Conditions That May Accompany ADHD

Conditions That May Accompany ADHD

Learn how to recognize conditions related to ADHD.

Children, teens, and even adults with ADHD commonly develop one or more overlapping conditions, including anxiety and depression, sleep and personality disorders, other learning disabilities, and substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, the stress of coping with these additional disorders puts added pressure on a person's school, social, and family lives, and poses a big risk to overall quality of life.

It's not clear whether ADHD itself actually triggers the development of these related conditions or whether they develop on their own because of other causes, including neurobiological or environmental ones. Even more confusing, the symptoms of many of these related conditions can very closely mimic the symptoms of ADHD, so it's not entirely uncommon for ADHD to be present but misdiagnosed as something else, or vice versa.

Because it can be tricky to sort out one condition from another, it's vitally important to consult with a mental health professional specifically trained to diagnose ADHD if you suspect your son or daughter with ADHD may be suffering from a co-related condition. Even though differentiating ADHD from other conditions is less than an exact science, the right mental health specialist will have the most accurate tools for doing so, including the ADHD diagnostic gold-standard: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Bottom line, although researchers are still trying to determine what medications, behavioural therapies, and practical interventions are most effective for treating both ADHD and its related conditions, it's wise to explore all your options for doing so. Treating one condition but not the other may not improve all symptoms and may simply lead to a return of the related condition.

That certainly does not mean that you should automatically change your teen's current ADHD medication regimen, if it has been working. In fact, some studies suggest that use of commonly prescribed stimulant medications in children with ADHD, may help keep related conditions from appearing down the road.

So if you suspect you or your son or daughter may have another disorder in addition to ADHD, talk with your doctor or psychiatrist. Some of the most common ADHD-related conditions and their symptoms include:

  • Anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety can vary from person to person, but often include feeling uncomfortably worried, tired, or breathless; having a hard time relaxing and sleeping; and suffering from muscle tension or headaches.
  • Depression. Depression is characterized by persistently rather than temporarily suffering with low self-esteem and feeling despondent, withdrawn, hopeless, empty, and fatigued.
  • Conduct disorder (CD). This serious behavioral disorder usually begins in childhood or adolescence, but if left untreated, may lead to substance abuse and antisocial disorder in teens and adults. It is characterized by juvenile delinquency amd aggressiveness toward peers -- teasing, bullying, fighting, stealing, and lying -- without any feelings of remorse. Seek immediate treatment if your child or teen is exhibiting any of these symptoms.
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Children and teens with ODD are often angry, resentful, negative, and argumentative. They are likely to have hair-trigger tempers and often blame others for their own mistakes. They frequently get into disputes with adults and refuse to obey rules. Interestingly, impulsivity is one symptom seen in both ADHD and ODD. And one study found that when children with ODD had more-structured routines at home, they exhibited fewer symptoms of ODD at school. That same type of structured family routine may also help keep kids with ADHD on track, as well.
  • Learning disabilities. Somewhere between 20% and 30% of children with ADHD suffer from one or more learning disabilities, including reading and language disorders, such as dyslexia. Nonverbal learning disabilities, like those related to arithmetic or spatial learning, may also develop in kids and adults with ADHD.
  • Tourette's syndrome. Although more rare than other conditions that develop in people with ADHD, Tourette's syndrome is characterized by nervous -- and uncontrollable -- twitches, tics, vocalizations, and facial expressions.
  • Substance abuse. Teens and adults with ADHD have greater rates of drug and alcohol abuse than people without ADHD. Occasionally, that may also include abuse of the stimulant medications commonly prescribed for ADHD. But researchers don't think it's the prescribed stimulant drugs themselves that lead to misuse, but rather is the result of an underlying mechanism that is still unclear.
  • Sleep disorders. Some but not all people with ADHD -- no matter their age -- may develop sleep problems, including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and interrupted or poor sleep quality. Use these bedtime tips to help you get a better night's sleep -- every night.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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