PTSD vs. ADHD

PTSD vs. ADHDAre you wondering if you have ADHD or PTSD or possibly both?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the conditions that appear in similar ways to ADHD. They can also camouflage each other; making it hard to discern what is ADHD and what is PTSD.

Here is some information about the similarities and differences of ADHD and PTSD, so you can untangle the 2 conditions.

What ADHD and PTSD have in common

Both have 4 letter acronyms

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Widespread misconceptions about who has the condition

There are a lot of misconceptions about who has the conditions.

The general population know that children can have ADHD; particularly boys. However, not everyone knows that adults have ADHD too.

People know soldiers get PTSD. However, they often don’t realize that all types of situations can cause PTSD. PTSD affects people of all ages including children.

They aren’t made-up modern conditions!

Although the current names we use to describe ADHD and PTSD are relatively new, the conditions themselves have been around for centuries. Here are a few of the terms used over the years…some are a little offensive!

ADHD

  • Quickened responses to sensory experience
  • Mental restlessness
  • Abnormal defect of moral control in children
  • Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Disorder

PTSD

  • Soldier’s Heart
  • Shell shock
  • Combat exhaustion
  • Exhausted heart
  • Battle fatigue
  • War strain
  • War neurosis

Similar symptoms

There are some similar characteristics in both ADHD and PTSD, (although the underlying reasons for these behaviours are different), which is why they can be confused. For example:

– Inattention
– Distraction
– Restless
– Impatient
– Impulsive
– Anger
Sleeping problems
– Poor memory
– Poor concentration
Anxiety
– Depression
– Low self-esteem
– Addiction problems
– Shame

are all symptoms of ADHD and PTSD.

Where ADHD and PTSD are different

Causes

PTSD
A form of anxiety that occurs after a traumatic event.

ADHD
While the exact cause is still unknown, differences in the brains of people with ADHD compared to non ADDers, have been found in three areas: anatomical, chemical, and functional.

Symptoms

While there are many seemingly similar symptoms of ADHD and PTSD, someone with PTSD can also experience:

  • Hypervigilance (always on the look-out for possible treat)
  • Survivors guilt
  • Avoidance of anything similar to the event
  • Flashbacks (replaying the trauma in their mind)
  • Obsession; the experience takes over every part of your life
  • Psychical pain in joints and muscles, but not linked to a medical condition
  • Large startled responses

ADHD
To see a full list of the ADHD characteristics:
Hyperactive / Impulsive type click here and Inattentive type click here.

Differences between the ‘similar symptoms’

The similar symptoms between ADHD and PTSD might look the same to the casual observer. However, the causes are different.

Inattention and hyperactivity are 2 central characteristics of the ADHD combined type. However, for someone with PTSD, inattention could be due to the person having a flashback, hypervigilance or trying to ward off stimuli. Impulsivity, anger, poor memory and concentration, lack of sleep, could actually be due to Hyperarousal (a term to describe a cluster of PTSD symptoms).

Differences in treatment

There are differences between how ADHD and PTSD is treated.

For ADHD, stimulant medication can be prescribed. Cognitive behavior therapy, ADHD coaching, lifestyle changes and skills, are all great ways to manage ADHD symptoms.

For PTSD, trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy is exceptional helpful. Medication may be prescribed for secondary symptoms like depression. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and relaxation techniques are very helpful too.

Whether you have ADHD, PTSD, or both, don’t suffer in silence. There are so much that can be done to help you!

One final note: An ADHD diagnosis does not routinely involve an evaluation of trauma history. So if you think there is even a remote chance you have PTSD, definitely mention it to your medical professional.

Comments

  1. The psych field needs to be more aggressive in screening clients. I had gone to a therapist 20 years ago for my drug addiction/alcoholism. Never were there any questions on trauma or ADHD – both of which, 20 years later, I have been diagnosed with. And my psychologist and I agree that these two were probably the core reasons for the drug addiction/alcoholism.
    Funny thing…once I started getting help for my PTSD (that was diagnosed years before the ADHD was) the drug addiction/alcoholism went away without any work on my part at all. It was like there was no addiction in the first place.
    But this is about ADHD…and once that was diagnosed so much more started falling in place.

  2. My son is 7 and is diagnosed with ADHD. Through therapy with his school psychologist, a play therapist and medication management there has been a drastic improvement. I am a combat veteran who is diagnosed with PTSD. When we are both in a place of elevated response and only butt heads, it can be a challenge. However, now that there is a true diagnosis for him, everything that he has done and his emotional state, that can be chaotic at times, have been reaffirmed. Knowing how to react to him, redirect him, use positive reinforcement, choices vs. consequences, and “Mindcraft” for stimulation, have been a positive learning experience. Mostly thanks to my Wife who has engrossed herself in educating us all in ADHD. Also knowing when to walk away with my own PTSD is key. Elevation begets elevation, which turns into a vicious circle and then a tornado. It is easier to keep a calm to the storm by just getting out of the storm front and avoiding the eye of it.

  3. One important thing that the article didn’t talk about is how PTSD can exacerbate ADHD (at least Ive found it to). The hyper-vigilance that is associated with PTSD is like adding 10 more TVs to the already 10 TVs that are running in my head making it even more impossible to focus on whats going on. Then add even more mind-wandering / spacing-out to Afghanistan and now you’ve got yourself a recipe for being “lost in the sauce” 24/7.

    Case and point, it took me 20 min to write the above 3 sentences. The rest of the time I sat here with my eyes fully dilated thinking about how frustrating this is.

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