ADHD and Anxiety, Symptoms, Connections & Coping Mechanisms

Adults with both ADHD and anxiety may experience a range of difficulties. They may struggle with maintaining focus and attention, organizing tasks and responsibilities, managing time effectively, and controlling impulsivity.


Understanding ADHD and Anxiety

Understanding the relationship between anxiety and ADHD can help inform treatment decisions and interventions that address both conditions effectively. ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and anxiety are separate but often overlapping mental health conditions. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It can affect individuals from childhood through adulthood, leading to difficulties with focus, organization, time management, and impulse control. On the other hand, anxiety is a broad term encompassing various disorders characterized by excessive worry, fear, and apprehension. These disorders can manifest as physical symptoms, cognitive distress, and emotional turmoil.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically begins in childhood and may persist into adulthood. It is characterized by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity patterns that can interfere with daily functioning and development. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with maintaining focus, staying organized, managing time, and controlling impulses.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a broad term encompassing various mental health disorders characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, and apprehension. Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias. Anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms (rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath) and cognitive and emotional symptoms (excessive worry, irritability, and restlessness).

Relationship between Anxiety and ADHD

While anxiety and ADHD are separate conditions, they often coexist, meaning individuals with ADHD are more likely to experience anxiety disorders than the general population. Several factors contribute to this relationship:

  1. Shared Neurobiological Factors: ADHD and anxiety involve dysregulation of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine and norepinephrine) and abnormalities in brain structures related to attention, emotion regulation, and stress response. These shared neurobiological factors can contribute to the development and maintenance of both conditions.
  2. Overlapping Symptoms: Some symptoms of ADHD, such as difficulty concentrating, restlessness, and impulsivity, can also be present in anxiety disorders. This overlap can make distinguishing between the two conditions challenging and may lead to misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis.
  3. Impact of ADHD Symptoms on Anxiety: The core symptoms of ADHD, such as poor attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, can create stress and difficulties in various areas of life. These challenges can increase the risk of developing anxiety symptoms. For example, struggling academically or experiencing social difficulties due to ADHD symptoms may lead to heightened anxiety in school or social settings.
  4. Psychological Factors: Living with ADHD can be emotionally challenging. Individuals may face criticism, experience academic or occupational setbacks, and struggle with low self-esteem. These psychological factors can contribute to developing anxiety symptoms or exacerbate existing anxiety disorders.
The cognitive demands of ADHD, combined with impairments in sustained attention and working memory, can overwhelm individuals and create a fertile ground for anxiety to develop. The constant struggle to stay focused, manage multiple tasks, and remember important information can heighten feelings of anxiety and make it difficult to cope with everyday stressors.
The cognitive demands of ADHD, combined with impairments in sustained attention and working memory, can overwhelm individuals and create a fertile ground for anxiety to develop. The constant struggle to stay focused, manage multiple tasks, and remember important information can heighten feelings of anxiety and make it difficult to cope with everyday stressors.

ADHD and Anxiety Fact Sheet

Anxiety Disorder Overview

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions distinguished by extreme and persistent feelings of fear, worry, and anxiety. They can significantly affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical well-being.

Anxiety Symptoms

Behavioral: hypervigilance, irritability, or restlessness.

Cognitive: lack of concentration, racing thoughts, or unwanted thoughts.

Whole body: fatigue or sweating.

Also common:  anxiety, excessive worry, fear, insomnia, nausea, palpitations, or trembling.

Anxiety Treatment

  • Support group: A place where those pursuing the same disease or objective, such as weight loss or depression, can receive counseling and exchange experiences.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: A conversation treatment that aims to change the negative attitudes, actions, and feelings connected to psychiatric discomfort.
  • Counseling psychology: A subfield of psychology that handles issues with the self that are connected to work, school, family, and social life.
  • Anger management: To reduce destructive emotional outbursts, practice mindfulness, coping skills, and trigger avoidance.
  • Psychoeducation: Mental health education that also helps individuals feel supported, validated, and empowered
  • Family therapy: psychological counseling that improves family communication and conflict resolution.

ADHD and Anxiety in Adults

Adults with both ADHD and anxiety may experience a range of difficulties. They may struggle with maintaining focus and attention, organizing tasks and responsibilities, managing time effectively, and controlling impulsivity. These ADHD-related challenges can be compounded by the excessive worry, fear, and apprehension associated with anxiety disorders. The combination of ADHD and anxiety can lead to heightened stress, difficulties in social interactions, and impaired performance in academic or occupational settings.

ADHD and Anxiety Medication

For ADHD, stimulant medications such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamines (Adderall) are commonly prescribed. These medications help increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, improving attention and reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity. Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine (Strattera) and bupropion (Wellbutrin), may also be considered alternative options.

Regarding anxiety, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used as the first-line treatment. Medications such as sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), and paroxetine (Paxil) can help regulate serotonin levels in the brain, reducing anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety vs ADHD

Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, fear, and apprehension. Individuals with anxiety may experience physical symptoms (such as rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath) and cognitive and emotional symptoms (such as excessive worrying and restlessness). Anxiety can interfere with daily functioning and cause significant distress.

On the other hand, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that involves persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with maintaining focus, staying organized, managing time, and controlling impulses. ADHD can impact various areas of life, including academics, work, and relationships.

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ADHD Anxiety Statistics

ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and anxiety are two prevalent mental health conditions that can significantly impact individuals’ lives. Understanding the statistics surrounding ADHD and anxiety provides valuable insights into the prevalence, coexistence, and impact of these disorders. Here, we will explore key statistics related to ADHD and anxiety, shedding light on the scope and significance of these conditions:


25-40%

Research consistently demonstrates a high comorbidity rate between ADHD and anxiety. Studies suggest that approximately 25-40% of individuals with ADHD also experience an anxiety disorder. Conversely, individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to have ADHD than those without anxiety.

Source: CDC

2-5%

ADHD affects approximately 5-10% of children and 2-5% of adults worldwide. It is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, with a higher prevalence in males than females. However, ADHD can persist into adulthood, and many remain undiagnosed or untreated.

Source: American Psychiatric Association (APA),

$42 billion

The economic costs associated with anxiety disorders are substantial. Anxiety disorders cost more than $42 billion annually in healthcare expenses and lost productivity in the United States.

Source: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry


ADHD vs anxiety

ADHD and anxiety are two distinct mental health conditions, but they can share some similarities and often coexist in individuals. ADHD, which stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, involves difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. People with ADHD may struggle with staying focused, organizing tasks, managing time, and controlling impulsive behaviors.

In contrast, anxiety refers to excessive worry, fear, and apprehension. It can manifest as physical symptoms, cognitive distress, and emotional turmoil. Anxiety can cause individuals to anticipate and feel anxious about future events or present situations, often leading to avoidance behaviors and impairment in daily functioning.

While ADHD and anxiety can share symptoms such as restlessness or difficulty concentrating, they have different underlying causes and require separate diagnostic evaluations. ADHD is primarily associated with abnormalities in brain structures involved in attention and impulse control, as well as dysregulation of certain neurotransmitters. Anxiety, on the other hand, involves dysregulation of neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, and abnormalities in the brain circuits responsible for fear and stress responses.

Treatment approaches for ADHD and anxiety also differ. ADHD is often managed with stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate or amphetamines, which help improve attention and reduce hyperactivity. Non-stimulant medications and behavioral interventions may also be used. Anxiety, on the other hand, is typically treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy), and relaxation techniques to help manage symptoms and develop coping strategies.

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Best ADHD Medication for Adults with Anxiety

When considering medication options for adults with both ADHD and anxiety, it’s important to strike a balance that addresses both conditions effectively. Certain ADHD medications can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, while some anxiety medications may not adequately address ADHD symptoms. Finding the best medication for individuals with ADHD and anxiety requires careful evaluation and consideration by a healthcare professional. Here are some commonly used medication options:

  1. Atomoxetine (Strattera): This non-stimulant medication is approved for treating ADHD in adults. It can benefit individuals with ADHD and anxiety as it does not typically worsen anxiety symptoms. Atomoxetine increases norepinephrine levels in the brain, helping with ADHD symptoms and potentially reducing anxiety symptoms.
  2. Bupropion (Wellbutrin): Although primarily an antidepressant, bupropion is sometimes used off-label to treat ADHD. It may be a suitable option for individuals with ADHD and anxiety as it has a lower risk of exacerbating anxiety symptoms than stimulant medications. Bupropion works by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
  3. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): While SSRIs are primarily used to treat anxiety and depression, they can also be helpful for individuals with ADHD and anxiety. SSRIs, such as sertraline (Zoloft) or escitalopram (Lexapro), can help manage anxiety symptoms while providing some benefits for ADHD symptoms. However, it’s important to note that SSRIs may not be as effective for addressing core ADHD symptoms as other medications.
  4. Combination Therapy: Sometimes, a combination of medications may be necessary. This might involve prescribing an ADHD medication and an anti-anxiety medication to target both conditions. This approach requires careful monitoring and coordination between healthcare providers to ensure proper dosing and minimize potential interactions.

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Best ADHD Medication for Adults with Anxiety and Depression

When addressing ADHD symptoms in individuals with comorbid depression, it is important to consider medications that can effectively manage both conditions. While stimulant medications used to treat ADHD may exacerbate anxiety or depression symptoms in some individuals, other options exist. Here are some commonly used medications for ADHD in individuals with depression:

  1. Atomoxetine (Strattera): Atomoxetine is a non-stimulant medication approved for the treatment of ADHD in both children and adults. It works by increasing norepinephrine levels in the brain. Atomoxetine may be suitable for individuals with ADHD and depression, as it does not typically worsen depressive symptoms.
  2. Bupropion (Wellbutrin): Bupropion is an atypical antidepressant with some efficacy in managing ADHD symptoms. It works by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Bupropion may be a good option for individuals with ADHD and depression, as it can address depressive symptoms while providing some benefits for ADHD.
  3. Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs, such as nortriptyline or desipramine, are older antidepressant medications that can be used off-label to treat ADHD. These medications affect the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including norepinephrine. TCAs may be considered when other medications have not provided sufficient symptom relief or in cases where comorbid depression is a primary concern.
  4. Combination Therapy: In some cases, a combination of medications may be necessary to address both ADHD and depression symptoms effectively. This may involve combining an ADHD medication with an antidepressant medication, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), to target both conditions simultaneously. Combination therapy should be carefully monitored and coordinated by a healthcare professional.

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Anxiety Treatment at We Level Up WA

The choice between other anxiety prescriptions depends on individual factors, including the specific anxiety disorder, previous treatment response, side effect profile, and personal preferences. Consulting with a healthcare provider is crucial in determining the most appropriate medication and dosage for your anxiety disorder. They can evaluate your situation and guide you in making an informed decision.

Contact We Level Up Washington mental health treatment center for more information. Our mental health specialists can help you explore treatment options and provide further resources.

  1. Can ADHD cause anxiety?

    Yes, ADHD can cause or contribute to the development of anxiety in individuals. Research has shown a strong association between ADHD and an increased risk of anxiety disorders. The challenges associated with ADHD, such as difficulties with executive functioning, social interactions, and cognitive overload, can lead to heightened stress and worry, ultimately contributing to anxiety symptoms.

  2. Do I have ADHD or anxiety?

    Whether you have ADHD or anxiety requires a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional. Both conditions can share certain symptoms, such as restlessness or difficulty concentrating, making it challenging to differentiate between them based on symptoms alone.

Powerful Coping Skills for Anxiety. Top Mental Health Tips & Anxiety Tips Advice from a Therapist.


“Anxiety, when gone untreated, can increase over time. So here are four tips to calm your everyday anxiety. Take a breath. Do something that you enjoy. Remove yourself from the situation and go for a walk. Doing these four things gives you a better chance of calming your anxiety.”

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Search We Level Up WA Mental Health ADHD and Anxiety Topics & Resources
Sources
  1. National Institute of Mental Health – “Anxiety Disorders” Link: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – “Mental Health – Anxiety and Depression” Link: https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm
  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – “Coping With Stress and Anxiety” Link: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coping-with-stress-and-anxiety
  4. MedlinePlus – “Anxiety” Link: https://medlineplus.gov/anxiety.html
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – “Anxiety Disorders” Link: https://www.samhsa.gov/conditions/anxiety-disorders
  6. National Institute on Aging – “Anxiety Disorders in Older Adults” Link: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/anxiety-disorders-older-adults
  7. Office on Women’s Health – “Anxiety Disorders” Link: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/anxiety-disorders
  8. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health – “Anxiety” Link: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/anxiety-at-a-glance
  9. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – “Anxiety Disorders” Link: https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/anxiety.asp
  10. National Library of Medicine – “Anxiety” Link: https://medlineplus.gov/anxiety.html