ADHD And OCD: Are They The Same Or Not?

Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW

Published 12/09/2020

Mental health awareness is at an all-time high. More people than ever are educating themselves on the many symptoms present in mental health disorders, providing a more supportive environment for those struggling with mental health.

With that being said, there remains a wide amount of confusion between two of the most common mental health disorders -- ADHD and OCD. Like most mental health disorders, they share similar symptoms and are often experienced in similar people.

The similarities make it extremely difficult to diagnose an individual, and many people are misdiagnosed in the process, leading to a wide range of other issues. It leads many to wonder whether or not the two are the same or not.

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So, are ADHD and OCD the same thing?

The short answer is no, ADHD and OCD aren’t the same things. They are two completely different disorders. While they contain similar symptoms, there is a wide range of differences between the two, and understanding them is highly important to receive the proper help.

On the one hand, you have an individual that finds it difficult to stay on-task. They have difficulty paying attention, exert signs of hyperactivity, and often act on impulse. This individual is someone who has ADHD, rather than OCD.

On the other hand, you have an individual that’s so focused on a task that they need it to be perfect. They grow obsessive over certain thoughts and behavior. Instead of acting impulsively, they act compulsively -- out of temptation or urge. This individual has OCD.

To an average person, they might look the same on the surface. Both people show signs of anxiety, struggle with executive functions, act spontaneously, and find it difficult to maintain a normal life.

The differences start to arise when you examine why they are anxious, why they struggle with executive functions, why they act spontaneously, and why they have a hard time fitting in with the rest of society. Both individuals have a different experience as they walk through life.

To help you get a full idea of the difference between ADHD and OCD, let’s take a closer look at each mental health disorder -- including how to treat them!

WHAT IS ADHD?

ADHD, also known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has been diagnosed in over 6 million children, according to a 2016 study. While most individuals’ symptoms improve with treatment, there currently isn’t a cure for ADHD.

There is a wide range of symptoms and warning signs that someone has ADHD, but three stand out as major players in disorder -- impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness. Some people manage one symptom, and others manage multiple (or all).

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Let’s take a closer look at each symptom and what they might look like to someone else:

  1. Impulsiveness - individuals experiencing impulsiveness struggle to think things through and often act out of instinct. Sometimes they don’t know why they do things, but they do them anyway, such as interrupting conversations. They’re generally focused on what they want, opposed to what they need.
  2. Inattentiveness - individuals experiencing inattentiveness have a short attention span, are distracted easily, make mistakes, forget things often, struggle to follow directions, are always changing activities, and struggle with organization.
  3. Hyperactivity - individuals experiencing hyperactivity fidget with their hands and feet frequently struggle to remain seated for any period, talk extremely fast, and exert a high energy amount everywhere they go. These individuals often live a fast-paced lifestyle, even when they want to relax and calm down.

When diagnosing ADHD, medical health professionals are looking for 5-6+ different symptoms that fall into either category. Impulsivity and hyperactivity are often grouped. In fact, there are three different types of ADHD, one of which combining hyperactivity and impulsivity.

The first type is known as the predominantly inattentive type (ADHD-PI), the second type is the predominantly hyperactive/impulsive type (ADHD-HI), and the third type is the combined type (ADHD-C). The combined type is reserved for individuals experiencing symptoms in all categories.

That’s not the only thing doctors look for when diagnosing ADHD. They also need to confirm that several symptoms were present before the age of 12, that the symptoms are present in multiple settings (school, work, home), that the symptoms interfere with the individual’s ability to lead a normal life, and that the symptoms aren’t a result of another mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia.

WHAT IS OCD?

OCD, also known as obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a mental health disorder that affects nearly 1 in 40 adults (2.3% of the population) and 1 in 100 children. Much like ADHD, researchers have yet to find a cure for OCD, but there are various ways to treat it.

As far as the symptoms are concerned, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder have one of two major symptoms -- obsessions and compulsions. It’s a disorder that affects how someone thinks, feels, acts, behaves, and ultimately lives.

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Since everyone with OCD experiences both obsessions and compulsions, let’s take a closer look at each of these symptoms and what they represent:

  1. Obsessions - these are repetitive thoughts, sensations, and ideas that affect the way a person behaves. Obsessions can be related to contamination, unusual thoughts or urges, harming yourself or someone else, or needing things to be perfect.
  2. Compulsions - these are the behaviors and changes an individual experiences as a result of the obsession. Compulsions include checking things repeatedly, cleaning things excessively, having odd thought rituals or processes, and the urge to repeat or arrange things.

When diagnosing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), medical health professionals focus on four groups of symptoms related to the obsessions and compulsions. Let’s break those down to give you the full picture of what OCD entails:

  1. Cleaning And Contamination - these individuals clean excessively due to a fear of germs and contamination. They often clean areas several times, even if it’s already clean.
  2. Symmetry And Ordering - these individuals are obsessed with things being perfect, neat, organized, and in-order 100% of the time. The thought of things not being this way causes great distress, to the point they struggle to feel complete.
  3. Forbidden Thoughts - these obsessions and compulsions often include sexual and violent thoughts or behaviors. They know the thoughts are wrong, but they have an unbelievable urge to act on those thoughts.
  4. Hoarding - these individuals find it hard to throw things away and let go of certain items, even if they hold no value whatsoever. The fear of needing it in the future causes them to hoard, which eventually grows to uncontrollable levels.

For the symptoms to be considered OCD, they need to have an obvious impact on the individual’s ability to lead a normal life. The symptoms often get in the way of their happiness, and they find it difficult to form relationships with others.

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Understanding the root cause of OCD and the subtype(s), is essential to finding the right treatment for the individual -- especially since millions of OCD patients have different experiences with the disorder.

HOW ARE ADHD AND OCD TREATED?

Treating ADHD and OCD requires the help of a professional therapist. Not only are they the ones qualified to provide a thorough evaluation of your mind and body, but they’re the ones that develop a treatment plan specific to you and your symptoms.

The treatment plan varies depending on the person, but it generally involves both medication and some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The medication is designed to balance the brain's chemicals, whether it be dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, or a combination of the three. Meanwhile, the therapy is designed to uncover more about the symptoms, causing them, and then correcting the thoughts and behaviors for the future.

In many situations, the therapy isn’t limited to the individual with ADHD or OCD symptoms. Therapists often recommend therapy for the parents or guardians of the individual to ensure the child continues to receive the right proper treatment in the right environment at home.

ARE YOU LIVING WITH ADHD OR OCD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder are two of the most common mental health disorders in the world. They affect millions of people every year and are often experienced, along with other disorders and health issues.

Since many people are unaware of the many differences between the two disorders, Mind Diagnostics is on a mission to help end the stigma surrounding OCD and ADHD. Furthermore, we’re committed to ensuring everyone has the proper tools and resources when getting help with their disorder.

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With our comprehensive online ADHD test, you can test yourself to learn your risk of developing ADHD. We also have an OCD test; that way, you can test yourself for both and learn your risk levels from all angles. If you feel you need further evaluation or assistance from a therapist, we’ll help match you with a trusted one in your area.

Contact us today to learn more about our online mental health tests. We can’t wait to help you find the proper assistance when moving past your mental health issues.