ADHD and Bipolar: Understanding the Similarities and Differences

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder are two mental health conditions that often coexist in individuals. While they share some common features, ADHD and bipolar are distinct disorders with different symptoms, causes, and treatments. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between ADHD and bipolar to help you understand these conditions better.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. People with ADHD may have difficulty focusing on tasks, organizing their thoughts, and completing assignments. They may also have trouble sitting still, waiting their turn, and following rules or instructions.

The causes of ADHD are not yet fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry. ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood, but symptoms can persist into adulthood.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is a mood disorder characterized by extreme mood swings. People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania, which can include elevated or irritable mood, grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, increased energy, excessive talkativeness, and risky or impulsive behavior. They also experience episodes of depression, which can include sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of interest, sleep disturbances, and suicidal thoughts.

The causes of bipolar disorder are also unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurochemical factors. Bipolar disorder typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood and can have a significant impact on daily functioning and quality of life.

ADHD and Bipolar: Similarities and Differences

While there are some similarities between ADHD and bipolar disorder, there are also important differences that distinguish these conditions from each other. Here are some of the similarities and differences:


  • Impulsivity: Both ADHD and bipolar disorder can involve impulsivity, such as acting without thinking or making decisions without considering the consequences.
  • Inattention: Both ADHD and bipolar disorder can lead to problems with attention, focus, and concentration.
  • Mood changes: Both ADHD and bipolar disorder can involve changes in mood, ranging from irritability and restlessness to elation or depression.


  • Mania: One of the key features of bipolar disorder is the presence of manic episodes, which are not seen in ADHD. Mania is a state of elevated or irritable mood that can last for several days or weeks and can lead to impulsive or risky behavior.
  • Depression: While both ADHD and bipolar disorder can lead to symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of major depression, which can be more severe and long-lasting than the symptoms seen in ADHD.
  • Age of onset: ADHD is typically diagnosed in childhood, while bipolar disorder usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Treatment: The treatment of ADHD and bipolar disorder is different. ADHD is usually treated with stimulants and behavioral therapy, while bipolar disorder is treated with mood stabilizers and psychotherapy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnosis of ADHD and bipolar disorder is based on a clinical evaluation that includes a medical and psychiatric history, a physical examination, and symptom assessment. There are no specific tests for these disorders, but doctors may use rating scales, checklists, or questionnaires to help diagnose ADHD or bipolar disorder.

Once a diagnosis is made, treatment usually involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The choice of medication will depend on the type and severity of symptoms, as well as the age and overall health of the patient. Stimulants like methylphenidate and amphetamine are commonly used to treat ADHD, while mood stabilizers like lithium, valproic acid, or carbamazepine are used to treat bipolar disorder.

Psychotherapy is also an important part of treatment for ADHD and bipolar disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, and psychoeducation can help patients and their families understand the condition, learn coping skills, and improve communication and relationships.


ADHD and bipolar disorder are two distinct mental health conditions that can coexist in individuals. While they share some common features, ADHD and bipolar differ in their causes, symptoms, age of onset, and treatment. It is essential to seek professional help if you or a loved one experiences symptoms of ADHD or bipolar disorder, as early diagnosis and treatment can provide significant benefits in enhancing wellbeing and improving quality of life.


FAQs about ADHD and Bipolar

What is the difference between ADHD and Bipolar?

ADHD and Bipolar disorder are two different conditions that share some overlapping symptoms. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is mainly characterized by symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. On the other hand, Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that is mainly characterized by extreme mood swings, including manic episodes and depressive episodes. While ADHD primarily affects attention and behavior, Bipolar disorder primarily affects mood and can have more severe consequences if left untreated.

Can someone have both ADHD and Bipolar?

It is possible for someone to have both ADHD and Bipolar disorder, known as comorbidity. In fact, a recent study found that approximately one-third of individuals with Bipolar disorder also have ADHD. Comorbidity can complicate diagnosis and treatment as symptoms can be overlapping or contradictory. It is important for those experiencing symptoms to receive a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional to ensure an accurate diagnosis and individualized treatment plan.

What are some treatment options for someone with ADHD and Bipolar?

Treatment for individuals with comorbid ADHD and Bipolar disorder should be comprehensive and may involve a combination of medication and therapy. Medications such as mood stabilizers and stimulants can help to manage symptoms of both disorders. However, balancing the use of these medications can be challenging, and the potential risks and benefits of treatment should be carefully weighed. Therapy can also be helpful in reducing symptoms and supporting overall mental health. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation can help individuals with ADHD and Bipolar disorder to better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.


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