More Evidence Linking ADHD to Comorbid Conditions

A study from researchers in New Zealand has added weight to the idea that people with ADHD are significantly more likely to have other mental health conditions that people without it.

ADHD is a disorder marked by inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, but people with ADHD often have additional, “comorbid” conditions like depression and anxiety that complicate diagnosis and treatment.

In the new study, researchers surveyed a group of 222 adults, including 158 with ADHD and 64 without, to see whether some comorbid disorders are more often associated with ADHD than others. The ADHD and non-ADHD groups were equivalent in terms of age, gender, education, income, IQ and socioeconomic status.

Overall, the people with ADHD reported significantly higher levels of non-ADHD psychiatric disorders. Specifically, 83 percent of the participants with ADHD reported having had psychiatric conditions at some point in their lives compared with 52 percent of participants without ADHD. People with ADHD were more likely to report all of the following conditions:

  • Major depressive disorder (65 percent in the ADHD group vs. 36 percent in the non-ADHD group)
  • Social phobia (31 percent vs. 11 percent)
  • Substance abuse (26 percent vs. 8 percent)
  • Alcohol abuse (32 percent vs. 14 percent)

These results add to mounting evidence from many countries that there’s a strong link between ADHD and other mental health conditions.

For example, a survey of 6081 Korean participants found that those with ADHD were more likely to report alcohol abuse, nicotine dependence, multiple mood and anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and several other conditions. Research done in Turkey showed that psychiatric patients with ADHD tended to present with other disorders first, and that 58.9 percent reported substance abuse while 38.5 percent had attempted suicide.

The fact that ADHD so often comes with comorbid conditions shows why diagnosing and treating the disorder can be complex. In many cases, making progress on the comorbid conditions requires treating the ADHD – and vice-versa. The good news is that research has given us a solid idea of where we stand: we now know that it’s very common for ADHD to go hand-in-hand with other disorders and that this is an important point for both people with ADHD and professionals treating ADHD to keep in mind.

Image: Flickr/mararie under CC BY-SA 2.0


  1. Miriam on November 12, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I’m curious about the wording; “that ADHD so often comes with comorbid conditions…” when the article mainly talks about depression, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and social fobias.
    I’m not sure it “comes with” it as much as ADHD can be the underlying reason for those particular other issues.
    Can having ADHD make you depressed? Absolutely, especially if it’s undiagnosed or not properly treated.
    Will some of those people turn to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with their feelings? Some surely will.
    Can knowing you are different and may say something to embarrass yourself make you avoid Social situations? I know it can.
    I have ADHD. I personally know how it can make you feel.
    I’m fortunate, I am diagnosed with ADD and treated for it. I have a great sense of humor that allows me (at times) to sit back and just laugh. I don’t drink or smoke, and no unprescribed “medications” for me.
    I have also been recently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I’m not really surprised. I have three kids and just started college.
    Life can feel a bit overwhelming at times.
    If you understand WHY you may act a certain way, or do the things you do, it can help a great deal.

    • Neil Petersen on November 12, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Miriam. I think you’re right that ADHD can itself contribute to having other disorders, but I also think there are cases where ADHD and other disorders have shared causes without either disorder “causing” the other. For example, people could use drugs and alcohol to cope with ADHD and self-medicate, as you point out. However, people with ADHD and people prone to substance abuse both tend to process rewards atypically, so it’s also plausible that ADHD and substance abuse share underlying biological or genetic risk factors. So far, research hasn’t settled this question — it’s established that ADHD often occurs with comorbid condition but hasn’t pinpointed the reasons for this. Either way, your point about ADHD precipitating other disorders is important to keep in mind for treatment — for example, a lot of people with ADHD+depression will find that treating ADHD is the only way to improve the depression and that treating the depression by itself doesn’t do much.

  2. Andrea Shell on November 24, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I’m ADHD too & Dyslexic too and I have what’s called Hypersensitivity & high functioning.

    Personally I think i just have a low bullshit tolerance… what if we are human evolution immune to hyper-normalisation 😉

    As they used to say, it’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick world.

    • Neil Petersen on November 28, 2016 at 6:46 am

      That’s an interesting way of thinking about it. Thanks for sharing!