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ADHD and Co-Morbid Disorders

written by: Mayflor Markusic • edited by: jen2008 • updated: 7/28/2010

By itself, ADHD can significantly reduce a patient's quality of life. Unfortunately, the presence of ADHD may also mean a high risk of having other debilitating illnesses. The ADHD treatment strategy used to control the symptoms of ADHD must also address these co-morbid disorders.

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    What are the Co-Morbid Disorders of ADHD?

    The current ADHD treatment for your child may appear to be ineffective and this might be due to the presence of an undiagnosed co-morbid disorder. The thought of having another illness on top of ADHD is frustrating, but acknowledging the presence of a co-morbid disorder would be helpful in ultimately helping the child with ADHD. The symptoms of these additional psychiatric problems complicate the symptoms of ADHD and make the ADHD medications impotent. To effectively address the ADHD symptoms, both in children and adults, these co-morbid disorders must be discovered and treated simultaneously with ADHD. The following list presents the most common psychiatric disorders that are co-morbid with ADHD.

    1. Anxiety – If anxiety is brought about by ADHD, then treating ADHD is the primary concern. But if anxiety is a separate illness, the use of stimulants in treating ADHD may worsen the anxiety. In such a situation, patients may choose to treat anxiety using non-drug methods, such as cognitive techniques
    2. Bipolar disorder – The manic-depressive symptoms of this disorder are easily masked by the typical symptoms of ADHD. Medication alone is not best for bipolar disorder. There is a need for therapy, social support, and lifestyle changes.
    3. Depression – When depression is found, many psychiatrists advise that treating depression is more urgent than treating ADHD. This co-morbid disorder worsens impulsiveness and may even endanger the lives of the family, especially when there are weapons in the house.
    4. Enuresis – Without ADHD, dealing with enuresis is easier. But with ADHD, bed wetting becomes more upsetting and shameful, preventing the success of regular behavioral interventions. The inattention symptoms may also reduce the child's ability to cooperate with various treatments for enuresis. Read more information.
    5. Oppositional Defiant Disorder – The violent behavioral symptoms of ODD are often described as similar to the impulsiveness and hyperactivity of a child with ADHD. But ODD and ADHD are two different problems. Thus, besides ADHD medications, the child with ODD and ADHD must also undergo individual psychotherapy.
    6. Tourettes Syndrome – Characterized by motor and vocal tics, the symptoms of Tourettes syndrome is usually preceded with hyperactive behavior, which makes this co-morbid disorder easy to overlook in a child with ADHD. With this disorder, along with ADHD, the primary goal is to first address the most problematic of symptoms.

    The above list is not exhaustive, but it provides key information that will be helpful for parents and patients. It is always best to consult a psychiatrist to create a strategy for dealing with ADHD and co-morbid disorders.