One of the perks of having ADHD is that we often get two disorders for the price of one. ADHD has high rates of comorbidity with other mental health conditions, meaning that many people with ADHD have more than one disorder.
But it turns out we may be able to treat two disorders for the price of one as well. Some evidence for that comes from a new study showing that in people with comorbid ADHD and social anxiety, ADHD meds can improve symptoms of both disorders at once.
Social anxiety is one of a few anxiety disorders that are common among people with ADHD. As the authors of the new study on treating social anxiety and ADHD point out, various previous studies have found rates of social anxiety of 19, 32 and 40 percent among samples of ADHD patients – significantly higher than people without ADHD.
When ADHDers have multiple conditions, it always makes treatment more complicated. Which disorder gets treated first, or do they both get treated at once? In many cases, one of the disorders (often the ADHD!) fails to get diagnosed at all.
So in their study, the researchers looked into whether treating ADHD would simultaneously have an effect on people’s social anxiety symptoms. They took 20 adults with comorbid ADHD and social anxiety, prescribed them extended-release methylphenidate, and watched what happened.
Two of the people dropped out because of side effects. One person experienced no improvement. But in the other 17, the ADHD meds apparently helped significantly with both ADHD symptoms and social anxiety symptoms.
Of course, 20 people is a relatively small sample, so there’s more research to be done here. But the results suggest that when ADHDers have comorbid social anxiety, and potentially other anxiety disorders, ADHD meds can also reduce anxiety symptoms.
One reason this study caught my eye is that it dovetails with my experience. When I was prescribed ADHD meds, my psychiatrist warned me that they could make my anxiety symptoms worse.
Instead, the opposite happened. Being able to control the direction of my thoughts made me less likely to get caught up in anxiety-inducing “what-if” scenarios in my head. Being able to focus on what I wanted to helped prevent me from getting distracted by self-doubt. Being able to regulate my emotions, have more top-down control of my brain, and keep my impulses in check made it possible to keep a more calm equilibrium.
So I’m not surprised at all that treatment for ADHD may turn out to effectively be treatment for ADHD + anxiety, at least for some ADHDers. There are plenty of stories of people who tried unsuccessfully to treat their anxiety for years before finally getting diagnosed with ADHD and starting to make progress. Hopefully this research means that more doctors will evaluate possible ADHD in patients with anxiety and consider ADHD treatment as a way of improving anxiety symptoms.
How do ADHD meds affect your anxiety symptoms? D’you have comorbid ADHD and anxiety? Please share below!