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What Is the Connection between ADHD and PTSD?

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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2016
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The connection between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is that the symptoms of each condition can mimic one another, sometimes increasing the chances of a misdiagnosis. This problem is often prevalent in children who exhibit symptoms of ADHD such as difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, and risky impulsive actions. The main difference is that these children have experienced an especially frightening or disturbing event such as war, domestic violence, or a natural disaster. Their resulting behaviors can often cause confusion among mental health therapists who may not be experienced in differentiating between ADHD and PTSD.

ADHD and PTSD often have similar surface symptoms in young sufferers who have not yet developed the advanced communication skills needed to describe traumatic events in detail or to articulate the lasting effects. Mental health professionals can usually gain deeper insight by asking such patients specific questions about past negative life experiences that could be possible causes of PTSD. One of the main differences between the two conditions is that PTSD in both children and adults carries higher amounts of anxiety, fear, and worry. Psychologists or psychiatrists often note high rates of negative emotion about a certain event as supporting evidence for diagnosing PTSD.

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Some differentiating symptoms of ADHD include prominent feelings of frustration rather than anxiety. Many ADHD sufferers feel periodic anger towards themselves for their distractibility and difficulties focusing on one task or conversation at a time. These negative feelings often lead to socially inappropriate outbursts in children with ADHD and relationship problems among adults with ADHD. Both ADHD and PTSD carry higher risks of substance abuse for adults as well.

Signs of PTSD can frequently include persistent nightmares, insomnia, and visual flashbacks of the traumatizing event while awake. These types of symptoms can cause noticeable problems with school or job performance that are often associated with ADHD. Mental health specialists often report that both men and women with PTSD have difficulty facing otherwise common life situations that remind them of their trauma. These particular behaviors are usually deciding factors for different ADHD and PTSD diagnoses.

Treatments for ADHD and PTSD are also markedly different. Many people diagnosed with ADHD benefit from prescription medication combined with behavioral therapy. Some ADHD sufferers may also find biofeedback an effective treatment option. PTSD sufferers are also treated with psychotherapy that can be more intensive and different in its approach.

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