Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

Bipolar disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) share some of the same symptoms, which can make it difficult for health professionals to distinguish between the two disorders. It’s also possible for bipolar disorder and ADHD to be co-occurring, meaning that someone has both at the same time. It’s essential to figure out whether signs and symptoms are indicating one or both of these disorders to determine the most effective treatment plan.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that creates alternating depressive and manic periods. These mood swings make it difficult to carry out a normal, healthy life. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another condition that’s disruptive to everyday living by affecting attention levels and behaviors.

These disorders include many of the same symptoms, which can make it difficult to make a differential diagnosis of one or the other. It’s also important for a mental health professional to assess for co-occurring disorders, because ADHD and bipolar disorder can present themselves at the same time.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

These two disorders can come with overlapping or similar symptoms. For example, with both disorders, you may:

  • Have an overabundance of energy
  • Feel restless
  • Experience sudden mood changes
  • Talk a lot

The depressive and manic sides of bipolar disorder both include having trouble concentrating and finishing projects, similar to ADHD. Otherwise, it’s the manic side that has symptoms most similar to ADHD, as bipolar mania can include trouble slowing down, impulsiveness, quick speaking, and restlessness.

While these disorders share certain symptoms, they are also distinct disorders with separate characteristics.

  • ADHD often shows itself in childhood, but it can also affect someone during adolescence and adulthood. This disorder has a range of symptoms that fall under three groups: hyperactivity, lacking attention and focus, and being impulsive.
  • Bipolar disorder involves a noticeable change between periods of depression and periods of mania that don’t seem to have a trigger. These periods are sometimes interrupted by normal mood states, but this is a chronic and recurring disorder.

Co-Occurring Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

While ADHD and bipolar disorder are separate disorders, they often co-occur. ADHD can affect a person over his or her lifetime, and the symptoms of bipolar disorder tend to reoccur, so these two disorders can co-occur frequently over a person’s lifetime.

It’s fairly common for people to have both disorders. Approximately 70 percent of people with bipolar disorder have ADHD. In turn, 20 percent of those who have an ADHD diagnosis end up being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

A review in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience explained that children with parents who have bipolar disorder have shown an increased likelihood of having ADHD and children with ADHD are also associated with an increased chance of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they are older.

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Treatment for Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

Having a qualified mental health professional provide an assessment and diagnosis is key to determining the right treatment. In some cases, a person may have overlapping symptoms of bipolar disorder and ADHD yet have only one of the disorders. In other cases, the person could have both as co-occurring disorders. Treatment should be tailored to the specific case.

Because the two disorders have similar symptoms, misdiagnosis happens. It’s important for professionals to look at the full picture to distinguish between the two disorders and determine if they are co-occurring, and patients should continue to seek help when symptoms do not improve.

Treatment of either bipolar disorder or ADHD generally includes medication, yet treatment of both disorders together can be complex. Studies in The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience review show that psychostimulant medication and atomoxetine medication—common treatments for ADHD—have the potential to trigger psychotic and manic symptoms, complicating the bipolar disorder. However, not all studies confirmed this, and some supported the use of these medications for people with both disorders. A combination of medications is often used when these disorders co-occur.

Medication is not the only form of treatment. Bipolar disorder treatment may also include psychotherapy and sometimes hospitalization. ADHD treatment often includes a multimodal approach with behavioral therapy, counseling and education. For one or both of these disorders, it may help to enter a treatment program, such as residential treatment.

Bipolar disorder and ADHD can be confused because of some of their similar symptoms, but they can also co-occur. Nonetheless, they have distinctive traits that help distinguish one from the other. Seek out a qualified mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.