ADHD and anxiety are a dynamic duo, or maybe a disorderly duo. ADHD is often a have-one-condition-get-another-free type of situation, and in many cases anxiety is the second condition ADHDers get for free.
Having ADHD + anxiety can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms of the two conditions can reinforce each other, contradict each other, or have nothing to do with each other depending on context. But psychology researchers are gradually making progress in understanding how ADHD and anxiety disorders fit together.
In a new paper, a team of psychology researchers in Italy argue that anxiety influences ADHD symptoms in different ways depending on age.
In children, generalized anxiety disorder is associated with having fewer problems with uninhibited actions. Children with both ADHD and anxiety also develop hyperactive symptoms at a later age. Together, these studies suggest that children who have a side of anxiety with their ADHD are less likely to fit the image of ADHDers as hyperactive, uninhibited and impulsive.
Teenagers with ADHD, meanwhile, tend to have greater impairments in working memory when they also have anxiety. That could potentially exacerbate other ADHD symptoms such as problems with organization and sustained attention.
When people with comorbid anxiety and ADHD reach adulthood, they may have sleep problems to look forward to. In their paper, the researchers cite several studies suggesting adults with the ADHD-anxiety combo are at higher risk for insomnia, short sleep duration, and daytime sleepiness.
So what should we make of all that? As far as ADHD studies go, this one is a little less uplifting than the paper I wrote about a few weeks ago suggesting Leonardo da Vinci had ADHD.
A takeaway that the researchers highlight is that “Individuals with comorbid ADHD and anxiety disorders would benefit from adjunctive psychosocial or adjunctive pharmacotherapy interventions to cognitive behavioural treatment.”
That makes a lot of sense. Given that the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety are complex, intertwined, and affect people’s lives on multiple levels, having several forms of treatment in place simultaneously is probably the way to go. The most basic of these are therapy and meds, but other avenues like support groups or even meditation practice are also potentially helpful.
Image: Flickr/Ana C.