OCD and ADHD: What’s the Difference?

Both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can make it difficult for people to concentrate, hindering their ability to function at school or at work.

ADHD and OCD affect similar parts of the brain: Both conditions can cause a person to take a long time to complete tasks, or they can cause difficulties in relationships with others. However, there are also key differences between the two conditions, including that ADHD is more common, especially in children.

In some people, OCD symptoms may overlap with ADHD symptoms. Here’s what you should know about ADHD, OCD, and whether these conditions can occur at the same time.

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is estimated to affect about 11 percent of school-age children and about 4 percent of adults. Symptoms of ADHD can appear in different ways, sometimes depending on a person’s gender or age.

Symptoms generally fall into the following three categories:

  • Inattention: Difficulty staying focused and organized
  • Hyperactivity: Constantly speaking or moving
  • Impulsivity: a problem with self-control

These can manifest as common symptoms, including:

  • forgetfulness and confusion
  • Inability to concentrate or complete tasks
  • Avoid tedious or challenging tasks
  • fidgeting or restless
  • Difficulty getting along with others

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health disorder in which intrusive, recurring thoughts (OCD) and behaviors (OCD) are repeated over and over again so that they interfere with a person’s functioning.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurred in 2.3% of people. While it’s most often diagnosed in adulthood, research suggests that OCD can also occur in a small percentage of children.

OCD is structured around two main categories of symptoms:

  • Obsessions manifest as repetitive thoughts, impulses, or involuntary, disturbing, and anxiety-provoking mental images.
  • A compulsive behavior is a repetitive behavior performed in response to or in the hope of controlling a compulsive behavior.

These core symptoms can manifest as common symptoms of OCD, including:

  • Fear of contamination leads to frequent cleaning
  • Needs an order and can’t move on until the item is perfectly ordered
  • Aggressive thoughts about yourself or others

Similarities Between OCD and ADHD

At first glance, OCD and ADHD may seem very different. However, they have many commonalities that make it difficult to get a proper diagnosis.

affected brain area

Both OCD and ADHD sufferers experience brain abnormalities frontostriatal circuitthe neural pathways that connect the frontal lobes and ganglia of the brain.

A 2020 study found that ADHD is associated with reduced brain volume in these areas. A 2017 study found that people with OCD had dysfunctional connections in frontostriatal circuits compared to healthy people.

Potential for interference with school and work

Both ADHD and OCD make it difficult for people to complete a task. A person with ADHD may not be able to focus on a task until it is completed, while a person with OCD is constantly interrupted by obsessive thoughts and obsessive behaviors.

Because of these difficulties regulating attention, people with OCD and ADHD often have difficulty reaching their full potential at school and at work. This is not due to their cognitive abilities, but due to their disease symptoms.

relationship with others

Both ADHD and OCD can complicate relationships with others. Symptoms of ADHD, including a lack of impulse control and persistent speech, can make friendships between children and adults difficult. For people with OCD, time focused on certain obsessions and compulsions can make relationships difficult, especially if the obsessions they are experiencing are violent or sexual.

Development of other diseases

People with ADHD or OCD are at increased risk for other diseases or health conditions, including:

  • Depression: A large percentage of people with ADHD will experience depressive symptoms throughout their lives. People with OCD also have an increased risk of depression, especially after OCD symptoms begin.
  • Sleep disturbances: An estimated 25% to 50% of people with ADHD also have sleep problems. People with OCD also often suffer from insomnia.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders: People with ADHD are more likely to have gastrointestinal disorders. People with OCD have a higher risk of developing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, colorectal disorder) and often experience more severe symptoms than people without OCD.
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risk factor

OCD and ADHD share common risk factors, including:

  • Genetics: Both conditions tend to run in families.
  • Stress: Feelings of stress can make both conditions worse.
  • Trauma: Experiencing trauma, especially during childhood, can increase the risk of both conditions and make symptoms worse.

Differences between OCD and ADHD

Although OCD and ADHD have some similar effects on a person’s life, they are very different disorders. One of the differences between OCD and ADHD may be risk tolerance. People with OCD tend to avoid risks and try to control themselves, while people with ADHD tend to be impulsive.

These opposing effects are seen in the brains of people with OCD and ADHD. People with OCD had more activity in the affected frontostriatal region, and people with ADHD had less.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often considered an internalization disorder, which means that symptoms lead to internal stress. ADHD is often considered an externalizing disorder, which means that symptoms affect how a person interacts with their environment.

Finally, about 40% of children with ADHD will grow up as adults, And people with OCD often have to manage the condition throughout their lives.

Treatment and Outlook

Both OCD and ADHD are chronic conditions that can be treated with behavioral and medical interventions. These conditions are handled differently, so it’s important to see your healthcare provider to make sure you get an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment for ADHD often includes behavioral changes based on symptoms, treatment, and prescription medications (usually psychostimulants). Treatment for OCD includes cognitive therapy and medication, usually antidepressants.

Can OCD and ADHD co-occur?

Some people with OCD may experience symptoms that may be misdiagnosed as inattention. Because of this, a 2017 study recommended that healthcare providers first treat OCD and then address ADHD symptoms in individuals who experience symptoms of both disorders.

If you suspect that you or a loved one has both ADHD and OCD, consult a trusted healthcare professional experienced in treating co-occurring mental disorders. Research in this field is constantly changing, as are treatment recommendations. Your healthcare provider will help create a plan for you.


ADHD and OCD are two different conditions that may have some similarities. Both can trigger inability to concentrate or sit still or have trouble getting along with others. However, there are key differences, including how each condition affects brain activity and how their symptoms and behaviors are presented. It is important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

VigorTip words

Both ADHD and OCD interfere with your ability to reach your full potential at school or at work. In some cases, people with OCD may exhibit symptoms similar to those of ADHD.

Scientists are still studying the connections between these complex conditions. If you live with one or both, find a trusted healthcare provider who will work with you to develop a treatment plan that will help you achieve your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does ADHD make OCD worse?

    People with OCD often lead rigid routines that can be difficult for people with ADHD to maintain. One condition can complicate the treatment of another.

  • Does Treating ADHD Help OCD?

    If someone has symptoms of ADHD and OCD at the same time, they may need treatment for both conditions.

  • What Medications Make OCD Worse?

    Stimulants can sometimes make OCD symptoms worse. This includes amphetamines, a class of drugs often used to treat ADHD. If you have symptoms of ADHD and OCD at the same time, talk with your healthcare provider about the treatment options that are best for you.