Similarities and Differences between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder

October 11, 2021
Bipolar disorder vs. ADHD


Overlapping symptoms between bipolar (BD) and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often makes diagnosis and management a tall order. You may realize that even with proper treatment, some bipolar patients still struggle with meeting deadlines or staying focused. 

In such a scenario, most likely, the victims have ADHD too. With cases of misdiagnosis and delayed treatment increasing at an alarming, it is prudent to learn more about ADHD and bipolar.

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Keep reading as we shed light on proper diagnosing ADHD and bipolar disorder.


Can You Have both ADHD and Bipolar?

As mentioned above, bipolar disorder vs. ADHD is a controversial topic because both conditions share several symptoms. Common symptoms include impatience, mood instability, restlessness, and increased talkativeness. Unknown to most people, these symptoms co-occur in both situations.

On that note, how common is bipolar disorder in people with ADHDResearch indicates that comorbidity levels stand at roughly 5.1 to 47.1%. Further analysis points out that 1 in about 13 ADHD patients has comorbid bipolar. On the other hand, 1 in 6 bipolar victims has comorbid ADHD. 

Why do bipolar disorder and ADHD often occur together? Despite recent analysis on ADHD and bipolar, the main reason behind comorbid occurrences is still not apparent. That said, how are ADHD and bipolar disorder different?



Also referred to as ADD (Attention deficit disorder), ADHD is a mental condition exemplified by considerably high impulsivity, distractibility, inattention, and restlessness. For a therapist to diagnose ADHD, patients must be exhibiting impairing symptoms for a considerable time.


Bipolar Disorder
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is a mental disorder that distorts a patient’s moods and energy. People suffering from bipolar often experience extreme sadness or happiness for no obvious reason. These mood shifts are referred to as high energy (mania) and low energy (depression). Usually, the mood swings last from few days to several weeks or months. Surprisingly, patients can go for several months with no signs of impairment even when not taking medication.


Diagnosing ADHD and Bipolar Disorder

With several shared traits, there is an enhanced risk of misdiagnosis. It can be an unfortunate situation if your ADHD is misdiagnosed. Remember that even if ADHD and bipolar disorder have concurring symptoms, the treatment modalities are pretty different. For instance, stimulant medication in bipolar patients can escalate mania symptoms and make it complicated to treat.

In a recent study, about 20% of more than 4.5 million ADHD-affected children in the US have been wrongly diagnosed. These frightening figures call for instant action on proper diagnosis to limit ugly repercussions associated with it. When determining whether an individual has bipolar or ADHD, here are vital factors to consider:


1. Family Lineage

You may notice that cases of ADHD and bipolar disorder are more prevalent in specific families. Nonetheless, bipolar has lesser genetic connections compared to ADHD. While ADHD is nearly genetic, there is a slight chance bipolar can be caused by other factors. All in all, there is a slim 10% chance of bipolar parents passing the genes to their children.

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2. Inception Age

Previous studies stated that bipolar only happens in patients beyond 18 years. Years later, analyses indicate that the condition can also occur in children, albeit rarely. Contrarily, ADHD symptoms are mainly apparent by the time a child hits 12 years. However, given that ADHD is a lifetime ailment, symptoms may appear much earlier.


3. Triggers

It is worth pointing out that bipolar moods are not related in any way to life events. Oppositely, ADHD patients react strongly to specific triggers or daily activities. While happy events elicit exciting moods in ADHD-affected people, exposure to solemn actions makes them extremely sad. 


4. Consistency

Bipolar happens in episodes, but ADHD is ever-present even when symptoms are not noticeable. Altogether ADHD mood swings may start and go within hours. On the contrary, the un-triggered BD mood swings can take days or months to shift from low to high.


Complications Associated with ADHD


Can ADHD Cause Manic Episodes?

Although manic episodes are not familiar with ADHD patients, some triggers may lead to hypomanic incidents. Note that ADHD and bipolar episodes may share similar symptoms, but the underlying bases are different. 

Overall, an ADHD maniac episode revolves around excess talking, jumping, fidgeting, or inability to control emotions. Although these symptoms are also present in bipolar patients, the latter may also suffer from insomnia and feel supreme and invisible.

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Bottom Line

With the close similarity between these two conditions, most people wonder, “What’s the outlook for people with ADHD and bipolar disorder together?” We cannot deny that ADHD is a common comorbidity with moods related disorders. In fact, it has a higher occurrence in bipolar compared to other disorders.

For this reason, experts should focus on finding effective mechanisms for treating ADHD and bipolar disorder. More importantly, therapists should be thoroughly trained to discern bipolar disorder vs. ADHD before the issue escalates. 

You can never go wrong with this with a team of qualified mental health experts. After all, they only focus on making the patient’s recovery journey gratifying and less strenuous.

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