Comorbid ADHD Diagnoses: What does it mean?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder with a high frequency of comorbid ADHD diagnoses. A decade ago, many psychologists worried that ADHD was being “over-diagnosed.” However, in recent years, psychological research has proven that almost 10% of the population has ADHD (6 million children: 9.8%, according to the CDC). In 2003, this number was estimated to be only 4.3% of children in the United States.

Interestingly, researchers now understand this 9.8% statistic to be global. Thus, this implies that it is not culture or ethnicity-dependent but, rather, universally prevalent. People diagnosed with ADHD may have ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, Predominantly Hyperactive Presentation, or Combined Presentation. This is dependent on their diagnosable symptoms: are they predominantly focus and attention based? Hyperactivity and impulsivity based? Alternatively, do they meet clinical criteria for a number of both types of symptoms?

A statistic that is not often discussed, however, is how common it is for people with ADHD to also have comorbid ADHD diagnoses. A comorbid diagnosis is a co-occurring diagnosis. In other words, it is common for an individual to not only have ADHD, but also have one or more diagnoses simultaneously. This is an important fact, as many people misdiagnose their anxiety, depression, bipolar, or other such disorders as ADHD. Then, they do not seek or receive the help they need to best cope with these additional disorders. Treating ADHD is so important. However, so is treating comorbid diagnoses for truly effective symptom management.

What are some Common Comorbid ADHD Diagnoses? How common are they?

In short, the answer is: very common! Approximately 65% of all individuals diagnosed with ADHD meet diagnostic criteria for a comorbid mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. This is a higher comorbidity rate than with many other well-known psychological diagnoses. Here are some specifics. Of all individuals in the U.S. diagnosed with ADHD, the following percentages meet criteria for these diagnoses:

  • 52% have a behavior or conduct disorder
  • 50% have a sleep disorder (such as insomnia)
  • 50% have ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) as children, developing into a behavioral disorder in adulthood
  • 45% have a learning disorder.
    • This is believed to contribute to the finding that 33% of students with ADHD drop out of high school.
    • Notably, research has found that males diagnosed with ADHD have an approximate 65% risk of developing dyslexia or another form of writing disorder, while females have a 57% risk
  • 33% have anxiety (e.g.: Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Social Anxiety)
  • 20% have bipolar disorder
  • 17% have depression
  • 14-25% have ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • 10% of children with ADHD will develop Tourette syndrome (tics, etc.); 1-2% of whom maintain this syndrome into adulthood
  • 10% have a speech disorder
  • 10% will develop substance use disorder (alcohol or drugs)

To put this into context, this means that more than 2 out of every 3 individuals with ADHD also have a comorbid disorder. It is important to note that these statistics are based on diagnosed disorders. That implies that far more individuals with ADHD actually have these comorbid ADHD diagnoses than we psychologists have discovered through research thus far. You can learn more about ADHD statistics here:

  1. CDC’s ADHD Facts and Figures 
  2. ADDitude’s ADHD Statistics

How do I know if I or my Loved One has a Comorbid ADHD Diagnosis?

Understanding the link between ADHD and its common comorbid diagnoses: how they overlap, are separate, and interact, is key for effective treatment. The high degree of overlap can make it challenging for non-psychologists to differentiate them without a trained professional. For instance, individuals with ADHD may struggle to relax and focus. In combination with other symptoms, this may indicate a comorbid diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) can struggle with Inattention and Impulsivity: two hallmark characteristics of ADHD, Combined Presentation. Therapy and assessment with a psychologist who specializes in ADHD and comorbid diagnoses are your two tools to clarify this overlap.

When an individual calls me wondering if they qualify for multiple diagnoses, including ADHD, the first step is assessment (psychological testing). There are two types of ADHD testing. The more expedient and moderately less expensive option is an ADHD testing. However, this only tests for ADHD. Choosing to be assessed through a psychologist qualifies individuals who are diagnosed with ADHD for stimulant medication through a psychiatrist, should they choose this treatment route, and accommodations at work or school. The second type is a comprehensive testing. This is referred to as a “psychodiagnostic” assessment. It assesses for all relevant diagnoses listed above. It can help individuals understand the links and differentiate the overlap between these various diagnoses’ symptoms.

How do I Learn more about Assessment?

If you feel you may benefit from an ADHD or Comprehensive ADHD Psychodiagnostic Assessment, then contact me today for a free consultation call. I’ll talk you through the benefits of the various options as well as discuss the next steps, fee, insurance reimbursement, and scheduling with you to make the process clear, calming, and effective. By reaching out today, you can learn more about your ADHD testing options and schedule an intake interview to begin your ADHD testing process. You’ll be that much closer to getting the answers you need to manage your symptoms and live a more balanced, fulfilling life.

Differentiating your diagnoses and how they interact is key for effective therapeutic treatment in the future. It provides clarity as to what you need to work on in therapy. Then, you will know what you need your psychologist to specialize in to ensure you receive the most effective treatment.

Many of my clients who came to me for testing transitioned to working with me for therapy for their ADHD and comorbid diagnoses. This is my speciality: an area of expertise I am passionate about and eager to help my clients in as we collaboratively work towards therapeutic treatment goals that are directly improving each of their comorbid ADHD diagnoses.

Remember, a psychological assessment is an investment in yourself. In your future. In your potential to discover clarity about your diagnoses and certainty about the path forward. I provide extensive and personalized recommendations to your unique case to help you develop the effective behavioral strategies needed to thrive with symptom management and alleviation. Reach out to me today to schedule a complimentary consultation call and take the first step towards gaining clarity and understanding.