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ADHD vs. OCD: What’s The Difference?

ADHD vs. OCD: What’s The Difference?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Jul 18, 2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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If you struggle with symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, impulsivity, or repetitive behaviors, it’s important to know whether attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) vs. obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be at play. These two mental health conditions, though often misunderstood or confused with each other, are distinct and require accurate understanding for proper diagnosis and treatment.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare ADHD vs. OCD, highlighting their unique features, diagnostic criteria, and treatment options. By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clearer understanding of these disorders, enabling you to make informed decisions about seeking professional help.

With the help of Klairty, you can get connected to a licensed medical professional who has experience diagnosing both ADHD and OCD. You’ll be seen within 48 hours so you can get on the right track to treatment.

Get started on your self-discovery journey and take our free self-assessment today.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed developmental disorders. However, it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that can significantly impact daily functioning and quality of life.

As it is an externalizing disorder, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often display symptoms that affect their outward relationship to their environment. They may struggle with maintaining focus, organizing tasks, and regulating impulses. Additionally, those with ADHD can have difficulty staying on track, completing assignments, or following through on responsibilities. 

While it’s important to note that everyone can experience occasional inattentiveness or restlessness, ADHD, however, is a chronic condition that goes beyond typical levels of distractibility or hyperactivity.

Common ADHD Symptoms

ADHD symptoms can vary from person to person and may manifest differently depending on age and individual circumstances. Here are some common primary symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder:

  • Inattention: Difficulty paying attention to details, easily distracted, forgetfulness, disorganization.
  • Hyperactivity: Constant fidgeting, restlessness, difficulty staying seated, excessive talking.
  • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking, interrupting others, difficulty waiting for a turn, impatience.

It’s important to note that not all individuals with ADHD exhibit all three categories of symptoms. Some may primarily struggle with inattention, while others may primarily exhibit hyperactive or impulsive behaviors. This diversity underscores the importance of a comprehensive evaluation for an accurate diagnosis.

What Causes ADHD?

The exact cause of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is still not fully understood. However, research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors contribute to its development. Genetics play a significant role in ADHD, with studies showing that it tends to run in families. Differences in brain structure and functioning, particularly involving neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, have also been observed in individuals with ADHD. 

It is not caused by parenting style, sugar consumption, or lack of discipline, as some misconceptions may suggest. Environmental factors such as prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke, premature birth, or low birth weight may also increase the risk of developing ADHD.

How ADHD is Diagnosed

Diagnosing ADHD involves a comprehensive evaluation process conducted by qualified healthcare professionals, such as psychiatrists or psychologists. The assessment typically begins with a look into a patient’s medical history to gather information about their symptoms, developmental history, and any potential medical conditions.

The assessment will also include behavioral observations to assess the presence and severity of ADHD-like symptoms in various settings, such as at home, school, or work. Lastly, the assessment will utilize standardized assessment tools completed by the individual, family members, and teachers to gather comprehensive information about the symptoms.

It’s crucial to remember that a proper ADHD diagnosis requires ruling out other potential causes for the symptoms and considering the presence of impairments in multiple areas of life. Only qualified healthcare professionals can make an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options based on an individual’s unique needs. 

Types of ADHD Treatment

When it comes to managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, there are various treatment options available that can help individuals improve their symptoms and overall functioning. Treatment plans for ADHD often involve a combination of medications, psychological counseling, and lifestyle adjustments tailored to meet the individual’s specific needs.

ADHD Medications

One of the most common approaches to treating ADHD is the use of medications. Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or amphetamine-based medications (Adderall), are often prescribed to help regulate neurotransmitter activity in the brain, improving focus, attention, and impulse control.

Non-stimulant medications, like atomoxetine (Strattera) or guanfacine (Intuniv), may also be prescribed for individuals who cannot tolerate or do not respond well to stimulants. These medications work differently by targeting other neurotransmitters involved in ADHD symptoms.

Dependency Warning

It’s important to note that some ADHD medications, particularly stimulant medications, carry the risk of dependency and should be taken under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional. These medications should only be used as prescribed and carefully monitored for their effectiveness and potential side effects.

Psychological Counseling

Psychological counseling, often in the form of behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is another crucial component of ADHD treatment. These therapeutic approaches help individuals develop coping strategies, improve time management and organizational skills, and address any coexisting emotional or psychological challenges.

ADHD coaching, a specialized form of counseling, can also be beneficial in providing practical support and guidance to individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Coaches work closely with clients to establish routines, set goals, and implement strategies to manage their symptoms effectively.

Additionally, family therapy or support groups can be valuable for both individuals with ADHD and their families. These resources offer education, guidance, and a supportive environment to help navigate the challenges associated with ADHD.

It’s important to remember that treatment plans for ADHD should be individualized and may require adjustments over time. Consulting with a qualified healthcare professional is crucial to determine the most suitable treatment approach based on an individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

What Is OCD?

OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by recurring and distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). As an internalizing disorder, those with OCD often respond to their environment with inward symptoms.

Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder often experience a sense of intense anxiety or unease when these obsessions arise, and engaging in compulsions provides temporary relief. Unlike common habits or rituals, OCD-related compulsions are often excessive and time-consuming, and they interfere with daily activities, relationships, and overall well-being. 

It’s important to recognize that adult obsessive-compulsive disorder is not simply a quirk or preference for cleanliness but a challenging disorder that can significantly impact one’s life.

Common OCD Symptoms

OCD symptoms can vary widely from person to person, but they typically fall into several common categories:

  • Contamination Obsessions and Cleaning Compulsions: Fear of germs, dirt, or harmful substances, leading to excessive hand washing, cleaning, or avoidance of certain situations.
  • Checking Obsessions and Compulsions: Persistent doubts or fears, such as leaving appliances on or doors unlocked, resulting in repetitive checking behaviors.
  • Ordering and Symmetry Obsessions and Compulsions: The need for things to be arranged in a specific order, aligned symmetrically, or precisely organized.
  • Intrusive Thoughts and Mental Rituals: Disturbing, intrusive thoughts that cause distress, accompanied by mental rituals, such as repetitive counting or praying, to neutralize the thoughts.

It’s important to note that individuals with OCD may experience symptoms from multiple categories or have their own unique obsessions and compulsions. The severity and impact of these symptoms can vary greatly among individuals.

Licensed providers on Klarity provide personalized treatment. Find a provider that matches your needs and preferences.

What Causes OCD?

The exact cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder is not yet fully understood, but it is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Research suggests that imbalances in neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, play a role in the development of OCD.

Genetics also seem to be a contributing factor, as individuals with a family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. Additionally, certain life events, such as traumatic experiences or high levels of stress, may trigger or exacerbate OCD symptoms in susceptible individuals.

How OCD is Diagnosed

Diagnosing OCD involves a thorough evaluation conducted by qualified mental health professionals, typically psychiatrists or psychologists. The process typically starts with a clinical assessment to gather detailed information about the individual’s symptoms, history, and any related medical or psychiatric conditions.

A provider will then go through diagnostic criteria to determine if the individual’s symptoms meet the criteria for an OCD diagnosis. Lastly, they will conduct structured interviews and utilize standardized questionnaires to assess the severity and impact of OCD symptoms.

It’s essential to consult with a qualified mental health professional to receive an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan based on an individual’s specific needs. Early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve the management of OCD symptoms and overall well-being.

Types of OCD Treatment

When it comes to treating OCD, there are several effective approaches that can help individuals manage their symptoms and regain control over their lives. Treatment for OCD typically involves a combination of talk therapy and, in some cases, medication to address both the psychological and neurological aspects of the disorder.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is a cornerstone of OCD treatment. Specifically, a type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) has shown great success in helping individuals with OCD.

In ERP therapy, individuals gradually confront their fears or obsessions while refraining from engaging in compulsive behaviors. This process helps individuals learn to tolerate the anxiety triggered by their obsessions and break the cycle of compulsions. Through regular sessions with a trained therapist, individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms and strategies to manage their OCD symptoms more effectively.

Therapy for OCD may also involve identifying and challenging irrational beliefs related to obsessions, developing problem-solving skills, and addressing any underlying emotional issues that contribute to the disorder.

OCD Medications

In some cases, medication can be a helpful adjunct to therapy in managing OCD symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft), are commonly prescribed to individuals with OCD.

These medications work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which can help regulate mood and alleviate OCD symptoms. It’s important to note that medication should always be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, as the dosage and effectiveness may vary from person to person.

Combining therapy and medication can be particularly beneficial for individuals with severe or treatment-resistant OCD. The decision to include medication as part of the treatment plan should be made collaboratively between the individual and their healthcare provider, considering the potential benefits and risks.

It’s worth mentioning that treatment plans should be tailored to the individual’s unique needs, and the duration of treatment can vary. Regular communication and collaboration with healthcare professionals are crucial for monitoring progress and making any necessary adjustments to the treatment approach.

Can You Have Both ADHD And OCD?

While ADHD and OCD are distinct conditions, it is possible for an individual to have both disorders simultaneously. Research suggests that there is a higher likelihood of comorbidity between ADHD and OCD compared to chance alone. The presence of both disorders can significantly impact an individual’s daily functioning and overall well-being.

While ADHD and OCD can coexist, it is important to recognize the distinct features of each disorder and consider the potential impact of comorbid ADHD and OCD on an individual’s symptoms and treatment approach. With proper diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan, individuals with both ADHD and OCD can find strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

How ADHD Presents In OCD

When ADHD coexists with OCD, it can present some unique challenges. ADHD symptoms, such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, may exacerbate the obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD. 

The difficulties in focusing and regulating impulses that come with ADHD can make it harder for individuals to resist or control OCD-related thoughts and behaviors.

Furthermore, individuals with both ADHD and OCD may experience increased difficulties with organization, time management, and completing tasks due to the overlapping symptoms of these disorders.

OCD And Executive Functions

Executive functions refer to a set of cognitive processes responsible for organizing, planning, and regulating behavior. Both ADHD and OCD can impact executive functions, albeit in different ways.

In ADHD, executive function deficits are a core feature of the disorder. Difficulties with attention, working memory, and organization can make it challenging for individuals to stay focused, stay on top of responsibilities, and follow through with tasks.

In OCD, executive functions can also be affected, particularly by intrusive thoughts and the need to engage in compulsive rituals. The excessive time and mental energy consumed by obsessions and compulsions can interfere with other cognitive processes and hinder efficient decision-making and problem-solving.

OCD And ADHD Treatment

When addressing the co-occurrence of ADHD and OCD, a comprehensive treatment approach is essential. This approach may involve a combination of psychopharmacology and behavioral therapy.

Psychopharmacology

Medication can be beneficial in managing the symptoms of both ADHD and OCD. Stimulant medications commonly used for ADHD may help improve attention and impulse control, which can indirectly alleviate some OCD-related difficulties. Additionally, SSRIs, commonly prescribed for OCD, may help reduce obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention (ERP), can be effective in addressing both ADHD and OCD symptoms. Therapy can help individuals develop coping strategies, improve executive functioning skills, and learn to manage the intrusive thoughts and compulsions associated with OCD.

A comprehensive treatment plan should be individualized and tailored to address the specific needs of each individual. Collaborating with healthcare professionals experienced in treating both ADHD and OCD is crucial to ensuring an integrated and effective approach.

Learn if You Have ADHD or OCD Today With Klarity

Understanding the differences between ADHD vs. OCD is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. If you suspect that you may be experiencing symptoms related to ADHD, OCD or both, Klarity connects you with licensed healthcare providers who can assess your condition and determine the best treatment to manage your symptoms.

Take the first step towards understanding your condition by taking the free online assessment on Klarity today.

Please remember that the information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. If you suspect you have ADHD or OCD or have concerns about your mental health, we encourage you to consult with healthcare professionals on Klarity who can provide personalized guidance and support.

Sources

Zia Sherrell, MPH. “What to know about ADHD vs. OCD” MedicalNewsToday

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-vs-ocd#:~:text=OCD%20involves%20obsessive%20thoughts%20while,and%20involves%20hyperactivity%20and%20impulsivity.

Dr. Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD. “ADHD vs. OCD: What’s the Difference?” Talkspace

https://www.talkspace.com/mental-health/conditions/articles/adhd-vs-ocd/

Amitai Abramovitch, PhD and Andrew Mittelman. “OCD and ADHD Dual Diagnosis Misdiagnosis and the Cognitive ‘Cost’ of Obsessions” International OCD Foundation

https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-ocd-and-adhd-dual-diagnosis-misdiagnosis-and-the-cognitive-cost-of-obsessions/

Charlie Health Editorial Team. “ADHD vs OCD: What’s the Difference?” Charlie Health

https://www.charliehealth.com/post/adhd-vs-ocd

Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA.”Dueling Diagnoses: Do You Have ADHD, OCD, or Both?” Healthline

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/adhd-and-ocd

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