ADHD and Anxiety - Which One is the Primary Condition?
ADHD and anxiety regularly coexist and there is some question as to whether ADHD drives anxiety, anxiety drives ADHD, or whether they are they separate overlapping conditions caused by a biological imbalance of brain neurotransmitter chemicals. To add to the confusion symptoms and proportion of ADHD and anxiety may vary greatly from person to person.
Nevertheless, in this article we will delve into the quandary which is ADHD and anxiety seeking to find some answers.
Most agree that arriving at a definitive diagnosis for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is no easy task with no definitive test currently available to either rule in, or rule out, the condition. When comorbid conditions exist such as ADHD and anxiety the plot thickens even more. Research tells us that between 50 and 70 percent of individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder suffer from overlapping (comorbid) conditions such as anxiety, clinical anxiety, depression, learning disorders, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.
Of these approximately 60 percent are dealing with anxiety on a regular and persistent basis. Additionally, in a test group of teens and adults with overlapping conditions a whopping seven out of every ten had at least some history of substance abuse and dependence.
Let's take a moment to quickly refresh our memory by looking at how the American Medical Association defines ADHD, anxiety, and anxiety disorders in our quest to find answers.
ADHD: A mental illness characterized by difficulty paying attention and a high degree of restlessness and impulsive behavior that begins before the age of seven, lasts for at least six months, and can cause the individual substantial difficulty in at least two settings, usually family and school.
Anxiety: A general feeling of uneasiness, dread, uncertainty, and fear in response to, or in anticipation of, a real or imagined threat. Anxiety disorder: A group of mental illnesses characterized by overpowering and long lasting fear, dread, unease, apprehension, obsession, compulsions, and unpleasant physical symptoms, such as sweating, elevated heartbeat, shaking, and trembling.
Could ADHD actually cause mild or generalized anxiety? The three primary symptoms attributed to ADHD are inattention/distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity/restlessness. Those with the condition tend to underachieve academically, have trouble socially, are forgetful and/or absentminded, be worry warts, have a negative outlook on life, have disciplinary problems, and have low self esteem. In looking at this list it becomes pretty clear that if in fact and ADHD child or adult didn't have some anxiety it would be miraculous. Add into the mix the chance that they may be under a great deal of pressure to do such things as improve their grades or unruly behavior and all of the sudden we are looking at a person who is under so much pressure in all aspects of their lives that they might simply raise the white flag of surrender, figuring what's the use in trying since I am going to fail anyway.
Of course this isn't the reality since many great names throughout history (Einstein, Franklin, Edison, Lincoln) have had ADHD but one could sure understand how the ADHD child or adult could end up so riddled with high and persistent anxiety that struggling to find the confidence and willpower to forge on might be prove challenging. From my point of view it appears, that at least most of the time, it is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that is driving the bus when it comes to ADHD and anxiety, but as with so many things ADHD their seems to be no firm evidence to definitively prove or disprove this hypothesis.