A relationship between OCD and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been documented, with some research showing that up to 30 percent of people with ADHD also meet the criteria for OCD.
The essential difficulties experienced in ADHD, according to the DSM-IV-TR (2000), are trouble paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Because of the hyperactivity and impulsivity, ADHD results in difficulties with such activities as sitting still, talking excessively, and interrupting others.
Individuals with ADHD are also easily distracted, disorganized, and forgetful. Differentiating between ADHD and OCD can be done by considering the source of the inattentive behavior. With OCD, the inattention would be a result of distraction caused by obsessions; for ADHD, the inattention is in and of itself a hallmark of the disorder. Further, OCD rituals are typically performed to strict standards, whereas hyperactive activity has a “just get it done” feel to it.
Although one disorder does not cause the other disorder, when the two disorders are combined, there can be great difficulties in focusing on everyday life. In addition to the typical distractions experienced because of the ADHD, there is the added distraction of the obsessive thoughts. Added to the impulsivity of the ADHD, the rituals can also appear impulsive.
Individuals diagnosed with both disorders would benefit best from a psychiatric and psychological evaluation and from having both medical and mental health professionals working closely with each other on the individuals’ treatments. Although some stimulant medications can help control ADHD, they can have the side effect of increasing obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors.
Strict monitoring of the medication’s effects is necessary. Luckily, both ADHD and OCD can be successfully treated with behavioral therapy.