Distinguishing between OCD and ADHD


Very superficially, obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder seem to have a lot in common: impaired attention, memory, and behavioral control.

But these two neuropsychological disorders have very different roots, and misdiagnosis can have enormous consequences.

More different than alike

Professor Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and colleagues have found that despite their similarities, OCD and ADHD are more different than alike. While they found that both groups had trouble with impulse control in the lab, once in the real world, the ADHD group had much more significant difficulty suppressing impulses.

ADHD lacks control; OCD demands it

Prof. Dar asserts that the mechanisms causing ADHD and OCD are very different. The ADHD person is a risk-taker, rarely reflecting on consequences. The OCD person is overly concerned with consequences, has difficulty making decisions and tends to over-control.

Prof. Dar’s distinction between the two disorders is helping to better diagnose instances of the disease. Confusing the two can lead to long-term health consequences. When Ritalin is given to a person with OCD, the symptoms are exacerbated.

Still, symptoms may look the same to the untrained eye

Prof. Dar says the confusion is understandable. When a student sits in a classroom, fidgeting and distracted, inattentive and restless, a teacher may easily assume ADHD. The problem may be that the person is distracted by obsessive thoughts or acting out on compulsions.

“It’s more likely that a young student will be diagnosed with ADHD instead of OCD because teachers see so many people with attention problems and not many with OCD. If you don’t look carefully enough, you could make a mistake,” warns Prof. Dar.

Correct diagnosis and early intervention are vital

About 5.2 million children in the U.S. between 3 and 17 years old are diagnosed with ADHD, according to the CDC. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed neuro-developmental disorders in children.

Early intervention is crucial for both conditions and can influence treatment and medication as well as social support from family and school.

Sources: American Friends of Tel Aviv University, ScienceDaily

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