Stemming from unusual activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, both OCD and ADHD share a number of common symptoms although they are fundamentally different disorders. While ADHD is thought to be caused by under activity in the brain and OCD is thought to be caused by overactivity, the two disorders are often misdiagnosed for one another. While this may seem inconsequential given the similarities between the two disorders, it is important to understand the differences between the two so that people can get the care that is not only effective for their disorder but appropriate. If a misdiagnosis is given, ill-fitted treatment options can not only be ineffective but also dangerous.
How Are ADHD And OCD Similar?
Because they share an origin point in the brain, OCD and ADHD share several similarities. The frontal lobe is responsible, in part, for a person’s attention span, attention shifting, mental flexibility, habits, and goal-directed behaviors. When that part of the brain is functioning anomalously it can make it harder for people to make decisions, remember things, focus on singular tasks, plan, multitask, and even function in social or work settings.
Many people with ADHD and OCD struggle with school, work, or home maintenance because of their disorders. People with either disorder may often find themselves late to work or school, have trouble focusing and completing the tasks at hand, develop external coping mechanisms to manage their symptoms, or even make frequent mistakes.
Academic and Career Interference: Because both ADHD and OCD affect time management, multitasking, and focus, they can create issues for people in the school and work environment. Not only can people with both conditions struggle to follow assigned tasks, but they can also be late, unfocused, and unorganized.
Family & Social Issues: ADHD and OCD often cause issues within people’s social and familial circles. The inability to keep plans, frequent compulsions and other emotional symptoms can put a strain on families as they try to find ways to help their loved ones manage their disorder.
Concurrent Conditions: Both ADHD and OCD are frequently diagnosed concurrently with other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and anger disorders.
Sleep Disturbance: ADHD and OCD can both cause sleep disturbances, difficulty sleeping, and even problems with intense and disturbing dreams.
Digestive Problems: Digestion issues are common with both ADHD and OCD.
Damaging to Self-Image and Confidence: Because ADHD and OCD can negatively affect peoples’ social and professional lives these disorders can be damaging to the self-esteem and confidence of those affected.
While OCD and ADHD have a wide array of similarities, these conditions are distinctly different. This is why avoiding misdiagnosis is so important.
The Difference Between OCD & ADHD
OCD and ADHD are different from one another on a fundamental level. Although they originate in the same part of the brain, ADHD is considered an externalized condition while OCD is internalized. What this means is that ADHD affects the way that people under stress interact with their environment. People with OCD are more prone to internalizing their stressors into compulsions and repetitive thoughts.
Additionally, people with OCD and ADHD often approach risky behaviors in dramatically different ways. People with OCD are less likely to engage in risky behaviors as the internalization of their disorder makes them more indecisive and often fearful of bodily injury or the injury of others. ADHD often increases a person’s impulsivity and therefore makes them more likely to engage in risky patterns of behavior. There are also some major symptomatic differences between OCD and ADHD that are often the deciding factors between the two when looking for an accurate diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Inability to focus
- Intrusive and unwanted thoughts
- Irrational thoughts and behaviors
- Irrational or overinflated fears
- Feelings of constant intense dread and anxiety
- Compulsive counting, arranging, washing, touching, or other repetitive behaviors
- Heightened agitation as a response to anxiety
What are the symptoms of ADHD?
Some of the most common symptoms of attention-deficit, hyperactivity disorder are:
- Difficulty focusing
- Easily distractible
- Inability to efficiently multitask
- Trouble finishing tasks
- Appearing unfocused during conversation
- Seeming “careless” or forgetful
- Losing things often
- Fidgeting or constantly moving around
- Difficulty staying quiet and still
Diagnosing OCD or ADHD
ADHD and OCD are often misdiagnosed for one another if cursorily examined because they are so similar. That being said, experienced practitioners who know what to look for can often very quickly discern between the two disorders based on a number of significant tells.
While there is no single diagnostic criterion for ADHD, most doctors, and mental health professionals base their diagnoses on the following symptoms:
- Constant issues with focus pertaining to school or work
- Self-report of difficulty concentrating
- Indicatory accounts from patients, family, teachers, friends, etc.
- Indication from an ADHD mental health battery
When diagnosing a person with OCD, doctors and mental health professional look primarily for the following symptoms:
- Spending more than one hour a day focused on obsessions or compulsions
- Inability to control thoughts and behaviors, regardless of whether or not they recognize the thoughts or behaviors are excessive, irrational, or harmful
- Pain, anxiety, or negative emotions resulting from compulsive behaviors even though the behaviors are enacted to relieve some anxiety
- Obsessions and compulsions have a significant disruptive impact on the person’s day to day life.
Because these two disorders are fundamentally different, the treatments for ADHD and OCD must also differ.
Treatment Differences Between OCD And ADHD
ADHD – Practitioners most often treat ADHD with a combination of medications, behavioral, ADHD treatment programs, therapies, recommending independent learning plans for those in school, and parental training to help parents manage their children’s symptoms and needs.
OCD – Obsessive-compulsive disorder will most often have to be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy or other talk therapies. Along with this many people with OCD will take medications to reduce their symptoms. Practicing stress reduction techniques, and certain types of meditation have also helped people struggling with OCD manage their anxieties.
Can Someone Have Both Conditions Of OCD And ADHD?
There is still debate as to whether or not people can have ADHD and OCD at the same time. Because these conditions are seen somewhat as “opposites” stemming from the same location in the brain, many researchers believe that people can only have one condition or the other, but never both. That being said, in recent years there has been research showing that it may be possible to receive a dual diagnosis of ADHD and OCD. At this point in time, more research is needed to determine whether or not these two conditions can coexist in a single person at the same time.
Potential Consequences Of Misidentification Of OCD And ADHD
Without careful examination, ADHD and OCD are misdiagnosed for one another too often, to the detriment of the people struggling with one of these conditions. Misdiagnosing one of these conditions can lead to months of ill-suited therapies, unsuccessful treatments, ill prescribed medications, and even the worsening of symptoms. Receiving a misdiagnosis can set people further back on their path to recovery than they may have already been and may exacerbate a person’s pre-existing symptoms.
OCD & ADHD Care at SUN Behavioral Columbus
Here at SUN Behavioral Columbus, we have a team of highly skilled and experienced professionals who know how to best identify and treat OCD, ADHD, and countless other mental health conditions. What’s more, our practitioners understand that each patient’s symptoms may look slightly different and that their disorders are unique to them. By working with our patients to understand their conditions, and develop a treatment that works for them, SUN Columbus has helped many patients with OCD and ADHD manage their disorders.
If you believe that you or a loved one are struggling with ADHD or OCD, don’t wait to get the diagnosis, and the treatment you deserve. Call us today at 614-706-2786.
FAQs About OCD vs ADHD
Can OCD be mistaken for ADHD?
Yes, absolutely. Many times the disorders present in similar ways with similar symptoms. That being said, there are distinct identifiers of each disorder that therapists and doctors are trained to recognize.
Is ADHD worse than OCD?
No. And OCD is not worse than ADHD. Both conditions come with unique sets of symptoms and challenges that affect people differently.
Can somebody have both ADHD and OCD?
Maybe. While there is some research showing that it is perhaps possible to receive a dual diagnosis of ADHD and OCD, this is extremely rare and still contested by several scholars. Some diagnoses take time to explore and figure out. If you believe that you or a loved one might have both ADHD and OCD, you should discuss it with your care provider and explain why you think that might be and what a good treatment plan might be from there.