OCD and ADHD: Understanding the Relationship

Diagnosing a condition like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not as simple as one might imagine. Some children and adults are naturally energized, so knowing the difference between natural energy and a serious condition like ADHD takes some knowledge. Other conditions can resemble ADHD, making it challenging for a physician to make the right call if medication is necessary.

Once an adequate diagnosis is made, researchers have discovered that, in addition to ADHD, an estimated 30 to 50 percent of people struggle with a learning disability, anger, trouble with  regulating their emotions, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s essential to identify each issue so that it’s treated accordingly.

The International OCD Foundation says OCD is believed to affect nearly 1 in 100 adults, and 1 in 200 children. The median age of onset is believed to be 19, with a quarter of cases coming about at age 14. One-third of adults with the condition had it as a child. It’s estimated that ADHD affects 5 to 9 percent of the population, while OCD only affects about 2 percent.

For those familiar with the topic, OCD commonly exists with other disorders like ADHD. It’s vital to understand the relationship between the two if you’re concerned about it affecting you. One significant issue similar to OCD-like behavior is autism spectrum disorder. You must talk to a doctor immediately to be given an adequate diagnosis.

What Causes OCD And ADHD?

Similar issues cause OCD and ADHD. Research has shown that problems in the frontal lobe are to blame for both ADHD and OCD, but ADHD is caused by underactivity in the brain, which is not enough dopamine and norepinephrine. OCD is said to be caused by overactivity, or too much serotonin in the brain.


It’s easy for doctors to misdiagnose ADHD as OCD when a child has trouble in school. The same goes for adults who have problems in the workplace. ADHD causes problems with executive functioning, such as planning, reasoning, organization, executing projects, and following through with work. These problems wreak havoc in the workplace or school.

A child struggling with OCD will spend a lot of time arranging, ordering, or checking their supplies or books. Their handwriting may appear to have problems with executive functions if the child is trying to keep order and organize their desk. Understanding the child’s or adult’s motivation is the key to diagnosis.

ADHD may result in coping skills that resemble OCD symptoms, and someone who’s easily distracted or has trouble organizing will spend too much time trying to organize and clean things. In most cases, it’s procrastination, which is a typical ADHD trait, but it could be a coping skill. Those with ADHD will become overstimulated by disorganization and clutter, which results in anxiety or shutting down.

If you’ve experienced these symptoms in your spouse, child, or someone you care for, it’s possible it’s more than anxiety or being a perfectionist. It might be the right time to schedule an appointment with a medical professional to help determine what’s going on in their lives. Fortunately, many treatment options are available that don’t require medication. Call an expert today for help.

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