It is estimated that 50% of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
While there is significant overlap between the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety, these two conditions are distinct and may require different approaches to treatment. Furthermore, due to the overlapping symptom profiles of ADHD and anxiety, it is not uncommon for an individual with ADHD to be misdiagnosed as having anxiety or for an individual who has a true anxiety disorder to be misdiagnosed as suffering from ADHD.
Both ADHD and anxiety can present with symptoms related to a lack of concentration and focus, restlessness, and insomnia. For all of these reasons, it is important to have your symptoms evaluated by an experienced and certified healthcare provider who can determine whether you have ADHD, an anxiety disorder, or both.
If you are diagnosed with both ADHD and anxiety, it is important for you to know that both conditions can exacerbate the other condition’s symptoms. Having ADHD and being unable to complete tasks or conduct successful relationships can heighten your anxiety, and having anxiety can make your ADHD symptoms even harder to control. Your provider will need to carefully choose the proper medications and therapeutic interventions for these comorbid (when two illnesses occur in the same patient) conditions.
If you suffer from ADHD and chronic anxiety, Klarity can help you find treatment. Book an online appointment with an experienced psychiatric healthcare provider today and, if indicated, get the medication you need to feel better.
ADHD Medications for Adults with Anxiety
Certain ADHD medications can help treat comorbid anxiety, while others, such as stimulants, may exacerbate anxiety symptoms. The good news is there are several medicines and therapies available to treat ADHD that will also work to alleviate your anxiety symptoms.
Stimulant vs. Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications
ADHD medications fall into two general classes: stimulants and non-stimulants.
Stimulants, which are first-line medications for the treatment of adult ADHD, are fast acting and highly effective. They work by increasing your brain’s production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are involved in mediating motivation, action and cognition.
Non-stimulants, which are also effective in treating ADHD symptoms, have a slower rate of onset and work by keeping already activated receptors in your brain “turned on” or “fired up” for longer. While both classes of drugs are safe and effective, stimulants can increase symptoms of anxiety, which can make non-stimulants a better option for adult ADHD patients with anxiety.
Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications
Strattera is a non-stimulant ADHD medication that is similar in structure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are used to treat depression and anxiety. Strattera takes 1-4 weeks to take effect and is approved for use in children (6 years old and up), teens, and adults.
Intuniv is the extended-release formulation of a long-used blood pressure medication known as guanfacine. Intuniv was approved as a non-stimulant ADHD medication in 2009 and is thought to work on brain receptors to improve memory, decrease distractibility and improve attention span.
Similar to Intuniv, Kapvay is and extended-release medication, in this case, Clonidine, that has been used for high blood pressure. Approved for treatment of ADHD in children and adults, Kapvay works on receptors in the central nervous system and is known as a centrally acting alpha2-adrenergic agonist.
Qelbree is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that is used in the treatment of both depression and anxiety and that has also been shown to be effective in treating ADHD. Currently, Qelbree is approved for the treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents between the ages of 6-17 and may soon be approved for the treatment of adult ADHD.
Effects of ADHD Stimulant Meds on Anxiety
ADHD stimulant medications have been shown to be both effective and safe. As with all beneficial medicines, ADHD stimulant medications can have undesired side effects, including jitteriness, increased heart rate, nervousness, and trembling. All of these symptoms can resemble anxiety or exacerbate an already existing underlying anxiety disorder.
Non-Medication Treatment Options: CBT for ADHD and Anxiety
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), sometimes referred to as “talk therapy,” is a highly effective treatment for both ADHD and anxiety, usually when used in conjunction with medication. CBT treatment focuses on finding practical, real-world solutions to the triggers and symptoms of ADHD and anxiety that a person is experiencing.
What Is CBT?
CBT is based on the understanding that thoughts, feelings and emotions, and behaviors are all connected. When a person makes a positive change to any one of these areas, they will experience positive changes in the other two. A licensed counselor can provide CBT in either group or individual sessions.
What Is CBT’s Impact on ADHD and Anxiety?
Studies have found that CBT can reduce ADHD symptoms and ease feelings of anxiety. Specifically, CBT improves executive functioning by reducing impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. When used in combination with ADHD medications, CBT was also found to be more effective in reducing anxiety symptoms than medication alone.
What’s the link between ADHD and anxiety?
While not yet definitively known, research suggests that there may be a genetic link between ADHD and anxiety. This could help explain why up to 50% of ADHD sufferers are also diagnosed with anxiety disorders, but further research in this area is needed.
Can ADHD cause anxiety?
A patient may suffer from both ADHD and anxiety; sometimes these two disorders may be occurring independently of one another, and in other cases, the patient’s ADHD is actually causing anxiety. Living with ADHD is stressful. Not completing your work, forgetting important appointments, or losing your keys can all be anxiety-provoking.
Although there are many overlaps between ADHD and anxiety, there are important differences. ADHD is mainly characterized by a lack of focus and excessive physical movement, whereas the hallmarks of an anxiety disorder are worry, fear, and nervousness. A person suffering with anxiety may not be able to concentrate in any given situation that provokes their anxiety. A person with ADHD will find it difficult to concentrate almost all of the time.
How Klarity Treats Co-Occurring ADHD and Anxiety
On Klarity, certified healthcare providers are experienced in treating adult patients with co-occurring ADHD and anxiety. We will connect you with one of the providers that will help you distinguish these two common disorders and tailor a treatment plan that addresses your individual needs.
If you suffer from symptoms of ADHD and anxiety, Klarity can help you find the treatment you need. Book an online appointment and start getting treatment for your ADHD and anxiety today.
Carpenter, J. K., Leigh, M. A., Andrews, B. A., Witcraft, B. A., Power, M. B., Smits, A. J., & Hoffman, S., G. (2018). Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and related disorders: A meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety, 35 (6), 502-514. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.22728