ADHD and OCD: They Can Occur Together

These two disorders share certain symptoms and cause similar problems. And both disorders have a genetic connection.

Here are some of the other similarities between them.

Both conditions involve the same brain areas

Brain scans show that ADHD and OCD both produce atypical activity in the same neural pathway in the brain — the frontostriatal area.

This circuit is involved with a number of important cognitive and behavioral abilities such as:

  • attention-shifting
  • flexibility
  • habits
  • goal-directed behaviors

When the frontostriatal circuit isn’t working as it should, it can be harder for you to:

  • make decisions
  • remember things
  • plan
  • switch from one task to another

Both can interfere with academic and career success

ADHD is well known for the disruption it causes at school and work.

People with ADHD often have a hard time:

  • managing time
  • keeping up with supplies
  • remaining focused
  • completing complex tasks

They may be late to class or to work, and inattention can cause them to make frequent mistakes.

Similarly, the time involved in carrying out rituals, checking behaviors, and other compulsions can make people late to school or work.

Obsessions, compulsions, and the anxiety they cause can affect the ability to focus and follow through on tasks. Both conditions can affect grades, attendance, and performance.

Both disorders can affect your ability to pay attention

One of the chief characteristics of ADHD is the inability to pay attention for longer periods of time. If someone calls your name, you might not hear it because you’re distracted by something else.

OCD can also make you seem inattentive but for a different reason. You might be so preoccupied by an obsession or a compulsion that you’re not focused on what’s happening around you.

Both impact relationships with family, friends, and others

ADHD and OCD both require extra support from the people in your life. Family members may be involved in helping you seek treatment or carry out a treatment plan.

They may be instrumental in helping you learn coping skills. Ideally, they will go the extra mile to make sure you feel loved and supported — and they may sometimes feel stressed, frustrated, or worried about you, too.

Both can trigger anger, anxiety, and depression

Stress can make the symptoms of ADHD and OCD worse. And by the same token, living with the symptoms of these conditions can increase your anxiety to unhealthy levels.

In some cases, ADHD and OCD may lead to depression.

People with both conditions also feel intense surges of anger and persistent irritability, which can sometimes provoke aggressive behavior.

Both are associated with sleep problems

Some studies show that as many as 70 percent of people with OCD also have insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Similarly, people with ADHD often experience:

  • restless leg syndrome
  • disrupted circadian rhythms
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • insomnia

When you don’t get enough good sleep, the symptoms of OCD and ADHD may get worse or be harder to tolerate.

Both are associated with gastrointestinal (GI) issues

Studies show that people with OCD are more likely than the general population to experience irritable bowel syndrome. People with ADHD are also more likely to have chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

Both may be caused or worsened by trauma

A growing body of research looks at the connection between childhood trauma and the emergence of developmental conditions like ADHD and OCD.

A history of childhood trauma is common among people with an OCD diagnosis.

And ADHD symptoms in children, which become ongoing symptoms in adults, can be brought on by traumatic events, especially child abuse and neglect.