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Depression Can Plague Adults With ADHD

Adult ADHD is a form of the childhood condition attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder that affects roughly 4 percent of the U.S. adult population, but frequently goes undiagnosed. Current scientific evidence indicates that adults affected by diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD have extremely high chances of developing at least one other mental health disorder, and many affected individuals develop multiple additional disorders. Psychiatric conditions specifically associated with adult ADHD include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders and a group of conditions that feature poor impulse control.

Adult ADHD Basics

The core symptoms of adult ADHD - hyperactivity, impulsivity and reduced attention control - don’t differ much from the core symptoms of childhood cases of the disorder. In fact, adults with ADHD invariably had the condition during childhood, whether or not they received a proper diagnosis at the time. In some cases, adults with the disorder experience fewer symptoms of hyperactivity than their child counterparts. They also tend to have slightly smaller overall amounts of ADHD-related symptoms. About 4.4 percent of U.S. adults have symptoms that qualify them for an ADHD diagnosis. However, only about 20 to 24 percent of all affected individuals ever receive such a diagnosis. In turn, only about 11 percent to 25 percent of diagnosed individuals receive effective treatment for their symptoms.

Prevalence of Other Conditions

While only 4 percent of the U.S. adult population has diagnosable ADHD, fully 17 percent to 22 percent of adults receiving treatment for another mental disorder also have ADHD, according to the authors of a report published in 2012 in Psychiatric Times. All told, anywhere from about 38 percent to 50 percent of people affected by adult ADHD also have a condition classified as an anxiety disorder. Examples of anxiety-related conditions frequently found in association with adult ADHD include social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia), generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Another condition formerly classified as an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also appears with unusual frequency in adults with prominent ADHD-related symptoms. Depressive illnesses associated with the presence of adult ADHD include major depression and a less well-known condition called dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. Sleep disorders associated with the condition (and also classified as mental disorders) include obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.

In a study published in 2011 in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, a team of Canadian researchers examined the overlap between ADHD and other mental health issues in a group of 129 adults. The authors of this study concluded that major depression is the single most common co-existing condition affecting people diagnosed with adult ADHD. The second and third most common co-existing conditions are social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Another group of conditions - then known as impulse-control disorders and now known as disruptive, impulse-control and conduct disorders - also appears with considerable frequency. Conditions in this category include intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, conduct disorder, and pyromania. A second modern study, published by researchers from the federal Veterans Administration, indicates that fully 93 percent of all adults with ADHD also have other diagnosable mental illnesses.


Some affected adults develop co-existing psychiatric conditions due to the impact of ADHD on their mental health. Others develop co-existing conditions when the same contributing factors that lead to the onset of ADHD also lead to the onset of another mental disorder. Doctors sometimes have difficulty properly identifying co-existing cases of adult ADHD and other mental disorders, according to the authors of a study published in 2009 in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. In some cases, this difficulty occurs when the symptoms of adult ADHD mask the symptoms of other disorders; in other cases, it occurs when the symptoms of another disorder mask the symptoms of adult ADHD.

Several other factors can contribute to problems either diagnosing or treating simultaneous cases of adult ADHD and other mental health problems. Examples of these factors include a relative lack of scientific knowledge about the overall picture of adult ADHD, lack of sufficient training among doctors in the proper diagnosis or treatment of ADHD in their adult patients, and a reluctance among doctors to use stimulant medications to treat ADHD symptoms in adults. The sheer complexity of the symptoms that can potentially appear in any given individual may also hinder both proper diagnosis and proper treatment.

Posted on October 12th, 2014
Posted in Depression

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