Adults, ADHD, and 7 Other Conditions that Often Go with ADHD

Adults with ADHD often suffer from co-existing conditions that can make their lives – and the lives of their partners – even more complicated.  Here is a list of seven of the most common conditions that ride along with ADHD and information about why it's important to understand if you have any of them.  The numbers included here are taken from multiple research studies:

Depression:  Over their lifetime, more than half of adults with ADHD will suffer from diagnosable depression.  At any given point, 16-31% of adults are depressed.  Treat depression as well as ADHD to optimize your ability to find the energy to keep your life on track.  One particularly effective method for managing depression is regular aerobic exercise.  One research study suggested exercise is more effective for mood regulation than Zoloft.

Anxiety:  Between 24-43% of adults with ADHD also suffer from anxiety.  This causes relationship and personal problems with anxiety about what might happen interferes with good decision making, effectively paralyzing the person who has it.  Mindfulness training can help anxious people learn to differentiate thoughts from actual events.  In addition, certain medications may help lessen anxiety.   And having a partner who becomes more positive, accepting and flexible can help lessen anxiety.

Alcohol Dependence:  Alcohol can help calm the ADHD mind and is, therefore, adopted as a form of self-medication for many adults with ADHD, particularly before they are aware they have ADHD.  Research suggests as many as 21-53% of adults with ADHD have an alcohol dependence or abuse problem at some point in their lives.  12-step programs can be effective in managing this issue, and treating ADHD fully with medication as well as behavioral treatment can also lessen the desire to use alcohol as the tool of choice to calm the mind.

Undiagnosed Celiac Disease:  Though a recent meta-analysis on the research on dietary changes as treatment for ADHD suggests that diet does not impact ADHD symptoms very much, there is one group for whom this is not true.  17% of adults with ADHD have undiagnosed Celiac Disease (vs. 1% of the general population).  For those adults, dietary changes to eliminate gluten can make a huge difference in the expression of ADHD symptoms.

Learning Disabilities:  Eye tracking disorders that significantly slow down reading; dyslexia; dyscalculia; processing problems and other learning issues often go hand-in-hand with ADHD.  Particularly when ADHD is diagnosed at an early age it is important to check for learning issues so that a full treatment plan can be developed to help get through school and, later, work.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder:  Research suggests that 24-35% of younger adults with ADHD may also have some amount of ODD.  This number diminishes with age, as some move beyond it.

Conduct Disorder:  The combination of ADHD and Conduct Disorder is one of the most debilitating of all, and those who are diagnosed with hyperactivity as part of their ADHD as a child are more likely to suffer from this combination.  17-25% of those with ADHD also have Conduct Disorder, and the numbers of those with hyperactivity are even higher.  This is the combination can lead to particularly poor outcomes with the law and in the workplace, making early intervention and rigorous treatment and behavioral support particularly important for this group.

Why This is Important

There are two reasons why it’s important to know this information:

  • The presence of these co-existing conditions can ‘hide’ ADHD at time of diagnosis.  Make sure to get a full evaluation from a qualified caregiver if you think you may have one of these co-existing conditions.
  • Optimizing treatment means treating ADHD and anything else you might have, as well.

What Do I Treat First?

The answer to this question is not always straightforward.  Dr. Edward Hallowell suggests that you and your doctor should determine what condition is most getting in your way and work on that first.  So, for example, if you suffer from debilitating depression that keeps you from getting out of bed in the morning as well as ADHD, it may make sense to deal with the depression first so that you have the energy to tackle treating the ADHD.  Or, perhaps, medicinally treating both the depression and ADHD before moving into behavioral treatments for ADHD.

As another example, if you have anxiety that is related to under-performance due to ADHD symptoms, then it may make sense to tackle the ADHD treatment first in order to improve performance, then work on remaining anxiety issues.

The bottom line is that those with ADHD should not just assume they are only dealing with ADHD.  It’s best to have full knowledge.


Research statistics source:  Barkley, Murphy and Fischer ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says