OCD and ADHD have similar symptoms such as inattention and distractibility. Possible coexistence can confuse diagnosis and may result in misdiagnosis. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are both conditions that can make it difficult for people to pay attention, hindering the ability to function at school or work.ADHD and OCD affect similar parts
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are both conditions that can make it difficult for people to pay attention, hindering the ability to function at school or work.
ADHD and OCD affect similar parts of the brain: Both conditions may cause a person to take a long time to get things done, or they may cause difficulty in relationships with others. However, there are also key differences between the two conditions, including the fact that ADHD is much more common, especially in children.
In some people, symptoms of OCD can overlap with the symptoms of ADHD. Here’s what you should know about ADHD, OCD, and whether the conditions can occur together.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that, by some estimates, affects about 11% of school-age children and about 4% of adults. The symptoms of ADHD can present in different ways, depending sometimes on a person’s sex or age.
The symptoms usually fall into these three categories:
These can present as common symptoms, including:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health illness in which intrusive, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) are repeated over and over again, to the point that they interfere with a person’s functioning.
OCD occurs in 2.3% of people. Although it’s most often diagnosed in adulthood, research indicates that OCD can occur in a small percentage of children as well.
OCD is structured around these two primary categories of symptoms:
These core symptoms can manifest in common symptoms of OCD, including:
At first glance, OCD and ADHD appear to be very different. However, they have a number of commonalities, which can make it difficult to get a proper diagnosis.
People with OCD and patients with ADHD both experience abnormalities in the brain's frontostriatal circuits, the neural pathways that connect the frontal lobes of the brain with the ganglia.
A 2020 study found that ADHD was associated with a reduced brain volume in these areas. A 2017 study found that people with OCD had functionally abnormal connections in the frontostriatal circuits compared to healthy individuals.
ADHD and OCD both make it difficult for people to complete a task. People with ADHD might not have the ability to focus on a task until completion, while people with OCD have their focus continually interrupted by obsessive thoughts and compulsions.
Because of these difficulties regulating attention, people with OCD and ADHD often struggle to reach their full potential at school and work. This is not due to their cognitive abilities, but due to the symptoms of their disorder.
ADHD and OCD both can complicate relationships with others. Symptoms of ADHD, including lack of impulse control and insistent talking, can make friendships difficult for kids and adults. And for people with OCD, the time that is dedicated to certain obsessions and compulsions can make relationships difficult, particularly if the obsessions they are experiencing are violent or sexual in nature.
People with ADHD or OCD are at an increased risk for developing other disorders or health conditions, including:
OCD and ADHD share risk factors, including:
Although OCD and ADHD can have some similar effects on a person’s life, they are very different disorders. One distinguishing difference between OCD and ADHD can be risk tolerance. People with OCD tend to avoid risk and strive to be in control, whereas people with ADHD tend to be impulsive.
These opposite effects are seen in the brains of people with OCD and ADHD. People with OCD have more activity in the affected frontostriatal area, whereas people with ADHD have less.
OCD is generally considered an internalizing disorder, which means that the symptoms cause internal stress. ADHD is often considered an externalizing disorder, which means that the symptoms impact how a person interacts with their environment.
Finally, about 40% of kids with ADHD will outgrow the condition by the time they reach adulthood, whereas people with OCD will often have to manage the condition throughout their lives.
Both OCD and ADHD are chronic conditions that can be treated with behavioral and medical interventions. The conditions are treated differently so it's important to see your healthcare provider to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for ADHD typically includes behavioral modifications based on symptoms, therapy, and prescription medications, often psychostimulants. The treatment for OCD involves cognitive therapies and medications, often antidepressants.
Some people with OCD can present with symptoms—like inattention—that might be misdiagnosed as ADHD. Because of this, a 2017 study recommended that healthcare providers treat OCD first, then address symptoms of ADHD in individuals who present with symptoms of both conditions.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is dealing with both ADHD and OCD, talk with a trusted healthcare professional who is experienced in treating co-occurring mental health disorders. Research in this area is constantly changing, as are treatment recommendations. Your healthcare provider will help develop a plan that is specific to you.
ADHD and OCD are two different conditions that can present with some similarities. Both may trigger an inability to focus or sit still or trouble getting along with others. However, there are key differences, including how each condition affects brain activity and how their symptoms and behaviors present. It's important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.
Both ADHD and OCD can interfere with your ability to reach your full potential at school or work. In some cases, people with OCD can exhibit symptoms that mimic those of ADHD.
Scientists are still learning about the connection between these complex conditions. If you’re living with one or both, find a trusted healthcare provider who will work with you on a treatment regimen that helps you reach your goals.
People with OCD often live by rigid routines, which can be hard for people with ADHD to maintain. Having one condition can complicate treating the other.
If someone exhibits symptoms of both ADHD and OCD, they will likely need treatment for both conditions.
Stimulants can sometimes make symptoms of OCD worse. This includes amphetamines, a class of medications that are often used to treat ADHD. If you’re experiencing symptoms of both ADHD and OCD, talk with your healthcare provider about the best treatment protocol for you.