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Bipolar Disorder and ADHD: Co-Occurrence And What It Looks Like

It’s interesting to note how differently physical and mental conditions are perceived. For example, no one thinks twice about co-existing medical conditions. If someone tells you that they have both arthritis and diabetes, you’d wish them well but would likely not bat an eye. These types of co-occurrences also happen with mental health disorders.

For example, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder (BPD) can be frequently and confusingly co-morbid. ADHD is a neurological condition while bipolar is a mood-based disorder. On the surface, they sound distinct. In reality, it’s trickier than it first looks to distinguish between the two. But without accurate diagnoses, treatment plans can go awry.

A Brief Review Of Common Co-Occurring Symptoms (ADHD And BPD)

Bipolar Disorder


  • Distractibility
  • Impulsivity
  • Racing thoughts
  • Moving and talking quickly
  • Talking a lot
  • Restlessness
  • Not sleeping
  • Risky behaviors
  • Inflated sense of self


  • Chronic feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Gaining and/or losing weight
  • Loss of focus
  • No longer want to engage in activities you once enjoyed
  • Thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide


  • Distractibility
  • Impulsivity
  • Moving and talking quickly
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to stress
  • Inability to focus on tasks
  • Poor time management skills
  • Indecisiveness

As you can see, there is some significant overlap that can further complicate diagnoses.

4 Factors To Consider During The Diagnostic Phase

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  1. If the assessment takes place during the manic phase for someone with bipolar, it can be mistaken for ADHD alone. ADHD symptoms do not typically come and go. If this is observed, it might point toward a bipolar manic episode.
  2. Someone with bipolar disorder may display symptoms of ADHD when neither a manic nor depressive episode is happening. This makes it more likely that they also have ADHD.
  3. Both conditions cause mood swings, but the triggers are quite different. For people with bipolar disorder, mood swings are an inherent part of the disorder. For ADHD, the causes of mood swings are as obvious as they’d be for anyone. If they, for example, break something, inattention is probably to blame.
  4. People are born with ADHD and most often are diagnosed at school age. Bipolar disorder most often appears later in life.

How To Help With The Diagnostic Process

To further complicate matters, your doctor will also have to rule out other possible causes for symptoms like those mentioned above. These might include (but are not limited to) depression, medication side effects, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Your input will be essential during this assessment.

There is always the chance that both bipolar disorder and ADHD are present — with or without any of the other issues. And further still, many medical conditions can co-exist with BPD and ADHD, causing more profound symptoms for any of the co-existing conditions. Some of the factors that will be taken into account are:

  • Specific stressors in your life
  • Possible triggers you face
  • Medications you take (if any)
  • The age at which symptoms first emerged
  • Whether ADHD-like symptoms present during times of mood stability (not manic or depressive)
  • The impact of symptoms in your day-to-day life
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Medical history
  • Family history

After such a thorough evaluation is made the next step is to discuss potential treatment ideas and protocols.

Treatment For Bipolar Disorder and ADHD Co-Occurrence

Every person and every case is unique. Therefore, your journey will not be sketched out using a cookie-cutter approach. Working closely with you — and perhaps others in your life — your mental health team will take a fluid approach. All elements will be considered and minds will remain open.

On their own, both ADHD and bipolar disorder are challenging. Together, they can feel daunting. But, with a skilled professional on your side, the obstacles can be overcome as you move forward. Contact us today to discover how mindfulness-based approaches like CBT therapy can effectively treat these conditions and enhance your well-being.

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