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