In Person and Online Therapy Sessions Available | (616) 309 0737
2460 Burton St SE #101, Grand Rapids, MI 49546
In Person and Online Therapy Sessions Available | (616) 309 0737
2460 Burton St SE #101, Grand Rapids, MI 49546

Exploring the Link Between PTSD and ADHD

Let’s begin with some sobering facts. People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have double the risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than people without PTSD. Meanwhile, someone with ADHD is four times as likely to be eventually diagnosed with PTSD. 

We’re talking about two distinct disorders that present a clear, documented association — even if that link is not always easy to recognize. There’s a fair amount of overlap with ADHD and PTSD symptoms. Unless both conditions are identified, treatment can be hampered. Therefore, it’s become vital that awareness is raised when it comes to the ADHD-PTSD link. 

A Little About ADHD 

man with random thoughts

While it’s believed that people are born with ADHD, this developmental/neurological disorder impacts about eleven percent of U.S. children and doesn’t typically emerge until early childhood. ADHD negatively affects important functions like learning, organizational skills, social interactions, and making decisions. A clinician may suspect the presence of ADHD when symptoms like this are reported and observed: 

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Non-stop talking, moving, and fidgeting 
  • Having trouble listening, focusing, staying on task
  • Forgetfulness

A Little About PTSD 

When a person endures or is exposed to a traumatic event (or ongoing events), PTSD can occur. About ten percent of trauma survivors undergo brain changes in response to the experiences. They live in a state of high alert. As with ADHD, this is a form of neurodivergence. Unlike ADHD, this neurodivergence is acquired. Common signs and symptoms include: 

  • Sudden outbursts of anger
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Sleep problems 
  • Hyper-vigilance 
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Avoidance and withdrawal 
  • Depression

What Symptoms Do ADHD and PTSD Typically Share? 

As you likely noticed from the above list, there is overlap — probably because both conditions result in a change to one’s prefrontal cortex. Here are the most common examples:

  • Distractibility 
  • Impulsivity
  • Inattention
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Sleep issues
  • Easily startled 
  • Memory problems 
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability and poor temper control
  • Self-medication 

Can Either Disorder “Cause” the Other?

  • There is no hard evidence that ADHD can cause PTSD. However, people with ADHD tend to experience more traumatic events, so there is a potential link there.
  • Conversely, it’s currently believed that someone who has been traumatized is at greater risk of ADHD — especially when the trauma occurs during childhood. The way PTSD impacts a child’s brain can lead to problems with emotional and impulse regulation. 

Diagnoses of ADHD, PTSD, or Both 

The guidance you need must come from a clinician who understands both disorders well. Other conditions and causes must be ruled out first. Therefore, the process will involve observation, talking to others, and compiling a thorough medical history. Needless to say, if there’s trauma in your past, now is the time to reveal it. 

Due to the overlap of symptoms, this can take time. For example, if a person is easily distracted, this could be due to ADHD’s regulation issues or PTSD’s hyper-vigilance (or both). An experienced therapist will eventually parse out the symptoms and combine them with your specific situation to discern if either or both conditions are present. From there, it’s time for a treatment plan. 

Treating ADHD and PTSD

If both conditions are present, treatments for ADHD and PTSD are different and discrete. That said, your therapist must decide which takes priority. But make no mistake, the concurrent treatments can feed off of each other in a positive way. Case in point: Managing ADHD can enhance a person’s sleep. This has the added benefit of offering relief in that realm for the trauma survivor. As symptoms for either disorder are better managed, the overall relief is massive. 

To learn more about this tricky convergence, I invite you to connect soon for a free consultation for ADHD or trauma therapy

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