ADHD occurs in approximately 3-5 percent of American children. While some children “outgrow” their ADHD symptoms, new research shows that many – approximately 30 percent – do not. In fact, a healthy percentage of children with ADHD also have a comorbid disorder. Comorbidity occurs when more than one mental health condition exists at the same time. ADHD and comorbid conditions occur in approximately half of children diagnosed with ADHD.
Common Comorbid Conditions
ADHD commonly occurs with several other disorders. Studies show that approximately 25 percent of children with ADHD have depression. Anxiety is present with ADHD in approximately the same percentage of children. ADHD also often presents with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and a variety of personality disorders. Regardless of what comorbid condition might exist, ADHD is usually the first disorder to develop.
The real crux of the comorbidity issue is the development of negative feelings about oneself that many children with ADHD develop. Being told they are “bad” or “different” can cause significant problems down the road in school, at home, and in various relationships with other people. Try as they might, being unable to control their hyperactivity or inattentiveness can lead to poor performance in school and social isolation. This, in turn, can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, and even risk of suicide. In short, the presence of mood disorders among people with ADHD may develop as a result of their ADHD symptoms, as opposed to developing alongside ADHD. As such, proper treatment is incredibly important.
ADHD is a highly treatable disorder. However, researchers warn that the presence of ADHD and comorbid conditions can complicate matters. Comorbidity can alter the way in which ADHD symptomology is presented, and can therefore impact diagnosis and the prognosis for effective symptom management. It can be extremely difficult to determine which condition is the cause of the most disruptive symptoms, especially when both conditions are of a chronic nature. For example, a child with ADHD that exhibits marked hyperactivity can often show disruptive and defiant behavior. However, such defiance may be related to their hyperactivity, or it could be related to a comorbid ODD condition. Similarly, inattentive symptoms could be the result of ADHD, or they could be the expression of another condition, such as anxiety or depression.
Given the potential difficulties in pinning down the source of the child’s behavior, it is important to fully examine the nature of the situation and appropriately diagnose the child’s ADHD and comorbid conditions. Only then can effective treatments be assigned. If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, many treatment options exist. Many parents try medication to curb their child’s symptoms and find that the side effects and potential for drug abuse outweigh the benefits of using drug therapy. However, drug-free ADHD treatments are available and have been shown to have great success in helping children overcome their ADHD symptoms. For more information about ADHD and drug-free treatments, visit the Learning Breakthrough Program’s drug-free ADHD treatment page.