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!


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


  • 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
– Depression
– Low self-esteem
– Addiction problems
– Shame

are all symptoms of ADHD and PTSD.

Where ADHD and PTSD are different


A form of anxiety that occurs after a traumatic event.

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.


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 threat)
  • 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
  • Physical pain in joints and muscles, but not linked to a medical condition
  • Large startled responses

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.

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