Bipolar and ADHD

Bipolar and ADHD disorders are two mental or brain disorders that have become increasingly prevalent among children and adolescents in recent years. However, because these two disorders share some of the same symptoms, it can be difficult to correctly diagnose or differentiate these two disorders in an individual.

According to recent studies, children under the age of eighteen are 40 times more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar or ADHD than they were just 10-20 years ago. Researchers do not know exactly why this is happening, and speculate that is may be due in part to the fact that mental health clinicians are more knowledgeable regarding behaviors which indicate the presence of ADHD and bipolar.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Mood Swings

While symptoms of bipolar and ADHD illness share some common symptoms, differences do exist which are noticeable, especially to a trained professional such as a psychologist, or psychiatrist. Some of the definite symptoms of bipolar disorder are:

  • extreme mood changes
  • suicide attempts
  • obsessive-compulsive habits
  • drug/alcohol abuse
  • poor school performance
  • distortions in thinking

Experts recommend taking your child to one of these specialists if he or she exhibits these symptoms for an extended period of time, especially if it seems like there has been a marked departure from previous more normal behavior. Occasionally, bipolar disorder can result in grandiose thinking or behavior, which sometimes manifests itself in addictions like gambling. When an individual is experiencing the "manic" phase of bipolar illness, if he or she may wins one small bet then they can easily and nearly immediately begin thinking they will win again and continue betting until they have no more money. This manic period may result in stealing in order to continue betting, or leading to other illegal activities which may not end until disaster strikes.

Symptoms of ADHD

While bipolar and ADHD disorder can seem very similar, the difference will likely manifest itself in degrees of attention and mood. Individuals suffering from ADHD can be hypersensitive to slight remarks or events which they interpret very personally. In addition, attention levels are extremely limited showing an inability to finish any sort of project. This is a major contributer to the suffering in a person with ADHD. Fidgeting and restlessness also plague an ADHD sufferer which causes them to appear extremely distracted and self-absorbed. Learning difficulties often are seen because of a combination of all these symptoms.

Differences between ADHD and Bipolar

Mood changes are what predominantly differentiates bipolar and ADHD disorder from each other. While someone with ADHD may have periods of sadness or depression which gradually occur over a period of time, the opposite happens with those who have bipolar disorder. Their moods will suddenly and inexplicably change from being very depressed to a mood that is abruptly "manic"; i.e. they will begin doing things that are uncharacteristic, such as gambling, spending money recklessly, driving recklessly, or even exhibit sexual impulsivity such as prostitution.

In addition, people with bipolar disorder do not suffer from procrastination or attention difficulties like ADHD sufferers. Sometimes, a professional psychiatrist may be required to make a diagnosis in someone who is showing an overlap of ADHD and bipolar symptoms, as occasionally these two illnesses are seen to co-exist.

Medication for ADHD and Bipolar

The psycho-pharmacological medications for these two disorders are very different in chemical composition. ADHD medications are mostly stimulants or stimulant like, such as Ritalin, Adderall and Strattera. Individuals with bipolar disorder are initially given lithium and other medications which can effect a variety of neurotransmitters like Dopamine, which is primarily meant to control the hypomania they experience. However, both disorders can benefit from a variety of antidepressants that also affect mood by controlling the amount of serotonin available in the brain.


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