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The Link Between Anxiety Disorders and Adult ADHD

written by: M. Staker • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/28/2010

Studies have shown that approximately 50% of adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) also meet the criteria for some type of anxiety disorder. Learn more about this relationship and why these two disorders often coexist.

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    Anxiety Disorders and Adult ADHD

    Experts are not quite sure whether ADHD causes anxiety disorders or whether anxiety disorders cause ADHD. Some people think that as adults, the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more internal than external, and that this causes sufferers to experience more stress and anxiety. Sometimes anxiety is masked by the symptoms of ADHD and, therefore, goes untreated. It is important for individuals with ADHD to also look out for signs of anxiety because these two disorders do not go well together. With proper diagnosis and treatment, these individuals can go on to lead normal lives.

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    Why Adults with ADHD Might Also Suffer From an Anxiety Disorder

    Though experts are still not sure why anxiety disorders and adult ADHD often coexist, there are a few theories that may explain this relationship. Most adults who have ADHD deal with a lot of stress and frustration in their daily lives. What may be considered a typical day for most people is much more difficult for someone with ADHD. In time, this additional stress can lead to more serious problems, such as anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders may also be common among adults with ADHD because of the difficulties that they have making adjustments to fit into the situations that they are faced with. It is also known that adults with ADHD have problems maintaining meaningful relationships and jobs. These are both stressful situations for anyone, but for someone with ADHD, they may be even more stressful because they are happening to them so much more often.

    ADHD is often treated with stimulant drugs. These drugs have a tendency to cause nervousness and anxiety and prolonged use of them may lead to an anxiety disorder of some kind. Adults who take stimulant medications and are having symptoms of anxiety should speak to their doctor. There are some medications on the market that can be used to treat both ADHD and anxiety.

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    The Effects of Anxiety on ADHD

    Adults who have ADHD and anxiety may notice that their symptoms seem worse. This is because anxiety can make the symptoms of ADHD much more difficult to manage. People with anxiety often suffer from frequent sleep disturbances. And not getting enough sleep has been proven to magnify the symptoms of ADHD.

    Because anxiety often goes unnoticed in adults with ADHD, it is important to watch out for any signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Many of the symptoms of ADHD are similar to those of anxiety disorders, so it can be very difficult to distinguish between the two disorders. Treating both of them is important in order to improve the patient's quality of life.

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    Resources

    Northern County Psychiatric Associates: ADHD in Adults: It Rarely Travels Alone

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America: Adult ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

    ADDitude: Depression, Anxiety, and ADHD

    MedicineNet: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder