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Is It ADHD or Something Else? It Could Be Both!

People with ADHD don’t always know how to do things in moderation. Maybe that explains why so many ADHDers aren’t content with just one mental health condition and have other “comorbid” conditions such as depression or anxiety on top of ADHD.

If you want to go into detail on the numbers, check out a post I wrote about this on AllPsych. The main point for our purposes, though, is that it’s common for people with ADHD to have other disorders, too.

ADHD and Comorbid ConditionsThis fact is especially important to keep in mind for diagnosis and treatment. Having anxiety or depression doesn’t mean you don’t also have ADHD. In many cases, comorbid conditions that are “easier” to diagnose will be diagnosed before ADHD.

At the same time, treating ADHD can be an essential part of treating the comorbid conditions. That’s why you’ll commonly hear stories of people who were unsuccessfully treated for anxiety or depression for years before their ADHD was recognized, which finally allowed them to make progress on both the ADHD and the comorbid condition.

People with ADHD can have any other psychiatric condition. Some of the more common comorbid conditions with ADHD seem to be:

  • Anxiety: Having ADHD can make anxiety worse because ADHD adds stress to people’s lives and makes it harder for them to regulate their emotions.
  • Depression: As with anxiety, there can be a chicken-and-egg problem with diagnosing comorbid ADHD and depression. On first glance, the inability to concentrate, problems with motivation, etc. might be mistaken for depressive symptoms when in fact the effects of living with undiagnosed ADHD are contributing to the depression.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse: ADHD can lead people to self-medicate. People with ADHD also have brains that are hungry for stimulation and reward, which predisposes them to addictive behaviors. Because stimulants are the gold standard of ADHD medication, this can complicate treatment. However, effective ADHD treatment is key because it makes people with ADHD less prone to self-medication and less driven to impulsively pursue rewards and stimulation.
  • Bipolar disorder: Some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder and ADHD, like impulsivity and hyperactivity, can appear similar. Once again, this is a case where it’s good to be aware of the danger that the more “obvious” diagnosis of bipolar disorder might overshadow accompanying ADHD.

What all these comorbid conditions (and others not listed here) have in common is that diagnosing and treating ADHD will have a positive effect on both the ADHD itself and the comorbid condition.

Untreated, ADHD can wreak stress and chaos on everyday life, which will only make it harder to cope with any other mental health condition. So keep in mind that just because you have one condition doesn’t mean you don’t also have ADHD, and just because you have ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t also have something else!

Please share your experiences with ADHD and comorbid conditions below!

Image: Flickr/June Yarham under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Is It ADHD or Something Else? It Could Be Both!

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2016). Is It ADHD or Something Else? It Could Be Both!. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 5 Dec 2016
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