Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder share certain symptoms and traits, so much so that substantial research has gone into determining the depth of ADHD and bipolar disorder comorbidity. Additionally, the link between ADHD and bipolar symptoms is so evident that they’re often misdiagnosed for one another. However, they can even occur simultaneously. Today we’re looking into the relationship between these two conditions to determine why they’re related and why they co-occur.
What Is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders among children but can also affect adults. ADHD symptoms include inattention or difficulty focusing and concentrating, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
An estimated 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD.1,2 The disorder is usually identified in school-aged children, especially when it causes disruptive behavior in the classroom or problems in academic performance.
It may seem as if every child is hyperactive, but ADHD is much more than excessive talkativeness. Although many ADHD symptoms - such as difficulty remaining still for long periods or limited attention spans - are common among young kids, the difference is that symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity are noticeably greater in children with ADHD.
Kids with ADHD struggle with these symptoms to the point where it causes problems at school, at home, and with friends greater than expected for a child their age. The same goes for adults. Those with ADHD may struggle, especially in staying organized or completing their work or at-home responsibilities on time – more so than others – all because of their disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that range from depressive lows to manic highs, otherwise referred to as episodes of mania and depression. When people with bipolar disorder experience depression, they may have symptoms like sadness or hopelessness and lose interest in pleasurable activities.
When the person’s mood shifts to mania or hypomania (a less severe version of mania), they may feel euphoric, energetic, talkative, full of energy, and unusually irritable. These mood swings are severe enough to affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the person’s ability to think clearly and fulfill their responsibilities.
These bipolar disorder mood swings can occur rarely or multiple times a year, depending on the nature of the person’s diagnosis. There are also several kinds of bipolar disorder, such as bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder, each of which produces mood swings at different rates and levels of severity.
Bipolar and ADHD Relationship
Because of their similarities, we wanted to look into the link between ADHD and bipolar disorder to determine why they co-occur and how common their comorbidity is.
How Are ADHD and Bipolar Disorder Related?
As difficult as it can be to manage one of these disorders, imagine how challenging it is to be diagnosed with both. However, you can have ADHD and bipolar disorder simultaneously.
In a 2018 study on the comorbidity of bipolar and ADHD in adults, researchers sought to examine the prevalence of bipolar disorder among a group of 2.8 million people in Denmark. They found that bipolar disorder was almost 11 times more likely to occur in people with an underlying diagnosis of ADHD compared with people who had no prior diagnosis of the condition.
Although the specific connection is unclear, it's possible for ADHD and bipolar disorder to share genetic factors, as well. One 2015 study that examined data from 13,532 twins found that genetics linked to mania played a role in the development of ADHD in people with bipolar disorder.4
Another way to view this relationship is by their symptoms. It's understandable why people with ADHD (a condition associated with hyperactivity and impulsive behavior) may also struggle with manic episodes or symptoms of mania associated with bipolar disorder, including increased talkativeness, increased activity, reduced appetite, and reduced need for sleep.
Those who take ADHD medications may also be more likely to experience severe depressive moods when their medications wear off. It's common for people to experience a comedown or crash after the effects of stimulants wear off, which may play a factor in this relationship.
So how often do ADHD and bipolar disorder occur? Research suggests that ADHD and bipolar disorder often co-occur together. One 2021 study found that 1 in 13 adults with ADHD will also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and 1 in 6 adults with bipolar disorder had ADHD.5
How Are They Diagnosed?
Like other mental health disorders, ADHD and bipolar disorder are both diagnosed by physicians or psychiatrists according to the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5). The diagnosis criteria for ADHD is:6
Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities
Often has difficulty paying attention to tasks or activities
Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (their mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction)
Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (they starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked)
Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (schoolwork or homework, preparing reports, completing forms, reviewing lengthy papers)
Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (including school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones)
Is often easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli
Is often forgetful in daily activities (including doing chores, running errands, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments)
Six or more of these symptoms need to persist for at least six months to the degree that is not consistent with the individual’s developmental level and negatively impacts their social, academic, or occupational activities. For bipolar disorder, the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria include symptoms of both mania and depression, such as:7
Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
Decreased need for sleep
Increased talkativeness and energy
Increased goal-directed activity
Engaging in activities that hold the potential for painful consequences, like unrestrained buying sprees
Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
Loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
Significant weight loss or decrease or increase in appetite
Engaging in purposeless movements, such as pacing the room
Fatigue or loss of energy
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt
What Is the Difference Between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder?
Despite their relationship, ADHD and bipolar disorder are not the same things. While bipolar disorder is primarily a mood disorder, ADHD affects attention and behavior, causing symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
While ADHD is chronic and ongoing, bipolar disorder symptoms are episodic and interrupted by periods of normal mood interjected by depression, mania, and hypomania. Additionally, while a person with bipolar disorder may experience ADHD-like symptoms, they would not occur as persistently as they would in someone with ADHD.
Treatment for ADHD and Bipolar Disorder
Having one of these disorders can be challenging enough, so our Boca Raton Banyan rehab understands how comorbidity of bipolar disorder and ADHD can be difficult to manage without professional care. If you or someone you know has one or multiple mental health disorders, our inpatient mental health treatment can help.
At Banyan Treatment Center Boca, we offer a mental health program for all kinds of disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. Because these conditions often correlate with each other, we apply evidence-based treatment to ensure that every disorder the person has is individually addressed.
For more information about our mental health care, call our rehab in Boca Raton, Florida, today at 888-280-4763.
Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.