It is common for adults with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) to struggle with anxiety. About 30 to 40 percent of adults with ADHD have an anxiety disorder. In fact, recent research suggests that the rate of co-occurring anxiety for adults with ADHD is continuing to climb and is now nearing 50 percent. There are several anxiety disorders associated with adult ADHD, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, social anxiety and panic disorder. The reasons for the co-occurrence of ADHD and anxiety stem from both environmental and biological factors.
ADHD & Anxiety
ADHD symptoms can make day-to-day living more demanding for adults. The fear of entering familiar social situations in which you’ve been embarrassed previously can leave you on edge. The dread of addressing a group of colleagues at work when in the past you’ve lost your place or frozen up can cause severe stress and worry. It would seem sensible to protect yourself from these disastrous situations. If you are an adult with ADHD and feel as though you can identify with these daily concerns, it may very well be that you are suffering from clinical anxiety. Follow up studies with ADHD actually demonstrated that the longer you have ADHD as an adult, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter symptoms of anxiety.
Untreated adult ADHD is likely to lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. Often times, untreated individuals experience setbacks, which induce more negative situations—others become angered with them and they may feel disappointed in themselves. People with ADHD tend to more frequently experience heightened emotional states, which can leave them vulnerable to feeling things more deeply than others. Genetics may also contribute to the co-occurrence of ADHD and anxiety. There is an excess of empirical data pointing to some shared genetic risk between the two disorders. It is imperative that we continue to remain informed on the latest findings.
There are many therapeutic modalities used to treat anxiety. The most commonly used is cognitive behavioral therapy. It is critical that ADHD and anxiety are dually treated. When unaccounted for, anxiety can largely impact an individual’s progression in treatment of their ADHD. Anxiety can be immobilizing and leave people stuck in their old ways. The anxiety associated with engaging in the treatment may inhibit individuals from advancing with their treatment. Anxiety can also exacerbate the side effects of ADHD. We tend to not think as clearly when we are anxious, which can lead to forgetfulness and further interfere with treatment.
Medication is an option as well. Stimulant medications are normally most effective with the treatment of ADHD. However, stimulants can sometimes increase symptoms of anxiety. When this occurs, a non-stimulant may be prescribed. A selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor will be given to reduce anxiety in addition to the non-stimulant. However, this is not a one-size fits all approach. Individuals may decide to treat one of the disorders with medication and the other with therapy. Both medication and psychotherapy can be effective. When properly treated, individuals with ADHD and anxiety can live more enjoyable and gratifying lives.