ADHD vs. OCD: Differences, symptoms, treatment, and more

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The fundamental nature of ADHD and OCD is very different, and individuals typically exhibit diverse symptoms in each of these mental health conditions.


ADHD is an externalizing disorder, affecting how individuals outwardly relate to their environment. It can present with either inattention or hyperactivity and impulsivity.

People with ADHD may have highly varying symptoms that do not fit neatly into each category. They may also experience symptoms of both.

Not everyone with ADHD experiences all potential symptoms. Moreover, ADHD may present differently in girls, as well as in adults, compared with children.

Symptoms of inattention include:

  • becoming easily distracted and having difficulty holding attention
  • being unable to finish tasks due to loss of focus
  • having difficulty with organization and time management
  • avoiding tasks that require a prolonged mental effort
  • appearing not to listen when others are speaking
  • often losing everyday items
  • making “careless” mistakes and being unable to pay attention to detail
  • becoming forgetful

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:

  • fidgeting and seeming unable to remain still
  • finding it difficult to take turns in activities and conversations
  • speaking and making noises excessively
  • having difficulty being patient

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of ADHD here.

Learn more about ADHD in adults here.

While ADHD comes with many challenges, there are also several potential benefits to having the condition. Learn more here.


OCD is an internalizing disorder, which means that people with the condition respond to anxiety by turning inward.

Like ADHD, OCD can also present in two different ways—namely, obsessions and compulsions. People living with OCD can have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both.

Symptoms of obsessions include:

  • fear of misplacing something
  • intense focus on exactness
  • unwanted thoughts about religion or sex
  • fear of germs or contamination
  • fear of causing oneself or others harm
  • thoughts involving violence toward oneself or others

Symptoms of compulsions include:

  • arranging and ordering things in a particular way
  • excessively cleaning oneself or their environment
  • compulsively counting
  • repeatedly checking appliances, taps, and alarms, for example, for fear of damage or accidents