Health Problems That Happen With ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 29, 2021

If you’re living with ADHD, it may not be the only health problem you have. The disorder often happens along with other health problems.

Adults with ADHD may have depression, sleep problems, and trouble with alcohol or drugs. Children with ADHD may have these health problems, too. Plus, they are more likely than other kids to have behavior disorders.

These issues may have similar symptoms as ADHD, so it can be hard to tell the difference. If you or your child has ADHD, be honest with your doctor about any worrisome thoughts, moods, or behaviors. That way, your doctor can decide if you need treatment for a separate condition.

Depression in Adults With ADHD

ADHD may make you feel sad or frustrated at times. But clinical depression, also called major depression, is different. It’s usually severe enough to cause problems with day-to-day life, including work, school, relationships, and social activities.

As many as 70% of people with ADHD will get treated for depression at some point. Symptoms include:

  • You feel sad, hopeless, or empty most of the time.
  • You don’t enjoy most activities.
  • You lose or gain a lot of weight.
  • You feel sleepy during the day and can’t sleep at night.
  • You pace, wring your hands, or do other mindless motions.

If you have some of these symptoms for at least 2 weeks, don’t assume it’s because of ADHD. Make an appointment to see your doctor.

Depression in Children With ADHD

It may not be as easy to notice depression in children as it is in adults. Symptoms can include irritability or hyperactivity, which are also part of ADHD. That can make it challenging to know which problem is affecting your child.

But it’s important to watch for symptoms so your child can get the right diagnosis. Work with your child’s doctor, who ideally will have experience treating ADHD and depression. If your child does have depression, therapy and sometimes medication can help manage it.

Sleep Problems

Sleep problems are common among adults, especially those with ADHD. But kids who have ADHD can have trouble getting enough rest, too. In fact, they may be two to three times more likely to have sleep problems than kids who don’t have ADHD.

Why is a good night’s sleep hard to get with this disorder? Scientists don’t have a clear answer, but a few things could be at work.

  • Stimulants. Caffeine is a stimulant. So are some medications for ADHD. Putting either or both into your system can lead to restless nights.
  • Depression and anxiety. These mental health conditions, which commonly happen with ADHD, may cause insomnia.
  • Restless legs syndrome. The nerve condition causes uncomfortable sensations when you’re at rest and the urge to move your legs for relief.
  • Sleep-disordered breathing. This includes several conditions, including primary snoring and sleep apnea. Around 30% of kids with ADHD have sleep-disordered breathing, compared with 3% of all kids.
  • Circadian-rhythm sleep disorders. In a common form of this disorder, the body has a delayed sleep-wake cycle. In other words, your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is set to go to sleep later and wake up later than normal. As a result, you may have a hard time both falling asleep and waking up.

Experts say that efforts to improve sleep should be part of the treatment plan for many with ADHD. Some tips that can help:

  • Practice good sleep habits (limit screen time, keep a regular schedule, limit caffeine).
  • Keep the bedroom cool and dark.
  • Get lots of exercise, but not within 3 hours of bedtime.
  • Don’t eat a big meal close to bedtime.

Don’t take sleep medications or supplements without talking to your doctor first.

Severe Behavior Problems

Some people with ADHD also have separate, severe behavior problems known as disruptive behavior disorders. There are two types.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). As many as half of all children with ADHD may also have ODD, when kids display these behaviors for at least 6 months:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Arguing with adults
  • Refusing to comply with adults’ requests or rules
  • Purposely annoying people
  • Blaming others for their bad behavior
  • Showing anger, resentment, or spite

Conduct disorder (CD). Sometimes ODD can turn into CD, which is more extreme. It may happen in as many as 25% of children and 45% of teens with ADHD. Signs include:

  • Aggressive behavior toward people or animals
  • Destroying property
  • Stealing
  • Skipping school

Because ODD and CD often happen with ADHD, it’s important to tell your child’s doctor about any warning signs as soon as you notice them. Interventions like parent training and support at school can make a difference.

Other Health Problems

Other health issues that can affect adults and children with ADHD include:

  • Mood disorders. Your mood may swing to extremes more often and more quickly than seems normal or appropriate. A child might be in a bad mood or cry more often.
  • Anxiety. You may worry more than you need to about issues in your life. Over time, this can leave you irritable, stressed, and tired. 
  • Personality disorders. This group of conditions tends to make you less flexible when something doesn’t go as planned. You may respond in ways that other people find odd or harmful, and struggle to build healthy relationships.
  • Social phobia. You get anxious about being in places and situations, like school or work, where you have to interact with other people, especially those you might not know.
  • Separation anxiety. You get anxious when you’re away from family or even consider the possibility.
  • Learning disorders. About half of all kids with ADHD also have a learning disorder. That means they acquire or use new information in a different way. Common learning disorders include dyslexia (difficulty reading) and dyscalculia (difficulty with math).
  • Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). You may overreact emotionally when you fail to meet expectations (yours or those important to you). This sensitivity also might show up when others criticize you. Although it’s not a formal psychiatric diagnosis, it can describe a set of common symptoms.

Ask your doctor about important warning signs of these conditions so you’ll know when another problem may be affecting you or your child.

WebMD Medical Reference



The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Assessing Adults with ADHD and Comorbidities.”

CHADD: “Disruptive Behavior Disorders,” “Depression,” “ADHD, Sleep and Sleep Disorders,” “Coexisting Conditions.”

Mayo Clinic: “Clinical Depression: What Does That Mean?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Personality Disorders.”

CDC: “Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” “ADHD and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.”

BMC Psychiatry: “Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach.”

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