ADHD Bipolar Disorder Similarities:

How To Tell The Difference Between The Two Conditions

ADHD Bipolar Disorder symptomatic similarities can be tricky, even for diagnostic mental health professionals.

The quick difference is that ADHD is a neurobiological condition while Bipolar is a mood disorder, but on the surface the differences are not always so clear.

They share some symptomatic similarities including excessive energetic activity, restlessness, talkativeness, impatience, and mood instability, which can make it hard to differentiate between the two disorders.

To further complicate matters, those with ADHD commonly have co-occurring mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, so it is possible to suffer from both conditions.

How To Tell The Difference Between ADHD And Bipolar Disorder

Like ADHD, Bipolar Disorder is diagnosed via the diagnostic criteria found in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM), the diagnostic reference used by mental health professionals.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by three behavioral hallmarks: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

ADHD symptoms include challenges focusing, difficulty maintaining attention, high levels of inattention, distractibility, impulsivity, and/or physical restlessness than would be expected in a person of similar age and development.

For a diagnosis of ADHD to be given, symptoms must be consistently present and impair one's ability to fulfill school or work responsibilities. It also affects one's ability to engage in healthy social relationships.

On the other hand, Bipolar Disorder is characterized by mood shifts. These include intense feelings of happiness or sadness that shift for no apparent reason over a period of days to weeks, and may persist for weeks or months. Bipolar Disorder features high energy states called “mania” or "hypomania" and low energy, fugue states commonly known as depression.

Important Differences

adhd bipolar disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder typically has an earlier age of onset than BDP. ADHD begins in childhood/adolescence, while BDP among children is rare and not usually diagnosed prior to age 18. Age of onset of BPD is often after age 18, with a mean onset age of 26.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is always present, while those who suffer from BDP experience episodes and can experience prolonged periods of remission.

BPD sufferers often experience un-triggered mood shifts that are seemingly unconnected to life events, ie. feeling sad with no apparent external cause.

Bipolar mood shifts, by DSM definition, must be sustained for at least two weeks. Those with ADHD can experience mood shifts, but they are generally associated with life events, unlike BPD. The moods of ADHD sufferers are also temporary - they generally last a few hours. 

The ADHD Bipolar Disorder Connection: Co-occurring Conditions

Research indicates that as many as 40% to 69% of adolescents and adults with ADHD also suffer from at least one other mental health condition. Of these co-occurring mental health conditions, 20% fall within the bipolar disorder spectrum.

Helpful Tips

Since the ADHD Bipolar Disorder symptomatic similarties can prove tricky for parents, teachers, and even mental health professionals, your best bet for the most accurate diagnosis is to consult with a child psychiatrist or child psychologist that specializes in diagnosing both ADHD and bipolar disorder.

Also, read the DSM definition for each condition in order to familiarize yourself with the ADHD Bipolar Disorder overlap.

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