I didn’t find out I had ADHD until my last semester of grad school.
This experience - late diagnosis of ADHD - is becoming more and more common as awareness grows. The irony, for me, was that my graduate degree was in mental health counseling. When I was first diagnosed, I felt incredibly frustrated. Shouldn’t I have figured it out sooner??
Problem is, ADHD isn’t just a stand-alone condition; it often shares space with other conditions, or “comorbidities.” And those other conditions - in my case, anxiety, depression, and OCD - often make ADHD difficult to spot.
Whether you or someone you love is navigating the landscape of ADHD, understanding its interconnectedness with other conditions isn’t just academic trivia; it's a key part of seeing the full picture.
In this article, we're going to explore these connections, delve into the most common comorbidities of ADHD, and offer some insights to help light your way. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll feel more empowered and informed to face the challenges and celebrate the unique strengths that come with adult ADHD and its companions.
In the world of mental health and medical conditions, comorbidity means having two or more conditions at the same time. About two-thirds of people who have ADHD also have one or more comorbidities. A new term, called “complex ADHD,” is sometimes used to describe this phenomenon.
It's important to remember that just because two conditions often show up together, it doesn’t automatically mean one caused the other - though this can be the case. It’s also possible that they arise independently. Getting away from the ‘blame game,’ though, no matter which comes first, dual diagnoses can play off each other in a terrifying kind of snowball effect.
Understanding comorbid conditions is like having a map of the entire ‘rail network’ of the brain. With this map, we can better navigate the challenges, anticipate potential roadblocks, and make smoother connections. Recognizing and addressing comorbidities isn't just about slapping on more labels; it's about offering a comprehensive guide to understanding one's experiences and finding the most effective treatments and strategies.
In the world of ADHD, common comorbidities include anxiety, depression, substance use, learning disabilities, and more. Of these, anxiety is the most common - it shows up in about a quarter of adults with ADHD.
Anxiety and ADHD, though distinct in nature, share several overlapping symptoms. For instance, both conditions can lead to:
Someone with both ADHD and anxiety might find that their anxiety exacerbates ADHD symptoms. On the flip side, the challenges of managing ADHD might amplify feelings of anxiety. (That was the case for me.) Recognizing this interplay means we can tailor treatments and strategies that address both conditions.
Curious about which other conditions tend to jump into the ADHD sidecar? Here’s a list of the most common ADHD comorbidities:
Absolutely. In fact, one of the reasons diagnosing adult ADHD can be so tricky is because so many other conditions have similar symptoms.
The masking effect works both ways. For instance, the structured routines of someone with OCD might momentarily counteract ADHD's impulsivity, making the latter seem less pronounced. Similarly, the deep focus in specific subjects seen in Autism might overshadow ADHD's characteristic distractibility.
Why does this blending occur?
Despite these complexities, all hope isn't lost. With detailed assessments, a keen observational eye, and understanding the individual's unique experiences, clinicians can disentangle these overlapping conditions, making ADHD management much easier.
Since comorbid conditions are so common in ADHD, and because they can make diagnosis tricky, it’s important to be able to distinguish if one condition is “primary,” or if there are two full-fledged conditions at work. Primary diagnoses are the conditions that are most severe or resource-intensive.
While there is no clear-cut, 100% accurate way to determine this, there are a couple clues that can help your physician distinguish which condition is which:
In short - it’s complicated. Thankfully, determining which diagnoses are primary or secondary, and which symptoms go with which diagnosis, is a collaborative effort between you and your therapist or physician. There are a number of assessments and diagnostic tools that can help clarify this.
They do - sort of. While there are certain comorbidities of ADHD that occur more often in childhood, and others that occur more often in adulthood, it’s not always a person’s age that causes the comorbidities to change. Sometimes, it’s more a matter of environment. For example, adults with ADHD are much more likely to also have anxiety or substance use disorder (SUD). Children, on the other hand, are more likely to experience behavior and conduct disorders like Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder.
If you have ADHD and suspect you may also be dealing with coexisting conditions, it's essential to take a thoughtful and systematic approach to address your concerns. Here are some steps you can consider:
Remember, seeking professional help is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. ADHD and its comorbidities can be complex, and a tailored approach based on your specific needs is essential for successful management.
An adult ADHD coach specializes in helping clients develop strategies and skills to manage their challenges more effectively. Here's how an ADHD coach could be beneficial:
In short, coaching can be a valuable adjunct to traditional interventions, offering practical strategies and support tailored to the individual's unique needs.
Ready to find a virtual ADHD coach? Finding an ADHD coach online is as easy as searching “ADHD coach near me.” Or, even easier - try out Shimmer’s online ADHD coaching! Our coaches come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring with them a wide array of experience in different fields, so you’re sure to find one who’s s great fit for your needs.