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
  • Psychical 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.


  1. I am about to turn 60, and was diagnosed with ADHD about 5 months ago. However, I lost my 10-year old son to a drowning accident 17 years ago, and still haunts me constantly, breaks my heart. Just before that we had a house fire, after my son passed my daughter was cutting; 3 1/2 years ago my husband of 30 years passed away suddenly and 2 years ago I was assaulted. Of course I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, but the shrink thinks I’m ADHD. I hate taking drugs, but they seem to help. Some days they don’t. I tried some EMDR but just couldn’t handle reliving things again. Really not sure how to get help

    • Jules says:

      Hi Patty,
      I just wanted to say I’m sorry for everything you’ve gone through. I wish I could offer some sound advice but I don’t think I could do you justice.
      Take Care

  2. Caz says:

    I am 56 years old, I believe I have suffered with ADHD a good part of my life, although I don’t think it was that severe as a child. Three years ago, I cradled my dying husband in my arms while he died of cancer, ever since then, my ADHD symptoms seem to be more enhanced, mix that with possible menopausal symptoms, and I don’t know what’s what! But I have a question, can ADHD symptoms suddenly get worse after a stressful situation? Since my wonderful husband died, I have gone downhill drastically, it was like a switch was turned on (or off ) inside me after that day, I think I’m coping with the grief reasonably well but the ADHD is certainly more difficult.

    • Teresa says:

      I too was diagnosed at 54, my gifted 19 year old daughter a month later. Now I have a student that is gifted, PTSD and ADHD in foster care. I am applying for respite as a first step. Meds help my daughter and I tremendously.

  3. J Segovia says:

    I was a diagnosed with PTSD years ago. I was later diagnosed with ADHD. Lately I have realized I have had some trauma related memory suppression. I am not really sure where to go from here. The diagnosis of PTSD was so long ago that I don’t have a way for my current doctor to gain those records. I do not think that my ADHD was misdiagnosed, but perhaps exasperated by PTSD. This is not generally your PCP’s area of expertise.

  4. Patricia hodson says:

    So for me, I am not currently on any medication. I do however have both ptsd and ADHD. I receive one on one therapy and trauma therapy at the D.V center in tucson. I have struggled with self medicating which has mostly been treated as addiction and incorrectly diagnosis of psychosis and drpression. Because the psyc only addressees the incorrect diagnosis and refused to treat me for my ADHD and anxiety, the therapy alone has been difficult. I have been treated with medication by my pic for the ADHD and anxiety and have felt much more successful. Furthermore the psyc had medicated me with anti psyc and anti depression meds which actually made me appear to mimic those symptoms! I have had enough of the county mental health in Pima county and lack of support to address my anxiety and ADHD. Would you please help me clarify that what I’ve explained is accurate?! I have an apmt w a new pic on Monday and want to be sure I am being clear so they can prescribe me the medication that actually helped me. Sincerely patricia

  5. Sheena says:

    I have ADHD and was diagnosed a few years ago at 45, I start ADHD meds earlier this year and the positive effects of the meds were astounding.
    Knew loss of father at 3 had resulted in early trauma but have just identified at 7 there was some sort of traumatic event that was so devastating it had a devastating impact on all 3 siblings which can be tracked back to the same point in time but we have no idea what happened. But one has been diagnosed with PTSD and was only a baby at the time and it would appear that I also have PTSD from the same time but have a 2 year gap in memories at the point of what appears to be a traumatic event. So ADHD now being address I can now start getting help for the PTSD

  6. Yesenia says:

    Forgot to add this, he also smokes weed and does it about 3-4 a week with that he also has sleeping problems. Thanks

  7. Yesenia says:

    My 18 yr son was diagnosed with PTSD two years ago. He was seen by a therapist for that and has gotten better. But now it’s the distraction and focusing and for some reason only after 6 pm almost every day, he so active. He just walks a lot without sitting. He’ll go to his siblings room to my room to the living room to the kitchen. I’m mean non stop. Is it possible he could get ADHD?

  8. peggy says:

    Question: A person diagnosed with ADHD, then after War / shooting is diagnosed with PTSD. Does PTSD aggraviate ADHD symptoms or make ADHD symptoms worse? I hope to hear from you soon.

    • Hi Peggy
      Yes, PTSD does make the ADHD symptoms worse. Any time you are under stress ADHD symptoms get worse.So take extra good care of yourself as you are healing.
      *Exercise daily,
      *eat clean, whole foods and protein with every meal.
      *drink lots of fresh water.
      *get lots of sleep.

      Thinking of you

      • This is fantastic advice. After being a 911 dispatcher for 16 years it took its toll. I just wanted to go to work without someone dying. I self medicated to get rid of the sweaty night terrors and the triggers. Self medicated with opioids and alcohol. Spent 2 months in rehab for addiction and ptsd. I can’t focus , too many thoughts in my head and finally after all the treatment my new Physchiatrist I’ve seen for only the 3rd time and listening to me talk confirmed I also have ADHD..what a relief, memory issues, too many thoughts in my head, long sentences where eventually I forget the point, late for everything, only remembering the last thing the person said . He also confirmed how difficult it is to function with these issues in life. This was today and I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time..”hope” he explained what life is like and the struggles with ADHD and or ADD. I thought Man that is so me. I have both for sure. Finally someone understands.
        Thanks for reading my story

      • 911 dispatchers are true heroes, thank you for being such a good one for 16 years and thanks for sharing your story with us Nancy.

  9. Annie says:

    To Mel: Yes, you are correct. An individual with PTSD, with an incorrect diagnosis of ADHD, will not exhibit or experience the relief from the characteristics of PTSD while taking medications for ADHD. A clinically skilled professional can suss out the difference, and they are difficult to find.

    Pete Walker’s book, “Chronic PTSD: From surviving to thriving,” is an excellent resource. He writes about the difference between the two conditions on his website:

  10. Mel says:

    Would stimulant medications work if you really had PTSD and not ADHD?
    If someone who possibly has PTSD and not ADHD took meds and they didn’t work could that be a sign that the issue really is PTSD?

  11. this page is useful but I think it needs a quick addendum regarding attention differential brain. We describe ADHD as dysfunction. What would be more accurate would be to understand the attention differential brain itself. It intersects loosely with aspie spectrum traits (See attwood and grey’s discovery of aspie criteria) and it can have a significant influence on whether an individual deals with trauma healthy, evolving into complex PTSD attention differential brain. The original site that delved into this topic, I can no longer find. is offline now. It dealt with this topic specifically, which is of incredible interest to me as a childhood diagnosed adhd and adulthood unraveling of significant PTSD based on the childhood trauma, neglect, and grief.

  12. Matt says:

    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.

  13. Jon says:

    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.

  14. Matthew says:

    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.

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