ADHD and Anxiety: When Symptoms Collide, There Is Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

Having ADHD or anxiety alone is distressing enough. But having co-occurring ADHD and anxiety puts even more barriers in your way of an empowered and productive life. But comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment exists to tackle these complications and to build a unique path to recovery and resilience.

Because of the overlap in ADHD and anxiety symptoms, it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other. Symptoms of one disorder can mask symptoms of the other. And it can be challenging to land on a dual diagnosis that can make way for the complete treatment that is necessary.

But that is speaking from a clinical perspective about diagnosis and treatment. When you or someone you care about is suffering from anxiety and ADHD at the same time, the confusion and distress are immense. And it’s likely that as much as 50 percent of people with ADHD suffer from anxiety simultaneously. But this compounding hardship does not necessarily bring help and treatment closer. For a lot of people struggling with these distracting, perhaps frightening, disorders, their symptoms make it more difficult to seek adequate treatment. They face an even greater need for help and support on the way to rehabilitation.

When ADHD and Anxiety Occur Together

ADHD and anxiety, when occurring individually, do present with some unique symptoms. Someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example, may struggle with listening and then following instructions, whereas someone with anxiety alone may not face that challenge. Someone with anxiety may experience fear that cannot be traced back to an obvious cause, but ADHD alone doesn’t tend to manifest a similar symptom.

But there are many symptoms of ADHD and anxiety that overlap. And when these two disorders do occur together, they certainly provoke and exacerbate each other. So, a person’s ability to cope with their symptoms and with the challenges of life can become severely strained.

Symptoms of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can come with some of the following symptoms or more:

  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disorganized interactions with time and the physical environment
  • Forgetfulness
  • Short attention span
  • Impulsivity
  • Restlessness
  • Fidgeting and a difficulty sitting still
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty with time management
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Irritability and a short temper
  • Mood swings
  • Unproductive multi-tasking

ADHD Symptoms That Become Even Worse with Anxiety

When anxiety disorders occur at the same time as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, symptoms can worsen in the following ways:

  • You become excessively worried about what you can or cannot accomplish
  • Your ability to focus and concentrate can decrease even more
  • Your stress increases, as does your physical and emotional experience of that stress
  • You feel on edge much of the time
  • You may feel fatigued—and perhaps even more strained in your attempts to get things done
  • You may find socialization even more difficult than usual

Symptoms of Anxiety On Top of ADHD

Of course, anxiety also brings its own range of distressing symptoms:

  • Worry and fear
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Physical discomfort, including stomachaches or headaches
  • Fear of change and new things

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What Are the Benefits of Dual-Diagnosis Treatment for ADHD and Anxiety

When you or someone you know has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and an anxiety disorder together, the treatment is not typically the same as if they had one of the disorders alone. Neither is this dual-diagnosis treatment a straightforward prescription. Clinicians can carefully consider a client’s particular symptoms and life circumstances to develop a working treatment plan that can evolve with the individual’s needs. In other words, although treatment for these multiple disorders is more complicated and challenging, recovery is possible with the right professional attention.

Comprehensive treatment approaches focus not just on unique symptoms but also on the intersections and the complications unique to this overlap of disorders. In some cases, anxiety symptoms begin to develop as a result of complications and distressing symptoms related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In other cases, an anxiety disorder occurs simultaneously but not as a result of the ADHD. Only an experienced clinician can get to the bottom of this dual-diagnosis relationship and determine the very best treatment path for the person.

Contrary to some misconceptions, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not an anxiety disorder. The medications typically prescribed for the two distinct conditions are different. And when these disorders are co-occurring, close supervision is necessary to determine the very best pharmacological direction. Especially at the start of the recovery journey, it is ideal for a person to be in a residential treatment environment for the very best, most secure clinical supervision and the best opportunities for comfort and empowerment.

In this kind of setting, regular triggers and stressors can also be minimized. And support exists in many forms, from clinical to a peer community to family involvement in treatment. Therapy is where treatment for ADHD and anxiety can really come together. Approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy can address many of the underlying challenges of both disorders—as well as the complicated points of overlap between them. The typical coping strategies for ADHD or those for anxiety alone may not be enough; an experienced therapist can help a client to discover the skills that work for them.

And they can practice those skills in an empowering community setting. Here, too, relaxation techniques and other holistic therapies for overall wellness can promote success in recovery for the long term. After a stay in residential mental health treatment, the disorders and related challenges have not necessarily gone away, but clients have practiced and are specifically geared to face those challenges with tools and confidence in their daily lives.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders as well as process addictions and phase of life issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.