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Bipolar Disorder vs. ADHD

by Megan Dlugokinski

In my research and study on ADHD I have discovered that the symptoms can be similar to Bipolar Disorder. In order to receive proper treatment it is necessary to distinguish between the two diagnoses. The primary difficulties for those with ADHD are with cognitive functioning, including attention, distractibility and energy level. The primary difficulty for those with Bipolar Disorder is with mood regulation. Both disorders tend to run in families.

I have listed some of the symptoms related to ADHD, Bipolar or both disorders below. This is not a complete list but will give you a basic look at the differences and similarities of the two disorders. They can also occur together and it is much more common than most people realize. Many times one disorder is overlooked when both disorders are present. 


Some symptoms of ADHD include:

• Poor follow-through 
• Poor listening skills 
• Task avoidance 
• Disorganized
• Inconsistent
• Easily overwhelmed
• trouble changing activities
• poor eye contact
• Forgetfulness 
• Fidgetiness 
• Annoys others easily 
• Interrupts others 
• Often acts as if he or she is being driven by a motor 
• Rejection from peers and adults 
• Trouble thinking before they act – live in the “now”
• Difficulty falling or staying asleep

Some symptoms of early onset of Bipolar Disorder include:

• Temper tantrums generally triggered by limit-setting (i.e., a parental "NO") and conflict with authority figures
• Oppositional 
• Mood swings 
• Racing thoughts 
• Aggressive behavior 
• daredevil acts
• Pressured Speech
• Prolonged Rages
• Grandiose thinking 
• Depressed or elevated mood 
• oversensitivity to emotional or environmental triggers
• Lethargy 
• Difficulty getting out of bed 
• Social anxiety 
• Hyper sexuality
• Decreased need for sleep
• suicidality with plan or intent

Symptoms that are seen in both ADHD and Bipolar disorder, but with subtle differences include:

• Hyperactivity
• Distractibility
• mood instability
• oversensitive to stimulation
• overreaction to stress
• irritability
• Impulsive
• Low Self-Esteem

Treatment:   Stimulants are the primary treatment for those with ADHD while Mood Stabilizers are the primary treatment for Bipolar disorder. For those with both disorders it is important to note that mood stabilizers don’t seem to make ADHD worse, but stimulant medicines (and antidepressants) can make bipolar disorder worse. However, stimulants and mood stabilizers can be used simultaneously in many cases for those with both disorders. 

The main difference between the two disorders appears to be the grandiosity and the elated mood seen in Bipolar disorder, which does not appear in ADHD. What makes diagnosis even harder is the overlap between the symptoms and the fact that 50 to 80% of those with bipolar disorder also have ADHD. 

If you suspect either ADHD or Bipolar in yourself or a loved one it is important to educate yourself about both disorders so that you can discuss it with your doctor.

For more information on Bipolar and ADHD:
Is it Bipolar Disorder or ADHD?

Mood Disorder Questionnaire
The Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ) is a 13-item checklist developed by Robert M. A. Hirschfeld, MD. The MDQ is designed to help your doctor determine what type of mood disorder you may be experiencing. You can print this questionnaire, fill it out, and give it to your doctor. 

The bipolar child

The Bipolar Survival Guide

Loving Someone with Bipolar

Add To C3 Kids 
- The all-natural, drug-free way for children, teens and adults to win against ADD and ADHD

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