ADHD and bipolar disorder are two mental conditions that often co-occur in individuals. The overlap in symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis or confusion between the two disorders. Treating both conditions is crucial for effective healing and management. In this article, we will explore the link between ADHD and bipolar disorder, the common symptoms they share, and the challenges in diagnosing and treating individuals with co-occurring disorders.

Table of Contents

  • What is ADHD?
  • What is Bipolar Disorder?
  • Understanding the Link Between Bipolar Disorder and ADHD
  • Differentiating ADHD from Bipolar Disorder
  • Treating Bipolar Disorder and ADHD
  • FAQs About the Co-Occurrence of ADHD and Bipolar Disorder
  • Conclusion

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a common condition that often appears in childhood but can also develop in adulthood. It affects approximately 10% of children in Texas, with a majority receiving treatment. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by difficulties focusing, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Symptoms may vary depending on age, gender, and personality.

Common Symptoms of ADHD in Children:

  • Inability to focus on tasks or directions
  • Difficulty keeping track of assignments or personal belongings
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Restlessness and fidgeting
  • Regularly interrupting others
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Avoidance of mentally demanding tasks
  • Challenges in school

Common Symptoms of ADHD in Adults:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Increased susceptibility to stress triggers
  • Trouble multitasking

ADHD can impact various aspects of an individual’s life, including academic performance, relationships, and career prospects. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not solely characterized by the inability to sit still or focus. It can also lead to anxiety and depression due to the challenges it presents.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a mental condition characterized by extreme mood swings, ranging from euphoric highs to devastating lows. There are three main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar I is characterized by manic depressive episodes that can last for weeks, while bipolar II involves less severe and shorter-lasting episodes. Cyclothymic disorder is marked by hypomanic episodes that can persist for years.

People with bipolar disorder can experience psychosis and paranoia, leading to potential misdiagnosis with conditions like schizophrenia. Impaired memory is also common, making it challenging for healthcare providers to provide effective treatment. Bipolar disorder can significantly impact an individual’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall well-being.

Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression or feelings of hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Excessive excitement or euphoria
  • Grandiosity or inflated ego
  • Racing thoughts
  • Speaking quickly or interrupting others

Individuals with bipolar disorder may struggle with maintaining employment, relationships, and motivation due to the dramatic shifts in mood. Bipolar highs and lows are more intense and extreme compared to normal fluctuations in mood.

Understanding the Link Between Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

The exact reasons for the co-occurrence of ADHD and bipolar disorder are not fully understood. However, studies have confirmed a significant connection between the two conditions. Research published in the National Library of Medicine found that children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were ten times more likely to develop bipolar disorder later in life. Co-occurring ADHD and bipolar disorder also increase the risk of suicide attempts.

Most individuals receive a diagnosis of either ADHD or bipolar disorder, but not both simultaneously. Treating only one condition without addressing the co-occurring disorder can hinder progress and overall well-being. People with both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and bipolar disorder may exhibit impulsive and dangerous behaviors, unaware of the potential risks involved. Without appropriate treatment, their actions can unintentionally harm those around them, leading to strained relationships and increased depressive symptoms.

ADHD is often diagnosed during childhood, while bipolar disorder is rarely diagnosed until adulthood. As a result, individuals may attribute manic episodes to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder rather than recognizing them as symptoms of bipolar disorder. This underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis can have serious consequences for individuals with co-occurring disorders.

Additionally, many adults with ADHD do not consider seeking evaluations for the disorder, leading to a higher number of undiagnosed patients. Left untreated, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder alone can result in job loss and impulsive behavior due to distorted thinking patterns.

Differentiating ADHD from Bipolar Disorder

ADHD and bipolar disorder can share some similar symptoms, making it challenging to differentiate between the two. Some overlapping symptoms include racing thoughts, excessive excitement, impulsivity, and grandiose thinking. However, there are distinct characteristics that can help in distinguishing one disorder from the other.

Bipolar Disorder:

  • Destructive mood swings characterized by rage
  • Psychosis, which is not commonly associated with ADHD
  • Chronic and debilitating loss of energy
  • Mood swings unrelated to specific situations, often cyclical
  • Improvement of symptoms with mood stabilizers, not stimulants


  • Hyperfocus on a particular interest for an unusually long time
  • Hyperactivity, constant movement, or fidgeting
  • Difficulty staying on task and following directions
  • Improvement of symptoms with stimulant medication, not mood stabilizers

Bipolar disorder is classified as a mood disorder, while ADHD is considered a behavioral disorder. The distinction lies in how each disorder affects an individual’s actions and emotions. When both disorders co-occur, individuals may experience a dysregulation of both behavior and mood.

Treating Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

Treating individuals with co-occurring bipolar disorder and ADHD can be complex due to the different medications and approaches required for each condition. Typically, bipolar disorder is treated first, followed by addressing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms once mood stabilization has been achieved. However, there are medications available that can effectively manage both disorders. For example, Ritalin has shown success in treating both bipolar disorder and ADHD.

In addition to medication, various coping strategies can help individuals manage symptoms of both disorders. Incorporating regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and practicing meditation can be beneficial. Talk therapy, outpatient therapy, and group therapy are effective treatment options for individuals with co-occurring ADHD and bipolar disorder. It is essential to explore various options as different individuals respond differently to treatments. Accurate diagnosis is crucial to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses symptoms effectively.

FAQs About the Co-Occurrence of ADHD and Bipolar Disorder

Q: What are the differences between bipolar disorder and ADHD?

A: Bipolar disorder and ADHD can present with similar symptoms, such as racing thoughts and high energy. However, bipolar disorder is more likely to be diagnosed in individuals previously diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as children. Bipolar disorder is classified as a mood disorder, while Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is considered a behavioral disorder.

Q: How common is the co-occurrence of ADHD and bipolar disorder?

A: The co-occurrence of ADHD and bipolar disorder is relatively common. Accurate diagnosis is necessary to provide appropriate treatment for individuals with both disorders.


ADHD and bipolar disorder frequently co-occur, leading to challenges in diagnosis and treatment. Understanding the link between the two disorders is crucial for effective management. Accurate diagnosis, combined with evidence-based treatment, can significantly improve the lives of individuals with co-occurring Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and bipolar disorder. Through a combination of medication, therapy, and healthy lifestyle choices, individuals can find relief and enhance their overall well-being. If you suspect you or someone you know may have both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and bipolar disorder, seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate ADHD and bipolar treatment.