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Can You Have OCD and ADHD at the Same Time?

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two distinct mental health conditions, each with unique symptoms and challenges. But can someone have OCD and ADHD at the same time? And what can happen when someone experiences both disorders simultaneously?

Understanding OCD and ADHD as Separate Entities

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition that creates cycles of repeated thoughts and behaviors. People with OCD live with constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. These unwanted thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals performed to try to prevent or get rid of them are called compulsions. For instance, a fear of germs or contamination can lead to constant hand washing or cleaning.

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What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition commonly diagnosed in children that can continue into adulthood. People with ADHD often find it hard to pay attention, control impulsive behaviors, or be overly active (physically, mentally, or both). For example, a child with ADHD might frequently daydream, fidget, or act without thinking about the consequences.

While the conditions do have some overlap, such as difficulty maintaining focus, they are fundamentally different in nature. OCD is primarily anxiety-driven, where the individual engages in compulsive behaviors to manage their anxiety. In contrast, ADHD is characterized by chronic difficulties in sustaining attention and impulse control, affecting daily functioning across various settings, including at home, school, or work.

Can You Have OCD and ADHD at the Same Time?

The short answer is yes, a person can live with both OCD and ADHD at the same time. This is a commonly recognized medical phenomenon known as comorbidity. Not only is this not rare, living with both OCD and ADHD is considered somewhat common in the realm of mental health conditions.

When OCD and ADHD coexist, they bring a unique set of challenges. Both conditions have distinct characteristics, but when they intersect, the overlapping symptoms can amplify the challenges. One of the main overlapping challenges is the issue with attention and focus.

ADHD inherently comes with trouble with attention regulation, making it hard for individuals to concentrate on tasks, leading to easy distractibility. OCD, on the other hand, involves intrusive obsessive thoughts that can also hijack one’s focus, making it challenging to concentrate on anything else other than the obsessions and compulsions.

This intersection can make daily functioning quite challenging. Tasks that require sustained attention, such as schoolwork or professional assignments, can become monumental hurdles. The mind of an individual with both disorders may be continuously toggling between the hyperfocus on obsessions and the scattered focus attributed to ADHD.

Understanding this comorbidity is crucial for effective treatment and management. Tailored strategies that consider the intricacies of both disorders are essential to help individuals navigate the complexities brought about by the coexistence of OCD and ADHD.

Diagnosing OCD and ADHD Together

1. Detailed clinical interview

A detailed clinical interview is usually the first step in diagnosing the coexistence of OCD and ADHD. During this interview, mental health professionals aim to gather extensive information about symptoms, history, and the overall impact of these symptoms on daily life. They may ask specific questions to discern whether the symptoms align more with OCD, ADHD, or if there’s a possibility of both conditions coexisting.

2. Use of standardized assessment tools

Standardized assessment tools play a crucial role in the diagnostic process. Tools such as the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) and the Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scales (CBRS) are commonly used to assess the severity and nature of the symptoms. These tools help in providing a structured way to evaluate the presence and extent of symptoms related to both conditions.

3. Observation and collateral information

Observation is a significant aspect of the diagnostic process. Professionals may observe a person’s behavior in various settings to gain more insights. Additionally, collateral information from family members, teachers, or close friends can be invaluable. This additional information helps professionals understand a person’s functioning and symptoms in different contexts and settings.

4. Differentiating symptoms

Differentiating between the symptoms of OCD and ADHD is a central part of the diagnostic process. Professionals aim to identify whether the core symptoms, such as obsessions and compulsions or inattention and hyperactivity, are more prominent and disruptive. They assess whether the symptoms of one disorder can be attributed to the other or if they exist independently, each contributing to impairment in functioning.

5. Consideration of comorbidity

In the diagnostic process, the possibility of comorbidity, where both OCD and ADHD are present, is carefully considered. Professionals assess whether the symptoms of both disorders are significant and cause substantial impairment in the individual’s daily functioning, warranting a diagnosis of both conditions.

Treatment and Living With Both ADHD and OCD

Navigating life with both OCD and ADHD can be a complex journey. However, various treatment approaches and strategies can make this journey more manageable. Here’s an in-depth look at the multifaceted approaches to treating and living with both conditions:

Therapeutic Strategies

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a frontline approach in managing the symptoms of OCD and can also be beneficial for ADHD. It involves working with a mental health professional to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. For ADHD, CBT focuses on improving organizational skills, reducing procrastination, and managing impulsivity.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP): Particularly effective for OCD, ERP is a form of CBT where individuals are gradually exposed to their fears or obsessions, learning to manage anxiety without resorting to compulsive behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is another therapeutic approach that can be beneficial. It focuses on developing skills like distress tolerance and emotional regulation, which can be particularly helpful for managing impulsivity in ADHD and anxiety in OCD.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies: Incorporating mindfulness strategies can help in managing symptoms of both disorders by improving focus, reducing stress, and promoting a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts and feelings.


Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs, such as fluoxetine and sertraline, are commonly used to manage OCD symptoms. They work by affecting the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, helping to reduce obsessions and compulsions.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs): TCAs like clomipramine may also be used in OCD treatment. They affect various neurotransmitters in the brain, helping in reducing the intensity of obsessions and compulsions.

Stimulants: Stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, these are commonly used medications for ADHD, can help improve concentration and focus.

Non-Stimulants: Non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine and guanfacine are also used in ADHD treatment, offering benefits for attention and impulse control without the stimulating effect.

Antipsychotics: In some cases, atypical antipsychotics like risperidone may be used adjunctively in OCD treatment, particularly when symptoms are severe or resistant to first-line treatments.

Lifestyle and Coping Strategies

Living with both conditions requires adopting various coping strategies and lifestyle adjustments. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep are fundamental. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can also be beneficial in managing anxiety and improving focus.

Support and Community

Having a strong support system is crucial. Support groups, online forums, and communities like The Mighty can offer valuable resources and a sense of belonging. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can provide comfort, insights, and practical advice.

Personalized Approach

Every person’s journey with OCD and ADHD is unique. Treatment plans should be personalized, taking into account the specific needs, symptoms, and goals of the individual person. Ongoing communication with health care providers is essential to adjust the strategies as needed and ensure that the treatment remains effective and supportive.

Managing life with both OCD and ADHD can be challenging, but with a comprehensive and tailored approach encompassing therapy, medication, lifestyle adjustments, and support, individuals can navigate their journey with resilience and hope.

Getty image by Bulat Silvia

Originally published: October 27, 2023
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