Looking at a Comparative Psychiatry study
It’s common for adults with ADHD to also have another co-occurring mental health diagnosis, according to a study published in Comparative Psychiatry. Rates of mental health disorders are significantly higher among adults with ADHD, suggesting that ADHD itself may be a predictor of other mental health difficulties.
ADHD and Other Comorbidities
For the study, researchers reviewed psychiatric profiles of a sample of adults seeking outpatient psychiatric care. Each of the 1,134 participants participated in a semi-structured diagnostic interview based on DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for various mental health disorders. The study’s findings showed a significant connection between ADHD and other mental health conditions.
Patients who had ADHD were more likely to experience social phobia, impulse control disorders, borderline personality disorder, alcoholism, and eating disorders. They were less likely to experience adjustment disorders or major depressive disorder. Patients with ADD—the inattentive type of ADHD without a hyperactivity component—were more likely to have eating disorders and social phobia.
The Connection Between ADHD and Mental Illness
The study did not explore and does not specify why ADHD is a predictor of other mental health issues. A number of factors could be at play, and it is unlikely that just one explanation accounts for the full spectrum of mental health issues associated with ADHD. Some possibilities include:
• Genetic influences that lead to ADHD are similar to those that lead to other mental health disorders.
• The challenges of life with ADHD. ADHD makes everyday tasks challenging, and environmental factors can contribute to a number of mental health issues. It’s possible that ADHD triggers environmental changes that in turn trigger further mental health difficulties.
• ADHD symptoms could accompany some mental health diagnoses. For example, bipolar disorder can impede concentration and contribute to hyperactive behavior, mimicking the symptoms of ADHD.
The Challenges of Diagnosing Adult ADHD
Many clinicians still treat ADHD as a childhood disorder. Some even tell parents that their children will grow out of their condition. For this reason, adults with ADHD—particularly those for whom symptoms only appeared in adulthood—may experience delays in diagnosis. They may be incorrectly diagnosed with other disorders, such as impulse control issues, depression, or personality disorders. This study makes it clear not only that ADHD can and does persist into adulthood, but that adulthood ADHD is a significant predictor of other mental illnesses.
Common Symptoms of Adult ADHD
Knowing the symptoms of adult ADHD can help you get an accurate diagnosis. Clinicians sometimes focus on behavior in school when diagnosing children, so detecting hyperactivity and inattention in adults may prove challenging. Some signs to monitor for include:
• An intense need for stimulation; you might find boredom intolerable.
• Chronic procrastination, even when you commit to completing something on time.
• Difficulty remembering dates, deadlines, and where you placed familiar objects. Chronic forgetfulness and missed deadlines are a hallmark of ADD and ADHD.
• Impulsive or aggressive behavior, particularly during times of stress.
• Substance abuse; while not always a symptom of ADHD, some people with ADHD turn to drugs and alcohol to manage their symptoms.
• Depression, anxiety, and other symptoms as a result of problems at work or in relationships.
• Difficulty listening to other people or following a conversation.
• Frequently fidgeting or interrupting others during conversations.
If you suspect you have adult ADHD, tell your clinician your symptoms, since mentioning ADHD can increase the odds of an accurate diagnosis. Lifestyle remedies, therapy, and stimulant medications can all help symptoms, and a combination of all three typically works best.
ADHD comorbidities revealed in adult patients. (2016, June 29). Retrieved from http://www.clinicalpsychiatrynews.com/specialty-focus/bipolar-disorder/c…|%20ADHD%20Comorbidities%20|
Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (2016, March 31). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/home/ovc-20198864
Joel Young, M.D Posted Jul 20, 2016 When Your Adult Child Breaks Your Heart
Coping with mental illness, substance abuse, and the problems that tear families apart
Joel Young, M.D., teaches psychiatry at Wayne State University, and is the Medical Director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine.