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So I've been doing some reading, and it seems the two have a lot in common.


I always brushed off ADHD and assumed bipolar for myself, because I didn't think ADHD had anything to do with moods.  Also, because of a suicide attempt, I was diagnosed as bipolar within 5 minutes of my psychiatrist at the time meeting me.  There wasn't really time for a proper evaluation.  However, when he was in high school, my brother was improperly diagnosed as bipolar when in reality he was just ADHD and going through a lot of legitimate shit.  He was forced to take a whole bunch of medications that basically shut his brain down, and then the doctors were like, whoops! I've noticed my episodes of depression are triggered by legitimate reasons (the suicide attempt was from dealing with family issues & being gay at 18 in an extremely christian environment), and that while I definitely have had hypomanic feelings, they don't last for days on end without reason.  I've read that ADHD very much is a mood disorder as well, and basically whatever you feel is magnified.  It would definitely explain why I can never sit still (even when I'm depressed, confusing) and why I've always struggled so much in school.  I'm not asking anyone to try to "diagnose" me (we'll leave that to the professionals), but has anyone been through this where the two have gotten mixed up? Experiences would be appreciated :)

Edited by epicjordan
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In my case, ADHD was kind of like a "teaser" diagnosis to keep in me in therapy until I was ready to accept bipolar. I still haven't fully accepted bipolar, but I'm an educator so I can wrap my head about adhd, right? Clever devils, my p and tdocs. For me, the biggest difference is that I can think my way around the adhd symptoms- the stuff about manipulating my environment so that I can get work done- I can do that. I can't outthink my bipolar symptoms. I can see them happening, but I can't stop them from happening. Maybe some people can; I'm pretty new to this.

My point (and there is one) is that they are that similar in the ways that they manifest. I was told by one doc that the only way she really knows the difference is when people respond to one med or the other. That's pretty sketchy. 

I don't think we really know enough about either one at this point. A few years ago, it was considered out there to diagnose a kid with bipolar. Now we do that. We used to think that adhd people either got better or turned bipolar when they grew up. We now know adults can have adhd. It will all change again in a few year. I think it happens a lot- that the two get mixed up- because we really just don't know what we're working with yet.

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The two diagnoses, on the outside, can be and are confused with each other.  Also, by having one, you statistically increase the likelihood of having the other.  They both have a tendency to run in families too -- that is, not just bipolar in your family tree passing itself on... but also, bipolar in the family tree increasing the chance of passing on, say, ADHD.


Bipolar mood episodes can be triggered by environmental factors.  From stress to the season you're currently in -- like, a lot of BP people getting the crazies in the spring.  However the episodes, even in rapid-cycling bipolar (which is rather rare,) tend to be measured in terms of weeks or months if not 1.5 years or what-have-you.  I am not a rapid cycler, my episodes pre-diagnosis and pre-treatment were typically six or eight months to two to three years long at a time.  This has taken a while for me to puzzle out because I get a lot of mixed features in my episodes, like, my depressions are almost never the "sleep too much, have no energy, flat affect, etc." type.  And my hypomanias are NEVER euphoric, like, I might get brief moments of euphoria in them, but the rest of my hypomania is predominantly dysphoric/irritable/angry/anxious.  In fact I tend to hide more from the world when hypomanic because everything pisses me off or scares me (not to mention my already sensitive senses are heightened,) and I tend to go out more and be more impulsive when depressed (all as desperate attempts to distract myself from how horribly shitty and depressed I feel.)  Learning about the multitude of ways that bipolar can be expressed really helped me to accept my diagnosis when it came.


However, I also have ADHD.  Now, my elementary school caught this in me when I was young, however I'm also intellectually gifted, an aspie, and I was assigned female at birth so people would look at me and see a "girl."  All of those combined made it difficult to pin even an ADHD diagnosis on me, though with more modern understanding of ADHD it's actually rather obvious.  I wasn't officially diagnosed until last year when I first got with my on-going pdoc, who specializes in ADHD among other things.  It can definitely effect my moods but for me it's more of an impulsive thing -- I just impulsively react emotionally to my environment, in fact I'm carried along in the wave of my emotion without really realizing what is going on (I'm better at it now but it's hard for me, autism complications.)  I've definitely seen a lot of ADHDers wonder if they might have bipolar disorder because of their moodswings, and I try to be quick to point out the length of time for BP mood swings (even in rapid cycling) which nearly always seems to contradict the length of their own moodswings.  I've read in more than one book that ADHD can have a very real effect on moods, yes.  As well, growing up with ADHD can leave one tending toward depression and anxiety anyway, even if it was diagnosed & treated early (though most especially if it were missed.)  Think about it.  You grow up with ADHD and all that entails, but it's nothing that can really be seen from the outside (not like a broken leg) nor is it as relatively easy to pin down as "I feel sad."  You grow up mostly seeing the effects of ADHD on your life, which is what everyone else sees, and you don't grow up knowing the cause so instead you grow up thinking you're lazy, stupid, etc.  You grow up not knowing why you finished that one project for school weeks before the due date and got an amazing grade, but can't finish most of your homework at all, ever.  I'm paranoid about forgetting and losing things, leaving them behind, which I've at least put to good use in that I have coping mechanisms in place to help counteract that (stop & check before I leave an area -- keep bags looped onto my arm on the bus in case I get to my stop with no time to stop & check, etc.)


I'm not like girlwiththefarawayeyes, in that I can't stop/control my ADHD symptoms very well... or perhaps I'm misunderstanding what she is describing.  I have some coping mechanisms, like I just mentioned, but for the most part the vast majority of my coping skills either don't work, don't stay in place for very long, or just don't happen without some sort of externally enforced support.  Like, putting up reminders for myself to remember to do something or take an item with me -- sounds simple, right?  Except after enough time has passed (from a few days to a few weeks) I get used to the reminders and they just fade into the background, which means I must somehow remember to change up the system in a way that keeps it fresh for my attention.  Always have to be a few steps ahead of myself, which is... rarely possible, I find.


I can't control my bipolar symptoms either, really... except thanks to awareness of my symptoms, triggers, and a year's worth of experience now in medicating my BP (at the guidance of my pdoc, of course,) I actually do seem to have a better handle on my bipolar than on my ADHD, and I live alone!  Sure I've had to go IP twice this year for breakthrough episodes, but rather than my episodes lasting months or over a year, those episodes lasted two or three weeks each (not counting the "episode hangover" about a month's long afterward.)  I caught those episodes myself and reported my symptoms to my pdoc, who would advise me on what to do.  Actually the second time around I checked myself IP w/o first having contact with my pdoc.  After my last episode (depression) I felt myself teetering on the edge of another one (hypomania) thanks to extreme life stress, but I've been managing to keep it under control between medication and lifestyle stuff (with frequent pdoc check-ins, saw her last week and I'm seeing her this week.)  Like, I take Concerta for my ADHD and it helps me a LOT, like, I really really notice it the most when I don't have my Concerta.  But my ADHD seems to run rampant in my life way more easily than does my bipolar... though in my case, it might be due to the "fun" of ADHD & Asperger's playing off of each other.

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I'm happy to see this post...I've been researching the exact same thing recently! Started reading "You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!" by Kelly & Ramundo & it has opened my eyes to a lot of things. I'm bipolar 1 and my Tdoc mentioned (briefly) me also having ADHD last visit. I'm definitely going to ask her more about it next week! So many things make sense since I've been learning about it. Thanks for your posts.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It could very well be that you have both. Comorbidity between the two disorders is fairly high. A couple of statistics from a book I'm currently reading on the subject:


Likelihood of developing ADHD if you have bipolar disorder

80-97% if the bipolar disorder started in childhood

35-45% for adolescent onset

20-25% for adult onset


Quote: "Most adults with ADHD have at least two disorders: 80-85% have ADHD and one other disorder, and more than half may have three psychological disorders."



Book - Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Russell A. Barkley

Edited by DangerDanger
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