If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, odds are you also exhibit symptoms of anxiety, a mood disorder, sensory processing disorder, or one of these other 7 overlapping, linked conditions. Here’s what you need to know to guarantee an accurate evaluation and productive treatment.
An overwhelming majority of individuals with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) — 50 to 90 percent of children and approximately 85 percent of adults — are diagnosed with at least one other psychiatric and/or developmental disorder sometime during their lifetime. About half of all children with ADHD have at least two co-existing conditions with ADHD; the medical term for these is ‘comorbidities.’
A comorbid condition is an additional, separate condition that exists alongside ADHD, compounding an individual’s cognitive, psychological, and social impairment. An ADHD comorbidity warrants special consideration and a unique treatment plan. Following are the conditions commonly associated with ADHD.
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ADHD and Mood Disorders
People with ADHD are three times more likely to develop a mood disorder than the general population. Mood disorders and ADHD share symptoms such as inattention, sleep problems, feelings of sadness, frequent anxiety, and lack of motivation, but the causes of these symptoms are different with each condition. With ADHD, you may lack motivation because you are overwhelmed. While a mood disorder on its own may diminish your drive to do anything at all. Some experts hypothesize that as many as 70 percent of those with ADHD will be treated at some point in their lives for primary depression, which is its own standalone illness, or for secondary depression caused by the experience of living with ADHD. If feelings of sadness, lethargy, or insomnia persist, despite ADHD treatment, talk to your doctor.
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ADHD and Learning Disabilities
ADHD impacts learning and behaviors in school, but the condition is different than a learning disability. Learning disabilities impact up to 50 percent of children with ADHD, compared to only 5 percent of children without ADHD. Those with an LD may have trouble organizing thoughts, finding the right word to use when speaking, or remembering lessons. The most common learning challenges are reading and math disorders. Twelve percent of kids with ADHD have a co-existing speech disorder.
Up to 30 percent of children and 25-40 percent of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. As with depression, the two share common symptoms, such as lack of focus and insomnia. Nervousness is also a possible side effect of stimulants. If you have unexplained and persistent fears, or experience panic attacks, and feel that your ADHD treatment is not working, talk with your doctor about the possibility of an anxiety disorder.
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ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) include repeated temper flares, excessive arguing with adults, being uncooperative, deliberately annoying others, seeking revenge, being mean, spiteful, and vindictive. Research shows anywhere from 40 to 84 percent of children with ADHD will develop ODD. Treatment for ODD includes psychotherapy and medication.
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ADHD and Conduct Disorder
Of those with ADHD, 27 percent of children, 40-50 percent of teens, and 20-25 percent of adults will develop conduct disorder (CD). Characteristics of CD include fighting, cruelty toward people or animals, destructiveness, lying, stealing, truancy, and running away from home. Treatment for CD includes making sure ADHD symptoms are adequately treated, plus pursuing behavior therapy and counseling. Your doctor may also suggest parental counseling to learn more productive ways of responding to your child’s behaviors.
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ADHD and Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings — high, euphoric periods (mania) and low periods of depression — each lasting for weeks at a time. The mania stage is sometimes seen as hyperactivity and the low states as inattention and lack of motivation, all of which are common symptoms of ADHD. Thus, it’s sometimes challenging to tease apart the two conditions. Up to 20 percent of those with ADHD also have bipolar disorder.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is an inability to sort out external stimuli — making the smallest stimuli unbearable — or the need to search out high-stimulus activities to arouse sluggish senses. When researchers looked at children who showed symptoms of ADHD or SPD, up to 60 percent showed symptoms of both. Effective intervention and early treatment is important for both conditions. An occupational therapist can evaluate for sensory processing disorder.
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ADHD and Autism
A 2013 study, Autistic Traits in Children With and Without ADHD, suggests that kids with ADHD are 20 times more likely to exhibit some traits of autism spectrum disorder compared with non-ADHD kids. Just like ADHD, there isn’t a lab test to diagnose autism. Autism is characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships, and in using language and abstract concepts. Some early symptoms are extreme sensory sensitivities, lack of social skills or a preference to be alone, little understanding of abstract language, and obsessive interests. Early detection and treatment of autism are important, but because symptoms of both conditions overlap, diagnosing and separating the disorders can be difficult.
The latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) opens the possibility that an individual can be diagnosed with both ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which was not the case before. Studies show that 30 to 50 percent of individuals with autism show symptoms of ADHD, and that up to 60 percent of individuals with ADHD have symptoms of autism. That means there’s a substantial possibility that an individual with ADHD could also have autism.
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ADHD and Substance Abuse
Intoxicants are risky business if you have ADHD. A recent survey found that more than 15 percent of adults with the disorder had abused or were dependent upon alcohol or drugs during the previous year. That's nearly triple the rate for adults without ADHD. Twenty to 30 percent of adults with ADHD go on to develop substance abuse problems at some point in their life. Some use drugs or alcohol to combat symptoms of ADHD — to sleep better, improve mood, or relax. People with substance abuse problems have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Misusing drugs and alcohol makes treating ADHD more difficult.
Contrary to popular myth, ADHD medication is not a gateway drug. In fact, teens and adults who seek treatment for their ADHD symptoms are much less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than are their undiagnosed, untreated counterparts.
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ADHD and Tourette's Syndrome
Stimulant medication was previously thought to cause Tourette’s syndrome in children with ADHD, however we now know that is not the case. Recent research has shown that both disorders have similar risk factors — smoking during pregnancy, being born prematurely, and low birth weight. Those with Tourette’s exhibit motor and vocal tics — rapid, repetitive movements and sounds. Less than 10 percent of individuals with ADHD have Tourettes’, however, 60-80 percent of children with Tourette’s syndrome also have ADHD.