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Conditions Similar to ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 29, 2020

Several conditions may be confused with, or appear along with, ADHD. Those suspected of having ADHD should have a complete evaluation, including a physical examination, to help determine exactly what is contributing to the problematic behaviors.

Among the possible causes of ADHD-like behavior are:

  • A sudden life change (such as a traumatic event, a divorce, a death in the family, or moving)
  • Undetected seizures
  • Thyroid problems
  • Lead toxicity
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Drug or alcohol use

It is also quite common for other medical conditions to occur along with ADHD. In fact, it has been estimated that nearly 75% of adults with ADHD have another condition that complicates the diagnosis and management of the ADHD. For example, some studies have shown:

  • Mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, exist in 19% to 37% of adults with ADHD.
  • Anxiety problems exist in 25% to 50% of adults with ADHD.
  • Alcohol abuse exists in 32% to 53% of adults with ADHD.
  • Other types of substance abuse, including marijuana and cocaine use, occur in 8% to 32% of adults with ADHD.
  • Twenty percent of adults with ADHD also have learning disabilities, particularly problems like dyslexia.

For children with ADHD, academic difficulties are common. Other problems among children include:

  • Learning disabilities; data from the 1997-98 National Health Interview Survey suggests roughly half of children ages 6-11 may also have a learning disorder.
  • Conduct and oppositional defiant disorder which manifest as disruptive or even criminal behavior
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Relationship problems with peers; estimates are as high as 21% of the number of children with ADHD (versus 2% of children without ADHD) whose behavior interferes with friendships. This may result in depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems, and delinquency as teenagers.