Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety can both cause people to feel restless and unable to concentrate. Individuals may have one or both of these conditions.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause attention difficulties, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
Anxiety is a natural emotion, but it can become problematic if people experience frequent or constant anxiety. Anxiety may interfere with everyday life and affect a person’s ability to focus and carry out tasks.
Symptoms of ADHD and anxiety can overlap, which can make it difficult to tell the difference between each condition. It is also possible for people to have both ADHD and anxiety.
This article explains how to tell ADHD and anxiety apart, the diagnosis and treatment for each, and when to contact a doctor.
According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, the key differences between ADHD and anxiety are:
|may cause difficulty concentrating even when the mind is calm
|may cause difficulty concentrating in situations that trigger anxiety
|anxiety may typically arise in relation to problems caused by ADHD symptoms
|can cause a constant state of worry or anxiety
|symptoms can include forgetfulness, a short attention span, impulsivity, and an inability to sit still
|symptoms can include feelings of dread or danger, sweating, trembling, and a rapid heartbeat
People who have both ADHD and anxiety may experience persistent anxiety in many areas and have difficulty concentrating in multiple situations.
Symptoms of anxiety may depend on the type of anxiety disorder individuals have.
People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may have persistent, long-term feelings of anxiety or dread that can affect their everyday life. Other symptoms of GAD include:
- feeling on edge or restless
- difficulty concentrating
- becoming easily fatigued
- feeling irritable
- uncontrolled worry
- stomach aches or digestive issues
- muscle aches or unexplained pains
- difficulty sleeping
Other symptoms of anxiety disorders may include panic attacks, intense fear or dread in social situations, or phobias.
The ADHD symptoms people experience may depend on the type of ADHD they have. Predominantly inattentive presentation ADHD includes the following symptoms:
- difficulty paying attention
- appearing not to be listening
- difficulty following instructions
- trouble with organization
- dislike or avoidance of tasks that require continued mental effort
- easily distracted
Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation ADHD includes the following symptoms:
- difficulty remaining seated
- extreme restlessness
- difficulty engaging in activities quietly
- excessive talking and blurting out
- interrupts others and has difficulty waiting their turn
People with combined presentation may have a mixture of all the above symptoms. Symptoms of ADHD can also change throughout a person’s life.
ADHD symptoms can overlap with other disorders, such as anxiety, so healthcare professionals may need to make multiple diagnoses to determine which conditions are present.
A healthcare professional may conduct questionnaires and interviews with the individual and their family members. When diagnosing children, doctors may also wish to speak with teachers.
Healthcare professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) and a thorough evaluation process to diagnose ADHD. This may include:
- taking a medical and symptom history and assessing current coping mechanisms
- assessing developmental and academic levels, emotional and social functioning, and age-appropriate behaviors or childhood history for adults
- using checklists for rating ADHD symptoms
- testing to rule out any other conditions or disabilities
- talking with parents, teachers, or family members about a person’s symptoms
- assessment of hearing and vision to rule out other medical conditions
To diagnose anxiety, a doctor may assess symptoms and rule out any other medical issues which could be causing anxiety symptoms.
Can a person have ADHD and anxiety?
According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, up to 30% of children with ADHD and 53% of adults with ADHD may have an anxiety disorder.
Treatments for ADHD may include a combination of medications and therapies, such as:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- counseling, including relationship or family counseling
- ADHD coaching to find specific strategies to help each person
- stimulant medication, such as Adderall
- nonstimulant medication, such as Strattera
Treatments for anxiety may include CBT or medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
According to a 2022 research article, stimulants may not worsen anxiety symptoms and may help both ADHD and anxiety symptoms. Atomoxetine may be a beneficial treatment for people with both ADHD and anxiety.
People can contact a doctor if they experience symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, or both. Getting a prompt diagnosis can help individuals get treatment and support in managing symptoms.
ADHD and anxiety symptoms can be similar, and having both conditions is possible.
Both conditions can cause difficulty concentrating in certain situations. However, anxiety may also cause symptoms such as panic attacks and feelings of dread, while ADHD can cause impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Medications and therapies, such as CBT, can help treat either or both conditions. Speaking with a doctor can help a person achieve an accurate diagnosis and treatment that will ease their symptoms.