ADHD & Bipolar Disorder

Eileen Bailey

ADHD and Bipolar Disorder (previously Manic Depression) share many of the same characteristics, however, the underlying reasons for the behavior are usually different.  While hyperactivity is a major symptom of ADHD, the manic stage of bipolar disorder can be very similar.  Both ADHD and Bipolar Disorder can cause inability to follow through or complete projects. With ADHD, being easily distracted or the inability to focus normally causes this. In bipolar disorder the underlying cause can be lack of motivation, possibly during the depressive cycle. 

ADHD and Bipolar Disorder are separate diagnoses and should be treated accordingly. However, these disorders are also often co-existing conditions, which means that someone has both disorders. In this case, physicians normally treat the disorder that is causing the most impairment in someone’s life first and once it is under control will treat the secondary disorder.

Bipolar disorder, like ADHD, is considered to be hereditary. If there is a history of bipolar, or any other mental illness, in your family, you should make your doctor aware of this.  Some medications for ADHD can exacerbate symptoms of bipolar disorder. Letting your physician know will allow them to monitor your situation and create the best possible treatment plan.

There are four main classifications for bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I is the most severe form of the disorder.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders state “Bipolar I is characterized by one or more Manic or Mixed Episodes, usually accompanied by Major Depressive Episodes.”

Bipolar II is characterized by Major Depressive Episodes accompanied by hypomania, or mild manic episodes.

Cyclothymia is a mild form of Bipolar Disorder, with mood swings from hypomania and depression. Normally this form does not require hospitalization and the episodes are not incapacitating.

Mixed Episodes are when people experience Manic Episodes and Major Depressive Episodes every day for at least one week.

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