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What are the Most Common ADHD Comorbidities?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2016
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It is estimated that attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is accompanied by, or comorbid with, other mental health or neurological disorders in about 60 to 80 percent of all ADHD cases. ADHD comorbidities include emotional problems such as depression and anxiety, neurological disorders such as Tourettes syndrome, as well as learning disabilities and even enuresis, more commonly known as bed wetting. In many cases, ADHD comorbidities can present challenges to mental health professionals, as some ADHD medications or treatment protocols can be contraindicated in the treatment of comorbid conditions. Another factor to be considered in treatment is that some ADHD comorbidities may be caused by the social stresses of living with ADHD.

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In children, common ADHD comorbidities include a variety of behavioral problems, which may be diagnosed as a conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, though the behaviors may be more a manifestation of a child's hyperactivity than anything else. Depression and anxiety are other common comorbid conditions that may be the result of social isolation or difficulties in relationships with parents, teachers, and authority figures. Chronic bed wetting, a common ADHD comorbidity, may be the result of this anxiety and stress. Even more challenging is the issue of inaccurate diagnoses and the possibility of causing more harm through inappropriate treatment. For example, some symptoms of ADHD, including inattention and irritability, may also be symptoms of autism, Asperger's syndrome, or biopolar disorder. In the latter case there is some risk of exacerbating the condition through common pharmaceutical treatments for ADHD, which often involve the use of stimulant drugs.

Adults who had ADHD as children may continue to show symptoms of ADHD comorbidities, and in some cases may develop new conditions, possibly as a result of traumatic events and low self-esteem caused by school and social difficulties. Individuals with adult attention deficit disorder may continue to struggle with depression and anxiety and may self-medicate through the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. These clients may prove difficult to treat by doctors and therapists, particularly if their ADHD was not diagnosed in childhood. Some adults find that their ADHD symptoms wane over time, so a mental health professional may not diagnose the condition and thus can lack a full understanding of the individual's history. Without this information, treatment of that client's ADHD comorbidities may be ineffective or misguided, as the clinician does not understand that the conditions are comorbid with a longstanding developmental disorder.

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