ADHD vs OCD [2024]: What's the Difference, Common Symptoms|Cause|Treatments

Jun 4, 20249 min
adhd vs ocd

About 1 in 4 adults globally suffer from some sort of mental illness. This means that mental disorders are more common than you think. Of course, some handle it pretty well while some find difficulty in coping. 

Some mental health disorders are very easily distinguishable. The symptoms are evident and diagnosis is easier. Some of these diseases are ADHD and OCD.

We are surrounded by people who throw around these terms in a playful manner. 

For example:

“Oh, you are a neat freak…you might have OCD”

“Stop fidgeting and pay attention….don’t act like you have ADHD.”

However trivial these terms sound, people indeed suffer from the extreme effects of these disorders.

Before we know what people with ADHD and OCD go through, we need to understand what they exactly mean. 

Understanding ADHD and OCD

What is Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD]?

Attention-deficit/ Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that leads to inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in individuals. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in children and often continues in adulthood. ADHD is commonly diagnosed in children. 

For example, a student attending class seems to be constantly in motion, getting restless when there is too much quiet, or continuously fidgeting with things in the class. Such a kid can be suspected to have ADHD.

ADHD is also manifested in adults. Most kids carry on the ADHD as they transition into adulthood while many adults have undiagnosed ADHD.  

Read Is ADHD a disability or a mental illness?

Symptoms of ADHD in ADULTS: 

Adults suffering from ADHD show quite specific symptoms. They have a lack of focus, relationship concerns, disorganization, restlessness and anxiety, emotional concerns, time management concerns, negative self-image, forgetfulness, impulsivity, etc. 

Identifying and treating these problems can become overwhelming. We at Mave Health can help you identify the cause, analyze the symptoms, and provide effective solutions. 

If you are somebody who suffers from any of these conditions or knows somebody who feels the need to seek help, booking a consultation session with Mave Health will help you enormously. 

What is OCD[Obsessive-compulsive disorder]?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition where an individual experiences recurring, unwanted thoughts and ideas (obsessions) that lead to distress and anxiety. They feel compelled to engage in repetitive behaviors (compulsion) to get rid of these thoughts. 

Observing patterns of OCD is quite simple. Let’s take the example of Rashmi. She constantly needs to wash her hands or clean her clothes even after a mild touch from another human. This causes her to socially isolate herself from everybody. 

No, ADHD and OCD are not related. Though both disorders affect the same part of the brain, they have completely different patterns of brain activity. The reason people tend to misunderstand ADHD with OCD or OCD with ADHD is that they share several overlapping symptoms. 

They also share the same treatment flow and hence chances of a mix-up are not rare. 

One must understand that ADHD is externalizing and expressive while OCD is more internalizing (dealing with anxiety by turning inward).

The Difference: Knowing the symptoms of ADHD and OCD 

ADHD Symptoms 

OCD Symptoms 


  1. Failing to pay attention to details

  2. Having trouble staying focused on a task

  3. Having trouble following instructions

  4. Fail to complete chores 

  5. Having trouble organizing tasks

  6. Blurt out words, interrupt talks

  7. Fidget with or tap hands and feet

  8. Cannot perform an activity quietly


  1. Craves routine and familiarity


  1. Persistent distressing thoughts and sensations (obsessions)


  1. Fear of losing control over one’s behavior


  1. May be extremely worried if something is not complete


  1. May be extremely concerned with order, symmetry, and precision


  1. May have disturbing sexual thoughts or images


  1. Asking for reassurance

What are the Overlapping Symptoms of ADHD and OCD?

The chances of misdiagnosis of ADHD and OCD are not rare.  This is because both the disorders share a lot of commonalities. People can confuse these overlapping symptoms and this can pose a lot of risk to the patient. 

For example, a child with OCD might constantly rearrange and organize their desks, bags, pens, and papers. One might perceive these actions as a sign of restlessness and think of it as ADHD.

On the other hand, a child with ADHD, who has a habit of fidgeting and not sitting still in a quiet place is constantly keeping himself busy with arranging their desk again and again. One might perceive this situation as having OCD. 

These overlapping symptoms can lead to inappropriate identification by us. In cases like these, it is always advisable to consult a doctor to achieve the correct diagnosis of ADHD and OCD. 

7 Common symptoms of ADHD and OCD can be:

  1. Attention and focus difficulties
  2. A high percentage of anxiety
  3. Impact on memory
  4. Can trigger anger and outbursts
  5. Hair pulling 
  6. Sleep problems
  7. Both can be worsened by trauma
hair pulling

What causes ADHD and OCD? 

Identifying the causes of ADHD and OCD can simplify the process of diagnosing them. Although a professional must analyze it thoroughly, you can fall back on these symptoms to detect the possible reasons that might be causing such behaviors. The potential causes include a genetic history of disorders.

Another reason can be the alteration in brain chemistry. Research shows that ADHD and OCD can affect the cognition of an individual. This dysfunction can lead to problems with memory and response. 

7 Causes of ADHD can be:

  1. Brain injury
  2. Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  3. Premature delivery
  4. Heredity
  5. Altered brain structure (ADHD brain is smaller than non-ADHD brain)
  6. Nutritional deficiency
  7. Reduction in dopamine receptors in the brain

The causes mentioned above are the most commonly found causes among patients with ADHD. Research shows that these symptoms vary from person to person and getting to the root cause is important for understanding the cause completely. 

6 Causes of OCD can be:

1. Genetic history in the family

2. Elevated glutamate levels (important for brain stimulation)

3. Childhood trauma

4. Traumatic life events

5. Perfectionism

6. Societal factors

The causes of OCD are easy to diagnose. There are various tools designed to help doctors and psychologists to understand the situation in and out. Even with such distinctive features, ADHD and OCD share some common symptoms that work to manifest the disorder in people.  

How To Get Diagnosed? Recognising if it is ADHD or OCD 

There are tests designed to assess if a person has ADHD or OCD. These tests act like a diagnostic tool to estimate the severity of the disorder. The ASRS (Adult ADHD Self-Report test) is used for checking ADHD. This test consists of 18 items to reflect upon which then identifies the extent of the effect. 

The Y-BOCS test is used for the determination of OCD. This rating scale is designed to rate the severity and type of symptoms in patients. It is a screening tool used by clinicians with a 10-item checklist that helps to determine the severity of the disorder.  A detailed assessment by a professional can help you make a definite diagnosis. To make an accurate diagnosis of either ADHD or OCD, it's advisable to consult a mental health professional and get the correct diagnosis. 

Can ADHD be misdiagnosed as OCD?

Yes, ADHD can be misdiagnosed as OCD due to erroneous reporting of symptoms. The overlapping symptoms contribute to this confusion. Such misdiagnoses can have significant implications on the treatment.  ADHD might engage in behaviors that are similar to OCD. For example, if you are not focused, you might spend your time organizing things.

Similarly, OCD can engage in behaviors that are similar to ADHD. Their act of avoiding the “obsessive” trigger can make them behave in a hyperactive manner. They would be all over the place and would lead to inattention. 

ADHD and OCD: Treatment 

ADHD treatments comprise practices that can help an individual manage their symptoms. Many times, these symptoms can be strenuous for the parents (if the child suffers from ADHD). In such situations, people suffering from ADHD can go through these treatments:

  1. Meditation
  2. Parental training
  3. Behavioral interventions
  4. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
  5. Balanced diets
balanced diet

Research shows that these interventions have been extremely useful in managing the symptoms of OCD and maintaining it to a minimum. Using any one of these treatments has shown substantial results. These treatments include:

  1. Brain stimulation
  2. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  3. Exposure and response prevention - People with OCD are exposed to stimuli that can aggravate them to perform the compulsions.
  4. Parental training

What are the Common treatments for ADHD and OCD?

1.Mave Health’s ARC-tDCS:

Mave Health’s ARC-tDCS (Transcranial direct current stimulation) is a form of brain stimulation technique that can activate specific cortical areas of the brain. This stimulation can help to manage the symptoms of ADHD and OCD invariably. It uses non-invasive brain stimulation to treat and manage the symptoms of mental health disorders. This technology is combined with therapy and medications to provide a holistic healing experience. 

2.Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

This therapy can help people suffering from ADHD and OCD break down their problems into different parts and address them accordingly. Talking to a therapist can help people with OCD to face their obsessive fears. People with ADHD can learn to calm themselves down with the tricks advised by the therapists. 

3.Medications:

Multiple licensed medications can be administered to children/adults whose symptoms are severe. These medications are not permanent cures for the disorders but they can reduce impulsivity, feel calmer, and increase attention.  

Combining medications and therapy can help to manage ADHD. Medications must be given at intervals to see if they are effective in managing the symptoms. 

Can you have both OCD and ADHD?

A person can have both - ADHD and OCD at the same time. In fact, most people with OCD might show some symptoms of ADHD. In fact, 11.8% of OCD-affected individuals have manifestations of ADHD. In pediatric populations, 25.5% of OCD-affected children have co-morbid ADHD. 

When both disorders manifest together, one symptom might express itself strongly but as soon as it resides, the other symptoms express themselves. 

How to get treated for Both ADHD & OCD at the same time?

People suffering from both ADHD and OCD have to carefully tread through the treatment process. Due to the opposite nature of the disorders, the administered medications might work in favor or against the disorder. 

For example, a drug named methylphenidate is an excellent medication for ADHD. It improves clinical symptoms of ADHD by stimulating the prefrontal cortex. However, the same medication can also provoke OCD symptoms. Hence it's always advisable to consult a doctor in such scenarios. 

Some common forms of treatment in such scenarios may include:

  • Combined pharmacotherapy comprising both- stimulants and SSRIs in definitive amounts can be used as a part of the treatment regime. 
  • Exposure and Response Prevention therapy can positively manage the symptoms of OCD thus allowing the medication and other interventions to subdue the effects of ADHD. 
  • Therapy and brain stimulation can improve the results of treating ADHD and OCD. 

We’ve covered how to overcome OCD in 7 ways.

Can ADHD cause OCD and vice versa?

There has been no evidence so far that establishes that ADHD can cause OCD and neither can OCD cause ADHD. Even though both disorders fall in the spectrum of anxiety disorders, they have different actions on an individual. Both disorders can just mimic each other, leading to misdiagnosis and improper treatment. 

They have substantial comorbidity rates but there is no documented record of either disorder causing the other in patients. 

It is always better to consult a professional at the sight of any of the mentioned symptoms. Professionals can help to arrive at a correct conclusion after considering the symptoms and effects.

If you know someone who is going through such difficulties, do not worry, Mave Health has got you. 

At Mave Health, psychologists with exceptional medical records work and provide their medical expertise to help diagnose ADHD and OCD. The NIBS technology has been integrated into a wearable device called ARC that treats depression and other mental health disorders without any side effects. 

CONCLUSION:

ADHD and OCD both are highly common disorders that intervene with day to day activities of individuals. ADHD is primarily diagnosed in children but it is carried on as one becomes an adult. To navigate the complexities of ADHD and OCD requires a nuanced understanding of their overlapping symptoms and distinct characteristics which can be done with the help of a mental health professional.

Ultimately, better diagnosis and personalized treatment pave a better way for those who are grappling with ADHD and OCD. 

With Mave Health’s expertise and the ARC-tDCS technology, ADHD and OCD can become manageable.

REFERENCES:

  1. ADHD vs. OCD: Differences, symptoms, treatment, and more
  2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  3. Brem, S., Grünblatt, E., Drechsler, R., Riederer, P., Walitza, S., 2014. The neurobiological link between OCD and ADHD. Atten. Deficit Hyperact. Disord. 6, 175–202. 
  4. CDC, 2022. Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD | CDC 
  5. Gair, S.L., Brown, H.R., Kang, S., Grabell, A.S., Harvey, E.A., 2021. Early Development of Comorbidity Between Symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety. Res. Child Adolesc. Psychopathol. 49, 311–323. 
  6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [WWW Document], n.d. URL  
  7. OCD and ADHD: Comorbid Symptoms and Treatment 
  8. Sreenivas, S., n.d. Childhood ADHD vs. Childhood OCD
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Mave
Clinical Psychologist