When OCD looks like ADHD

baby girl

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may seem like two sides of the same coin.

They certainly share some hyperactive symptoms, but the similarities end there. In fact, treating them with the same protocols could have disastrous effects, especially for children.


ADHD is characterized by short attention span, loose focus and recklessness. OCD has symptoms of intense repetition, calculated decision-making and an over-consideration of consequences.

ADHD is commonly treated with the prescription drug Ritalin – but giving this drug to a person with OCD will only increase and agitate his or her symptoms.

Studying impulsivity differences

In a recent study from Tel Aviv University, researchers examined 30 people with OCD, 30 with ADHD and 30 with no symptoms. They compared the effects of each disorder against a set of questionnaires and cognitive tests. The participants were male, and their average age was 30 years.

Both OCD and ADHD groups performed worse than the control group on the tests. The ADHD group showed more impulsivity than the other groups. The OCD group did not perform significantly different than the control group, but they did report a bias in their perceived levels of impulsivity.

ADHD more familiar, a more common diagnosis

The researchers explained that “a negative association between OC symptoms and response inhibition and a bias in self-perception of impulsivity was found only in the OCD group,” suggesting that people with OCD tend to overestimate their impulsivity.

These findings highlight the ease with which many children can get misdiagnosed for the wrong disorder. Compulsive behavior could be viewed, by an observer as well as the afflicted person, as fidgety behavior. Additionally, ADHD is the “go-to” disorder for children these days, while OCD is diagnosed much less often.

Incorrect diagnosis could be problematic

If diagnosed incorrectly, a child’s future could become much more challenging with unnecessary medication, treatment and side effects as well as psychological problems stemming from behavioral problems.

“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,” said Professor Reuven Dar of TAU’s School of Psychological Sciences. “If you don’t look carefully enough, you could make a mistake.”

Source: Medical Daily

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