ADHD and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a form of anxiety that occurs after a traumatic event. The severity of PTSD depends not on the event but on the individual’s perception of the event. Traumatic events vary from losing a job, being involved in an accident, sexual abuse, or natural disasters, such as, earthquakes or witnessing war. PTSD is a condition that frequently co-exists with ADD. In fact, Dr Hallowell believes most ADHD adults have a mild form of PTSD because if left unmanaged ADD can mean repeated traumas, humiliation, rejection and failures.

ADHD and PTSD can look similar, so check this article out. As it explains the similarities and differences of the 2 conditions.

Having ADD can also increase the likelihood of developing PTSD, as an ADHDer can put themselves in situations that can cause trauma. For example, the Hyperactive and impulsive ADHDers are looking for stimulus and excitement without thinking of possible negative consequences. While the inattentive ADHDer might not notice the early warning signs that would have alerted them to get out of a particular situation.

If you have ADHD and  PTSD here is what to do:

1) If your PTSD is severe, get professional help straight away. Trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy is very helpful. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and relaxation techniques are very helpful too. Medication might be prescribed for secondary symptoms e.g.depression. Remember there is no shame in seeking help.

2) If you feel that your PTSD is because of your life with ADHD, then you might decide to treat your ADHD first. By managing your ADHD, your chances of experiencing traumatic events will be reduced (if in doubt speak to your doctor).

The ADHD book ‘Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach your Full Potential as an Adult with ADHD’ also a great resource to learn how to manage your adult ADHD.


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  1. Chris says:

    I have been molested at a early age, i have drowned when i was 8, i Have been in numerous car accidents and have faced death three times. Had my hand disfigured in a snowblower, and just this past year hit a deer on the highway and my car caught fire and no one stopped to help me. I have scene first hand the trauma of things that can happen to people and lived so many and for the longest time was able to coop just this last accident has left me now facing the challenges of adhd, i have now seen the focus i had lost and not just in tasks but when people are holding conversations with me i lose focus. I am currently seeking help for these as i know now they can definable go hand in hand. Thank you for this article. As others have stated this is something very real. We shouldn’t be ashamed or feel different for the workings of the brain we cant control and help is needed and doctors should be aware of this.

  2. Laura says:

    I have had numerous counselors tell me they believe I am suffering from ptsd from a traumatic childhood and life events but have always felt something else was wrong with me as well because I’m not always feeling the way I do because of past events. I’m always trying to avoid any kind of social setting, starting tasks and cannot finish them, I over think all the time, constantly worried, I miss appointments and important events all of the time, I get fired from jobs because I’m late alot and it doesn’t matter how early I wake up, I’ve been kicked off food assistance because I forget to finish paperwork but sad thing is even when I do remember to do something important I procrastinate because I get so nervous about the outcome…when I have to take my son to get immunizations for example, my anxiety gets so high about putting him through that pain even though I know that pain is protecting him from something bigger, but I make a bigger deal out of situations like this in my mind then what they probably really are to other people. I get so overwhelmed about things that need to be done and things that didn’t get done which makes it hard to concentrate on what I’m doing at the moment. And I can’t help but think what does all this have to do with ptsd? But then eventually my son was diagnosed with adhd so I studied it and after reading the symptoms a light bulb went off in my head…all these symptoms decribe me except for the hyper part & then I learned about ADD. I talked to my doctor (nurse practitioner) which started a whole new nightmare…I felt like I was totally discriminated and now I feel helpless. He turned me down and wanted to hear nothing about it. He prescribed me bipolar medication and told me he was not giving me any controlled substances…like I was there to just try to get drugs which made no sense to me cuz I have never failed a drug test. I believe I just wasn’t worth his time. Perhaps if I wasn’t a Medicaid patient I would have been taken more seriously. Instead he tried to make me believe I had bipolar disorder and when I tried the meds he gave me they made me sick, depressed, extremely unmotivated and unfunctional. I told him about this my following appointment which he told me I had to give them time to work the way they are supposed too. I’m a single mom with four kids struggling as it is so I left that doctor and now I can’t find one who will except medicaid and if I ever do I feel like I will be discriminated again because of what this doctor put into my medical records. He straight up called me an addict and said I left because he wouldn’t prescribe me narcotics!! All I wanted was a diagnosis and some help. I haven’t been to a doctor since & this was 4 yrs ago. I continue to struggle jumping job to job and worry everyday about where I’m gonna be tomorrow and is my next check my last paycheck and if so how am I gonna pay my rent. What else can I do? I finally called Health West here in Muskegon MI, but after reading my medical records I was denied help. Today I just happened to google ptsd & add and now I know they are linked. Thanks so much for this info! Now if I could only get a professional to hear me out and do some testing…

    • Jessica says:

      You sound like me. If you can get a psych evaluation that will prove if you are ADD/ADHD. My nurse practitioner believed I was but couldn’t prescribe ADD meds until after the evaluation. She was positive I would get some symptom relief from treating the ADHD. Today I finally got up and made a doctors AND dentist appointment for my daughter. I only just started ADD meds a few days ago, but I already feel less “reactive” and like I want to throw up at the thought of the dentist, among other things. I was also diagnosed with PTSD during psych evaluation and not sure it fits.

  3. Dainer says:

    Late in life I learned that I had ADD on top of PTSD. Never having it diagnosed that the verbal and physical abuse handed out by my mother may have initiated the ADD. Though now at 64, it makes scents.
    Thank you for your blog. If it were not for the internet I can’t imagine how long I would have struggled with the absence of available knowledge and the self doubt of sanity.

  4. Hele says:

    I would like to add to Angela’s remark (stated very well)… that early childhood abuse often leads to dissociation which impedes memory, thus adding to the inability to verbalize the experience. Thanks Angela for making the point.

  5. Sasha says:

    Geez whiz. Sorry to you all. So, what do you do with your kid brother who just served 21 years in the service, AND we grew up in , well , not June cleaver home.
    I’ve been trying to research narcissism, ptsd,add, adhd.
    So….anyone know what lies in the middle? Cause he has no extreme, but a little of all.
    (And yes, I’m gonna ask to join him at his next psych app.)
    But if anyone has a heads up, it’s appreciated.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this. Ince i learn all thw tools there are for add my life because so much better! Im so happy that you are making people aware of the tools that they have available!

  7. It’s so frustrating how few resources there are for the comorbidity of PTSD and ADHD. It seems like the medical community had this one or the other way of thinking. I was horribly abused from age 2 until age 10. I was told throughout my entire life that that was the reason for all of my issues. This year I finally found a doctor who listened to me and when I started medication it was amazing. I felt solid for once. I felt calm and at peace with myself. I’m meeting with a psychiatrist at my next appointment and I’m so scared she’ll try to tell me what so many other doctors have and take me off the medications. It drives me nuts because the one or the other thought process implies that trauma will automatically cure ADHD. The diagnosis has gotten a bad rap but until you’ve lived with it and been treated, I don’t think you get a say in it. Some people think it’s bogus because so many people got diagnosed with it, but I bet cancer diagnosis skyrocketed when it was discovered as well.

    • dizzy b says:

      HI I had a similar experience. I had a illness as a child and for years and years all my ADHD issues were blamed on that . I always knew it was more as I had problems before that and there is a genetic link in my family to ADHD and related things. while I think this illness and other trauma obviously had a profound effect they are separate to the ADHD and it took years for someone to recognize that. Every time I see an article about ADHD and PTSD i think “oh here we go the trauma community going on about how ADHD inst real or they are the same thing. I like that this blog recognizes you can have both. I always see the big picture. I was born with ADHD and I was just so unlucky to have had more problems on top. people need to remember there are specific symptoms to ADHD that dont relate to PTSD or trauma at all. trauma doesn’t make you only be able to focus when you are super interested in something… Anyway im going on now but it was nice to see a comment from someone who has been through a similar thing. sorry to hear you have had such a hard time.

  8. Carol says:

    Shamgar described it pretty well. Today, at the age of 72, I am supposed to play a very simple piece of music, with a large group, and I am paralyzed with fear, thinking of reasons not to go. I have been studying flute for almost 2 years. My therapist says she thinks I have PTSD in addition to ADD. I read all these posts, and I tried to think what might have made my performance anxiety so extreme. I remembered how I was made to sit next to my stepfather and recite the times tables to him. He would curse and get so angry that I hated to do it. I’m sure that made it harder to remember. I have lots of memories like that. My Mom got so mad at me one time, she told me to go kill myself. I’ve tried to understand how she could have said that, and I suspect she might have compared my life to hers. She had a hearing loss at 10 years of age, and didn’t have much self-respect. School was absolutely horrifying. I couldn’t assert myself at all. So, thanks for working on this problem, thanks for reaching out to help people, and thanks for sharing your personal experiences. It has certainly given me the wisdom to know that what I see is not all that is in a person, and their behavior comes from somewhere deep. I find that some people won’t even acknowledge that they have a problem and that their past has affected them.

  9. My name is Robin, I’m falling in love with a women who suffer from post traumatic stress and attention deficit disorder. I love her so much am afraid to love her. I have fought the feeling for so long that I can’t even hidden them anymore. However, I live in constant fear because I struggle would give her my heart and letting her know how I really feel. I want to give her my heart, but her feelings are so unpredictable that it scares me because I walk on eggshells. I have to be careful of what I say and if I say something that offend her or threatened her, her first response if to hurt me where her mouth. She say hurtful things to me that she know will hurt me and the threatened are always wanting to leave the relationship. I love her I don’t know what to do. I’m reaching out and asking for help. I need help with understanding her mood swings, the in and out of feeling, the impulsive and overacting to situations makes me wanna run. But her spirit is so beautiful. I want to save her from all of this. I want her to heal and to be well and support her through this. But it’s so difficult cuz I love her. I’m falling in love with her and I can’t even stop the feeling. I’ve been trying and they won’t go anywhere. Because I’m scared that she’ll hurt me. The threat paralyze me so bad, but I can’t walive away. Please help me cuz my heart is hurting.

  10. chichi says:

    Very interesting. Diagnosed with adult ADD (inattentive type) about 2 years ago. I realize now I always had it to a mild degree after a head injury at age 7 but it got way worse after some general anesthesia (went from no meds to needing them). The relationship between ADD and PTSD resonated. I still recall events from my childhood that are traumatic (being singled out in class for having a messy desk, namecalling by my mother for my tendency to lose objects, not have a clean room, etc.), multiple incidents of social rejection (perhaps as a function of shame based awkwardness). I do tend to be hypervigilant in social situations, and quick to assume that if there is a problem at work or home it’s my fault since I’m basically defective. I’ve heard that EMDR only works with relatively fresh traumatic incidents. Any reliable info to the contrary? Thanks.

  11. Katie says:

    Hi Jacqueline, Kim Page asked this question on July 17th. I apologize if I missed what you thought about this question.

    Can severe psychological trauma cause long-term ADD-like symptoms, or, in effect, ADD?

    Thank you!!! I look forward to your response to the above question.

    • Hi Katie
      Yes psychological trauma can cause long term ADD like symptoms. For example unable to focus and concentrate, poor memory, difficultly making decisions etc are all signs of emotional trauma and ADHD.
      You might find this article about the similarity and differences of PTSD and ADD…

      Thanks for the question

    • Brenda says:

      According to the article is the opposite. It is having the add that my end up giving a person ptsd.

  12. Roseanne says:

    It’s difficult to find educated people in this particular topic, but you
    seem like you know what you’re talking about!


  13. shamgar says:

    this is so cool i am a 23 yr male and i was 20 before i was diagnoses and even at that age i was pretty oblivious to much of my difficulties through life being directly related to a real condition and that i really did have to try experdenturly harder than your advrige person to achieve normal social structure. even while expelling great effort to achieve at the least some scene of purpose and feeling of belonging, my constant battle was dealing with such rejection after unknowingly exacerbating the cycle of verbal abuse through multiple behavioral and personality trates that were easy to target because of there direct exposure in a classroom or school setting. basically i became social stepping stones for just about everyone. and the more i tried to be normal the more i used the same methods because i knew no different. for some reason once i hit about grade 5 or 6 i had gone from happy adjusted with lots of freinds to everyone teases me i have no friends at all. i remember my last birthday before the full affects of my slide to social degradation was complete. the people that were at the party were many of the same people that in turn became the worst abuses of them all. i believe it was my 12th or 13th. so as you could imagine it was totally destructive to my future efforts to gain friends when your friends from years gone by were the infrastructure of a incredible web of mental and verbal abuse that was re spun every day with increasing size and effectiveness. it is important to note that reason for suck a extreme swing of the penjamem is the systems of my adhd then coupled with ptsd at age 10 due to the death of my father. The worst part about it is5 both conditions went undiagnosed and were never egknowlege to me instead i was of the belief that everything i felt was the same way everyone else felt in the same situations. i told uncountable times that i was disrespectful and bad behaved because of my constant interrupting calling out, falling asleep, chewing on any and everything, disorganization, forgetfulness, punctuality, uniform presentation, constant repetition of these behaviors quickly convinced nearly every teacher that i had no interest in learning hence began to punish me in a classroom setting and in front of all my peers. which in turn clearly paved the way for my peers to begin to reconsise the my behaviors as abnormal and now also as something that the teachers punished on a daily basis. looking back now it makes sense how i became so targeted. it has taken 23 years for me to start to have closure in a very broad sense to entire sections of my life totally lost from conscious retrieval. only my own dedication to fight my inability to fit into any social group and change whatever i had to so i could achieve equality and stop the truly devastating determination of my self as-teem levels of shame and sense of hopelessness, was the reason that i was eventually diagnoses with adhd 5 years after my exit from school. what stumps me now is even at 20 i was so disconnected from my past that i was unable to either reconise or retrieve any of the past events and unconscious changes in behavior patterns that now seem so obviously directly connected and clearly were affected by the presence of adhd. because when first diagnoses i had not recognized that it was the beginning of the healing process and once properly acknowledged and understood in great detail by me would begin to allow my brain to retrieve specific events allow my now developed brain finally reconise the and understand why i was so emotionally devastated and so easily cut deep by the way i was treated constantly but was convinced was the same way that every one felt and when people kept hurting me finally in an survival or safe mode my subconscious reconciled the need to redirect the constant flow of emotion being stored separately to the event and processed as unrecognized and unralated to the correct responses that i was ment to feel. this happened completely subconsciously amazingly. so at the age of 10 i was so emotionally destroyed by the news of my fathers death and so overwhelmed by already higher than adv emotional response. the outcome of this was believe it or not a actual unconscious rearrangement of the existing method of presenting the relevant flow of necarcary information for normal conscious functionality. and because i did not reconise or understand how to deal and live with something so painful. unknown to my conscious mind i just started separating and storing as unrelated the emotion and the event this reaction of the subconscious is easy to explain and simply a matter subconscious shutting curtain functions down to retain stability to vital functions

    • Jacqueline Sinfield says:

      Thank you so much for being so open and sharing your life story. Many readers will relate to parts of it. I am sorry you had to experience everything that you went through. The loss of your dad at such a young age and then all the distress of undiagnosed ADD and PTSD.
      It can be difficult to know that you are worthy of good healthy friendships and relationships after being treated badly by your peers for so long. However you are. Now you are 23years old you have the freedom steer clear of anyone who is less than kind and doesn’t think you are an awesome human being.

      Keeping working on yourself and growing, you have remarkable inner strength.


  14. Kim Page says:

    Can severe psychological trauma cause long-term ADD-like symptoms, or, in effect, ADD?

  15. Angela says:

    Thanks for making this link; I think many of us w/ADD or ADHD have experienced PTSD, which, if left untreated, creates its own challenges.
    I think it’s important to note, as well, that PTSD caused by early childhood neglect or sexual abuse can have severe and long-lasting effects that can be much more crippling than those resulting from “one off” events like being involved in an accident or natural disaster. This is not, of course, to diminish the harm those cause. However, people abused as children frequently lack the ability to verbalize the experience, which exacerbates the problem.
    Another issue, of course, is shame, and the many ramifications for people with ADD/ADHD.
    Thanks for your post.

    • Jacqueline Sinfield says:

      Hi Angela
      What a great point you have made. Thanks so much for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

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