OCD vs. ADHD: 3 Similarities & 3 Differences

Most people have a basic idea of what OCD and ADHD are. However, the two conditions may get confused, or the symptoms get misdiagnosed. It’s important to understand both the similarities and differences between OCD and ADHD, especially if you’re concerned that someone in your life might be dealing with one or the other. Educating yourself on the common signs and symptoms will help to empower you and make it easier to encourage that loved one to get the treatment they need.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three similarities and three differences between OCD and ADHD. 

Similarity 1: Similar Symptoms

One of the reasons why these two conditions often get mixed up is the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of both OCD and ADHD include: 

  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Time management issues
  • Indecision
  • Forgetfulness

This is because both conditions occur in the same neuropathways in the brain. When that pathway isn’t working the way it should, it can cause any of the issues listed above. 

Similarity 2: They Can Affect Your School Or Career

Most people associate ADHD with children and have an easier time accepting OCD as an adult disorder. However, both conditions can impact all ages. They also can disrupt your work or school life. 

OCD and ADHD make it hard to concentrate for long periods of time. When you have ADHD, it’s typically hard to focus or listen in on what someone is saying for any length of time. When you have OCD, you might put all of your focus on rituals and routines, causing you to miss what’s being taught or given to you at work. 

Similarity 3: They Can Trigger Other Mental Health Issues

OCD and ADHD aren’t often referred to as mental health issues. They occur due to how the individual’s brain is wired. As a result, most people don’t put them in the same categories as common mental health struggles such as anxiety or depression. 

However, both conditions can eventually lead to additional co-occurring mental health disorders. It’s not uncommon for people with OCD and ADHD to be highly irritable and have angry outbursts. It can come from frustration, sadness, confusion, or stress. All of those things can make symptoms of anxiety or depression worse. 

Difference 1: Internalizing vs. Externalizing

ADHD is considered an externalizing disorder. When someone has it, they tend to react to their surroundings, situation, and environment in ways that can cause problems. That can include things like not paying attention at work and missing a deadline. 

OCD, however, can be highly an internalizing disorder, especially for those who have pure OCD or ruminate often. Most people dealing with OCD are doing so internally through things like rituals and counting. This can also lead to externalized rituals as well. The OCD loop causes a lot of internal stress, which fuels the vicious cycle and often makes the OCD symptoms worse.

Difference 2: The Draw of Impulsive Behaviors

It might seem like someone with OCD engages in impulsive behaviors regularly, but that’s not usually true. Most people with OCD thrive on routines and rituals. If it seems like they’re doing something “random,” it’s likely highly organized in their mind and designed to provide immediate relief from their OCD trigger. 

People with ADHD, on the other hand, can absolutely engage in random behaviors—some of which can be harmful or detrimental if they’re using them as a way to cope. 

Difference 3: The Motivations Are Different

While you can’t see someone else’s motivations for doing things, you can certainly understand your own. People with OCD are often driven by obsessive thoughts and the need to complete specific rituals. That can make them seem disengaged and distracted when they’re really just focused on something else. 

People with ADHD can grow restless and start acting out when they’re distracted or having difficulty focusing. The motivations behind these acts are completely different, even if the result appears the same.

Finally, OCD and ADHD can occur together due to the similarities in how the brain is wired. For example, Justin Timberlake has shared he lives with both OCD and ADHD. The more everyone understands the differences and similarities between OCD and ADHD, the easier it will be to seek out and accept realistic diagnoses. Use this piece as a guide to educate yourself on the two conditions, and don’t hesitate to continue with your own research. 

If you would like to schedule a free phone consultation to learn more about how we can be of support to you or your loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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