By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 27 May 2008)
Children and adults with ADHD may also have other conditions that can complicate or exacerbate ADHD symptoms. These conditions are quite diverse, and each requires a different type of treatment.
Up to 50% of ADHD children, particularly boys, have oppositional defiant disorder, which manifests as belligerence and defiance and usually includes severe outbursts of temper. Such children are far more argumentative than others their age.
Anywhere from 20% to 40% of children with ADHD manifest an even more severe form of antisocial behaviour known as conduct disorder. These children regularly fight, steal, lie, vandalize, and carry weapons, and they are at high risk for substance abuse. Conduct disorder requires immediate and extensive psychological intervention.
The incidence of bipolar disorder among ADHD children is not known, and is complicated by the fact that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two disorders. Adults suffering from bipolar disorder experience a cycle of intense lows and highs, whereas bipolar children are more inclined to experience a chronic blended state of depression, elation, and irritability.
Reduced sleep and high energy are characteristic of both ADHD and bipolar disorder in children. However, the bipolar child may exhibit grandiosity, whereas the ADHD child is more inclined to suffer from low self-esteem.
Depression or Anxiety
Because neurotransmitter problems have been implicated in ADHD, many children and adults with ADHD also suffer from either depression or anxiety, or both. These conditions can worsen the symptoms of ADHD. In serious cases, antidepressants may be prescribed.
As many as 20% to 30% of those with ADHD also have at least one learning disability, most commonly in the area of linguistic understanding or expression, though learning disabilities affecting mathematics may also occur. Reading and spelling disorders are the most common among young children with ADHD, with dyslexia affecting approximately 8%. Learning disabilities may require that parents and educators collaborate to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD manifests as compulsive, repetitive s such as checking things over and over again; hoarding or collecting objects; excessive cleaning rituals (i.e., washing hands a hundred times a day); compulsive counting or adding up of numbers; nail biting; pulling out or twisting hair; or picking at cuticles, sores, or scabs. OCD symptoms can often be reduced or eliminated with the same medications that are used to treat depression and anxiety.
Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by a variety of repetitive mannerisms and nervous tics (facial twitches, blinks, snorting, involuntary blurting out of words, throat clearing, etc.), occurs in a small percentage of those with ADHD. Those with Tourette’s syndrome are far more likely to have ADHD than those in the general population, however. There are a number of different medications that are effective for treating Tourette’s syndrome.
For more information about ADHD, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and related conditions, see the main ADHD page.
- Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance. (n.d.). “What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Caddra.ca.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). “Symptoms of ADHD.” Cdc.gov.
- National Institutes of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Nimh.Nih.gov.
- Silver, L., MD. (2007). “Diagnosing Related Conditions in ADHD Children and Adults.” ADDITUDE: Living Well with ADHD and Learning Disabilities. Additudemag.com.