- ADHD and anxiety often co-exist and the disorders can exacerbate each other.
- Many symptoms of the two disorders can overlap such as trouble concentrating, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, and restlessness.
- One of the tricky things about having these two conditions is that stimulants used to treat ADHD can exacerbate anxiety.
- This article was medically reviewed by Zlatin Ivanov, MD, who is certified in psychiatry and addiction psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology at Psychiatrist NYC.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Two very common mental health conditions are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Both disorders can hinder quality of life, and both have their own set of unique symptoms.
However, some symptoms overlap and in many cases, a person can have both conditions. In fact, about half of the adults who have ADHD also have an anxiety disorder, which can make diagnosis and treatment more complicated.
Here’s what you need to know about each condition, how they co-exist in many adults, and treatment options.
The link between ADHD and anxiety
When someone has both ADHD and anxiety, it is common for one to exacerbate the other, says Sonia Gaur MD, a psychiatrist with Stanford Health Care.
As a result, it can be difficult for psychiatrists to correctly diagnose both conditions, says Gaur. But a proper diagnosis is crucial because both conditions need to be treated separately, with different medications.
There are two key ways that you can begin to differentiate between ADHD and GAD:
- One of the main distinguishing factors between ADHD and anxiety is that ADHD symptoms typically begin, and are worse, in childhood, whereas anxiety typically crops up when you’re a teenager or adult. So it’s important to give your full symptom and diagnosis history to the psychiatrist, Gaur says.
- Another way to differentiate between the two conditions is that anxiety caused by GAD can arise for no apparent reason. For example, someone with GAD may wake up from a peaceful sleep and feel paralysed by anxiety with no detectable cause, Gaur says. On the other hand, someone with ADHD might only feel anxiety once they start to feel overwhelmed by certain tasks they have to do.
The symptoms of ADHD and anxiety
ADHD and GAD have their own unique set of symptoms. Many people with either condition will likely experience the following symptoms.
The symptoms of ADHD include:
- Trouble concentrating and finishing tasks
- Lack of time management skills
- Mood swings
The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling overwhelming anxiety, panic, or doom
- Feeling nervous
- Trouble concentrating
- Physical symptoms like racing heart, GI problems, or hyperventilation
Effects of ADHD medication on anxiety
One of the tricky aspects of treating ADHD and anxiety is that stimulants that are used to treat ADHD, such as Adderall or Ritalin, can make anxiety symptoms worse.
Anxiety in and of itself is listed as a potential common side effect of Adderall. Gaur says that stimulants can also cause symptoms like jitteriness, agitation, and a racing heartbeat, which may be mistaken for anxiety.
Additionally, if someone has been mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD, it is very likely that a stimulant will make their anxiety worse, Gaur says. This is why the correct diagnosis of both conditions is so important.
Treatment of ADHD and anxiety
When someone has both ADHD and an anxiety disorder, it’s important to first treat whichever one is more debilitating, Gaur says, especially since stimulants can possibly exacerbate anxiety.
Anxiety is typically treated with therapy and medications like SSRIs, a class of antidepressants, and ADHD is typically treated with stimulants.
When to see a doctor
If you think you have an anxiety disorder and/or ADHD and it’s disrupting your day-to-day, you can schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist for help.
Gaur says that it is easy to misdiagnose somebody’s ADHD and anxiety, so it’s important that a psychiatrist takes their time with the patient. You may need a couple of visits for a clear diagnosis.
So, if you are going to see a psychiatrist for possible anxiety, ADHD, or both be sure to give them an extensive, thorough history of your symptoms, and be patient for a diagnosis. Additionally, it’s important to be patient with treatment, since medications used for treating anxiety can take weeks or more to kick in.
Related articles from Health Reference:
- T he 3 types of non-stimulant ADHD medications and how they work
- How to recognise the symptoms of ADHD in adults
- How Adderall works and how it helps ADHD
- How to deal with anxiety and improve your mental health
- The difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack
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