DNA/the brain at birth.
    I have since read and heard experts cite newer research and theories that a similar type of condition that closely mimics ADHD is possible to develop- perhaps as an effect of the fast pace, rapid change, short term attention span-supporting technology-based world we live in. This “type” of ADHD is therefore “possible” to follow PTSD, but personally, I haven’t heard any experts suggest or cite that to my knowledge (so that may be what you’re referring to). The original genetic ADHD can’t follow or be caused by PTSD because the timeline is reversed, but this “new type” of ADHD theoretically *could* because while the timeline is logical- there is no assertion of this nor widespread belief of such to support that –that I know of (That said, I am not a researcher or doctor- just an avid reader and learner on these very personal topics)
    But the idea that ADHD CAN cause PTSD (or perhaps more specifically, CPTSD- even if not DSM accepted) is consistent with the research/life timeline and in at least in one obvious linked respect, it is consistent with the characteristics of each. Firstly, I think it is crucial to note (and it’s my experience) that ADHD magnifies emotional responses – in both good and bad directions.- but most detrimentally and well-known is it’s impact on the bad side- with intense RSD, impulsiveness, and emotional dysregulation, etc., and resulting damage to relationships, jobs, etc. which many of us are all too familiar with – Faster and more intense emotional swings vs neurotypical persons is a signature ADHD trait according to many experts and my experience. To me, it follows therefore, that a person with ADHD is likelier to experience traumatic experiences at a heightened level of intensity than a non-ADHD person, and this on it’s own shows in theory why the ADHD person would be likelier to have traumatic experiences at a level reaching intense PTSD-causing levels that are permanent and thus far more lasting than a non-ADHD person.
    Without getting too far further into the weeds here, my story is consistent with this “genetic ADHD that later fueled debilitating CPTSD” idea. I clearly have had symptoms/traits/experiences leading to or resulting from both since childhood- including those that are considered specific to one or the other. The debilitating level of impacts I’m now dealing with did not appear nor cause major issues until the last 10 years – only in hindsight now seen by my professionals as better explaining the severity of my symptoms when they appeared- later-in-life after very traumatic life experiences. (That said, I had posed this theory to my professionals years ago – no receptive ears…. and my CPTSD *is* likely generational and was present in hindsight in childhood) But…. Additionally, it is telling that I have a non-ADHD sibling who experienced many of these same clearly traumatic events in childhood and recent adulthood without developing anything resembling CPTSD – sibling walked away from it all temporarily heavily stressed, but otherwise the same in long term health as when it started. I was bed-ridden for a time after the most severe adult events, and have never been the same emotionally, productively or professionally since. I was not identified as a CPTSD case until last year after I became fed up with my lackluster – nearly stagnant – ADHD treatment results over roughly 7 years of CBT and meds.

  2. emerald, that book was a life-changer for me! Still, I can say my ADHD came before my PTSD. My ADHD is genetic, NOT trauma based. I’m glad to see an article that covers when they both coexist! EMDR was a game-changer for the trauma aspect. Treatment for my ADHD allowed me to be more mindful in therapy and processing. It really is a challenging comorbidity to recognize, and I now see just how similar they can be!

  3. The book “The Body Keeps the Score” talks about this in much detail!!! The medical world just hasn’t accepted it yet.
    It’s allllll trauma based!!!

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