Anxiety and ADHD are common mental health disorders that impact many people in the United States. While they are distinct, overlapping symptoms may make diagnosing difficult. If you think you may be struggling with ADHD or anxiety, you are not alone. Help is available to you. Today, you will gain an in-depth look at both disorders, including symptoms and prevalence, how you can get evaluated and diagnosed, and the treatment options available.
Definition of ADHD
ADHD stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and it is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders that is usually diagnosed in childhood. However, ADHD can impact adults; some people are diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood. ADHD is categorized by type. Each type is determined by the presenting symptoms.
The three distinct types of ADHD are:
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type: This is categorized by impulsivity and can include symptoms like constantly running or jumping, difficulty sitting still, and talking too much.
- Predominantly inattentive type: This type is categorized by difficulty following through with tasks, having a hard time focusing, and difficulty tracking conversations and paying attention.
- Combined type: Combined type has equal hyperactive and inattentive symptoms.
Symptoms of ADHD
Symptoms of ADHD are varietal, and they can range in severity. Common symptoms of ADHD include:
- Losing things
- Being unorganized
- Hyperverbal or talking too much
- Difficulty sitting still
- Difficulty waiting your turn
- Problems getting along with others
- Taking unnecessary risks
- Making careless mistakes
- Impulsivity and having difficulty resisting temptation
Many youths diagnosed with ADHD also have a co-occurring social, mental, or emotional disorder. 6 out of 10 children with ADHD have a co-occurring disorder. More specifically, approximately 50% of children with ADHD also have conduct disorder or another behavioral disorder.
Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD can be detrimental to a child’s social and educational development. Fortunately, studies indicate that the majority of children with ADHD are receiving some sort of educational or psychotherapy intervention.
Risk factors for ADHD
While it is difficult to determine a direct cause for ADHD, researchers have found risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing ADHD:
- Having a genetic predisposition to ADHD
- Premature delivery
- Nicotine and alcohol use during pregnancy
- Exposure to environmental toxins (lead) as a child or during pregnancy
- Brain injury
Contrary to popular belief, scientists do not believe that ADHD is caused by:
- Eating too much sugar
- Family chaos and instability
- Watching too much television
Prevalence of ADHD
Millions of children across the country have been diagnosed with ADHD.
- From 2016-2019, 6 million children in the United States were diagnosed with ADHD.
- Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.
- Approximately 3 out of 10 children diagnosed with ADHD have also been diagnosed with anxiety.
In adults, studies show that:
- Prevalence of ADHD is 4.4% in the United States.
- Men are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (5.4%) than females (3.2%).
- Lifetime prevalence of ADHD in adults between 18-44 years old is 8.1%.
What Is anxiety?
The demands of everyday life can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress. Experiencing occasional feelings of worry or stress is a normal part of life. However, if the feelings of anxiety or worry become chronic and impact your ability to function at home, in relationships, or at school, you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder.
Several diagnosable anxiety disorders exist, and some of the most common ones include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
Symptoms of anxiety
Generalized anxiety disorder is categorized by a chronic feeling of anxiety or worry that impacts your ability to function daily.
Common symptoms of GAD include:
- Becoming easily fatigued
- Feeling on edge, restless, or irritable
- Experiencing unexplainable pain in your muscles, having frequent headaches, muscle aches, and stomach pain
- Sleep problems, including difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Inability to control thoughts and feelings of worry
Social anxiety disorder is characterized as a chronic and intense fear of being judged and criticized by others in a social setting.
Common symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Racing heart
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Fear of being judged by others
- Feeling self-conscious
- Shaking, trembling, and sweating
- Stiff body posture and difficulty talking to people you don’t know
People who struggle with panic disorder experience sudden and repeated panic attacks that involve intense feelings that there is a threat when there really isn’t, feelings of fear and feeling a loss of control.
Common symptoms of panic disorder include:
- Chest pain
- Trembling or shaking
- Racing heart
- Sense of impending doom
- Feeling out of control
Risk factors for anxiety disorders
Like ADHD, there isn’t a single cause for the development of anxiety. However, similarly to ADHD, certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing anxiety.
Risk factors for anxiety are environmental and genetic and can include:
- Exposure to trauma, abuse, and other stressful life events
- Being shy and feeling nervous in new situations during childhood
- A history of mental illness and anxiety disorders in relatives
- Drinking caffeine and other medications
- Physical health problems such as heart problems and thyroid disease
Prevalence of anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders are among the most common disorders in the United States. In 2019, 15.6% of adults across the country struggled with mild, moderate, or severe anxiety.
- Women are more likely to experience anxiety than men.
- People between 18-29 are most likely to experience anxiety.
- The percentage of people with mild anxiety decreases with age from 4.3% for adults aged 18-29 years old to 2.2% among adults 65 years of age and older.
- The percentage of people with moderate to severe anxiety also decreases as you age.
- In 2019, 11.0% of men reported experiencing anxiety symptoms within the past two weeks compared to 19% of women.
There are many options for treating ADHD, including medication and behavioral therapy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends both medication and behavioral therapy for children six years of age and older. For children under six years old, the recommended first line of treatment is behavioral therapy. Furthermore, lifestyle habits can help manage and improve symptoms of ADHD.
Lifestyle habits that may help improve ADHD symptoms include:
- Engaging in regular exercise and physical activity
- Limiting the amount of time you are exposed to a screen such as a phone, computer, iPad, and television
- Receiving adequate sleep based on your age
- Maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes lean proteins, grains, fruits, and vegetables
Similar to ADHD, anxiety disorders are usually treated by using medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of both. Anti-anxiety and anti-depressants can help manage symptoms of anxiety. Behavioral therapy can teach you different ways of behaving, thinking, and responding to emotions, which can help lessen the severity and frequency of anxiety symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT and acceptance and commitment therapy are common psychotherapies in the treatment of anxiety. Support groups and stress management techniques can also help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
It can be difficult to discern the difference between certain ADHD and anxiety symptoms. If you compare and contrast ADHD and anxiety symptoms, you will see that some overlapping symptoms include:
- Irritability and impulsivity
- Problems in relationships
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
Diagnosis and treatment
Do you find yourself struggling with focus and a lack of concentration that impacts your ability to function? Are you experiencing regular anxiety that is negatively impacting your relationships or your ability to perform daily tasks or tasks at work? If the answer is yes, you may be struggling with anxiety or ADHD. If you think you or someone you love may be struggling with either disorder, help is available to you. Only a licensed medical or mental health professional can diagnose you with ADHD or anxiety.
Talk to your doctor if you think you may be experiencing symptoms of ADHD or anxiety. Your doctor can assess you for symptoms or refer you to a specialist who will be able to provide you with a thorough evaluation. If you are diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety, you and your healthcare provider will create a comprehensive treatment plan that is suitable to you and your needs.
Interventions may include medications, supplements, and psychotherapy. If you are struggling with paying for your prescription medication, ScriptSave WellRx can help you save up to 80% by using their prescription savings card. Most people who take advantage of the free prescription savings card save up to 80%.
Jacquelyn Buffo began writing at the age of 10 when she won a county-wide essay contest explaining why her mother is worth her weight in gold. Since that time, she has written for several newspapers and a health and wellness blog. Her education and experience is in mental health and addiction. She is a licensed counselor and currently provides therapeutic services on an outpatient basis. Her counseling and substance abuse experience includes inpatient residential, in-home, and early recovery counseling. She is a certified addiction specialist and is working on obtaining her certification in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. She also specializes in working with pregnant and post-partum women and has received advanced training on women's health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What is ADHD?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Data and Statistics about ADHD.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Anxiety disorders.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder among adults: United States, 2019.