Are Bipolar Disorder and ADHD Related?

Bipolar disorder is known as a neurological brain disorder that affects 2.3 million Americans today, or one percent of the total adult population. While the condition typically starts in adolescence or early adulthood, there are some cases where individuals develop bipolar disorder in their 40s or 50s.

Bipolar is also labeled as manic-depressive illness, and those who are diagnosed will experience mood swings that alternate from severe highs to extreme lows. Suicide is the number one cause of death among those with bipolar, and 15 percent to 17 percent will take their own lives as a result of the adverse symptoms.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity that will interfere with functioning and development. Unfortunately, some individuals with ADHD are prone to developing other mental health-related disorders once they become adults. These can be major depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder.

Researchers still have a lot to learn about the neurological interaction between these two disorders. The initial reports show that anywhere from nine percent to 35 percent of adults with bipolar disorder also struggle with ADHD. Many of those with bipolar disorder find that even when their mood is stabilized with the right medication, they will continue to struggle with meeting deadlines, staying focused on a task, and staying organized.

Those struggling often beat themselves up mentally because they lack motivation and don’t know why. In these cases, however, it seems that ADHD may be the culprit, and by getting treatment for both disorders, they will control their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as well as improving their lives.

Adult ADHD Symptoms

While ADHD is not debilitating like bipolar disorder, it can still cause someone to have problems in their life. The most common symptoms of ADHD may include:

  • Feeling restless
  • Problems with organizing
  • Inability to focus on tasks
  • Feeling easily frustrated
  • Impulsive decision-making
  • Unable to cope with stress

Distinguishing Between Bipolar Disorder And ADHD


There may be an overlap between the symptoms of mania or hypomania associated with bipolar disorder and ADHD. Some of these include talkativeness, distractibility, loss of social functioning, difficulty maintaining attention. Doctors typically use several criteria when they try to determine the difference between bipolar disorder and ADHD or assess if the conditions are co-occurring.

A good indication someone is struggling with ADHD will include the onset of symptoms at a young age, and continuing symptoms will occur in the absence of manic, depressive, or hypomanic episodes. If the symptoms are cyclical, and someone has an increase in goal-directed activity, a decreased need for sleep, or an inflated sense of self, they may be experiencing a hypomanic or manic episode rather than ADHD.

The following examples are questions your doctor might ask to assist them in diagnosing ADHD as well as bipolar disorder, which include:

  • Are you experiencing symptoms of impulsivity, hyperactivity, or inattention since childhood?
  • Are there environmental stressors that may contribute to the symptoms?
  • Do you struggle with impulsivity or inattention when your mood is stable?
  • Do you have other psychiatric or medical conditions that may contribute to the symptoms?
  • Do these symptoms interfere with relationships, work, or other daily routines?

For a doctor to diagnose ADHD and/or bipolar disorder, they must rule out other potential diagnoses that may contribute to symptoms. Some of these include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Physical illness
  • Head injuries
  • Sleep disorders
  • Major depression
  • Personality disorders
  • The effects of substance abuse

Doctors will also rule our situational and environmental stressors that may produce symptoms. Only a trained physician can make this determination.

How To Treat Bipolar Disorder Or ADHD

When someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD, they are at a much higher risk of abusing substances, have relationship problems, legal problems, and suicidal behavior. It is essential for early intervention and comprehensive treatment that allows healthy functioning. Due to the effects of bipolar disorder and their severity, if left untreated, treatment considerations will involve mood stabilizers before treating your ADHD symptoms.

To treat bipolar disorder, it often requires a variety of medications, education, and therapy. Treatment will also include psychoeducation about healthy coping and how dangerous it can be to abuse substances. Those with ADHD and bipolar are at a greater risk of abusing substances and self-medicating their symptoms.

If you believe you may have an ADHD diagnosis in addition to bipolar disorder, you must schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss your concerns. They will likely refer you to a mental health professional for a thorough assessment. You need to remember that your symptoms are not a failure, and you can’t be afraid to speak up about your struggles. The more accurately you report the signs, however, the better chance you have at treating them.

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