Over 90 percent of people with a mental/behavioral condition have a co-existing health disorder. Sometimes called a “dual diagnosis,” comorbid conditions happen to the same person at the same time. For example, more than half of those with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have a comorbid condition that needs separate treatment.
Things get tricky when a co-existing disorder mimics ADHD (and/or vice-versa). Comorbid conditions can mask one another, result in inaccurate diagnoses, and give a false impression that a treatment is not working. With all this in mind, it becomes vital to know more about the most common comorbid conditions associated with ADHD.
What are Common Comorbid Conditions Associated with ADHD?
Let’s start with some facts, figures, and trends:
- If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, you have a much higher likelihood than the general population of also being diagnosed with Dyslexia, Tourette Syndrome, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
- Seven out of 10 adults with ADHD also need concurrent treatment for depression.
- About one-half of those struggling with ADHD are also struggling with some form of substance of abuse (including alcoholism).
- About 5 to 7 percent of people with ADHD also have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.
Other very common ADHD comorbidities are:
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Tic disorders
- Learning disabilities
- Executive function difficulties
- Language disabilities
- Fine and gross motor difficulties
What Do You Treat First?
Needless to say, there are many elements to be factored in when making such an assessment. Each person’s situation is unique. However, the general approach is to address the comorbid condition that is the cause of the most distress. For example, depression or substance abuse often requires our full attention before the focus can be aimed at ADHD. Your therapist will be right there with you as these crucial decisions are made.
Telling the Difference Between Symptoms of ADHD and a Comorbidity
File this under “easier said than done.” It’s not as if there’s a blood test that lays everything out neatly. The most basic and successful path is careful observation. If you or your child are having mood swings, you’ll want to keep an eye on the patterns. With ADHD, mood swings are typically the result of a noticeable life event (big or small). Hence, if you experience mood swings that appear and disappear without any obvious cause, your therapist may consider the possibility of Bipolar Disorder as a comorbidity.
Keeping a journal is critical for tracking symptoms and sharing them with your therapist. Let’s say you’ve been dealing with ADHD for a long time but only recently are experiencing anxiety. In such a case, you would want to track to see where and when the anxiety tends to surface. If it’s only when you’re at work, for example, your therapist might deem anxiety to be secondary to ADHD. A conclusion like this goes a long way in deciding on a treatment plan.
What If It’s My Child With ADHD?
ADHD usually emerges during childhood. Parents of children with this diagnosis must remain diligent when it comes to the appearance of new symptoms. As mentioned above, learning disorders can co-exist with ADHD. This is where careful observation is again so valuable.
A learning disorder requires extra help from the school and extra effort from the child. ADHD is already causing difficulties and distractions within the academic realm. You’ll need a team — parents, teachers, and healthcare providers inside and outside the school — to come up with the correct assessment of what’s causing the issue at school. From there, further steps can lead to the best approach for this particular child.
Any or all of the above may sound daunting. Fortunately, you can get the support you and your family need. Please contact me to discuss these options further.
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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret that offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the San Francisco Bay Area and online across California.