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The Difference between Bipolar Disorder and ADHD

Bipolar disorder and ADHD are the two brain conditions that can affect an individual of any age. ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorder. Both conditions affect many people, and some symptoms are even similar.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two conditions. Since bipolar disorder can worsen with time, it is critical to receive an accurate diagnosis.

So how can you tell the difference between bipolar disorder and ADHD with co-occurring depression? Read more to get the answer to this question.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is best known for causing mood swings. People with bipolar disorder can experience manic or hypomanic highs. Depressive lows follow it, ranging from a few times a year to every couple of weeks.

A manic episode of elevated mood must last at least seven days to meet diagnostic criteria. Manic symptoms may be severe enough for the individual to need hospitalization. If individuals have depressive episodes, they must exhibit symptoms and meet the diagnostic criteria for a depressive episode that lasts at least two weeks.

If a person has a hypomanic episode (less severe than mania), the symptoms must last no more than four days. You might feel on top of the world one week and depressed the next. Some people with bipolar I disorder may not experience depressive symptoms.

People living with bipolar disorder experience a wide range of symptoms. They may feel hopeless and sad during a depressive episode and may be considering suicide or self-harm.

Mania has opposite symptoms but can be as harmful. Individuals in a manic episode may engage in risky financial and sexual behaviors. They have feelings of inflated self-esteem or overindulge in drugs and alcohol.

Early-onset bipolar disorder refers to bipolar disorder in children. It manifests differently in kids than in adults, with children experiencing more severe symptoms on both ends of the spectrum.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood. It involves symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsive behavior

Boys are more likely than girls to experience ADHD, and diagnoses are made as young as 2 or 3 years old.

Specific symptoms can manifest differently in each individual, including:

  • Having difficulty completing assignments or tasks
  • Daydreaming
  • Frequent distractions
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Constant squirming and movement

It’s important to note that not every person who exhibits these symptoms has ADHD. Some people are more active or distractible than others. ADHD is only suspected when these behaviors interfere with daily life. People with ADHD may also have a higher rate of co-occurring  conditions, such as:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

ADHD vs. Bipolar Disorder

There are some similarities between the manic episodes of bipolar disorder and ADHD. Here are some examples:

  • An increase in energy or the feeling of being “on the go”
  • Being distracted, increased talking, and interrupting others often

One of the most significant distinctions is that bipolar disorder affects mood first. In contrast, ADHD affects behavior and attention first. Furthermore, people with bipolar disorder experience a cycle of mania, hypomania, and depression. People with ADHD have chronic symptoms. However, people with ADHD can also have mood symptoms that need attention, but they do not experience cycling of their symptoms.

These disorders can affect children and adults, but ADHD is more often diagnosed in children. Symptoms of ADHD appear at a younger age, while signs of bipolar disorder usually appear in young adults or older adolescents.

Genetics could also play a part in the development of either condition. To assist with diagnosis, you should share your family history with your doctor.

Specific symptoms common between ADHD and bipolar disorder are:

  • Impulsivity
  • Inattention\hyperactivity
  • Excessive physical energy, behavioral energy, and emotional vulnerability

ADHD affects a more significant number of people in the United States. According to a 2014 study, 4.4 percent of U.S. adults have ADHD, compared to only 1.4 percent who have bipolar disorder.

Depression in bipolar disorder is especially concerning and difficult to detect. This is because the person’s mood cycles between extremes. If you notice any of these symptoms interfering with your work, school, or relationships, it’s a good idea to address the underlying issues as soon as possible.

If your doctor suspects your child has bipolar disorder or ADHD, inquire about how the diagnosis was made. Be sure to go over all the possible signs and symptoms. Allow the doctor to check your child over time, rather than just during one visit, and ensure the doctor has spoken with teachers and has received written reports from them.

Get a second opinion from a child and adolescent psychiatry expert and consult a top psychiatrist to track how medications are working.


1. Is it possible for ADHD to coexist with depression?

Depressive disorders and ADHD frequently co-occur. They are more debilitating and challenging to assess and treat when they do. Co-occurring depression in patients who first develop ADHD may be related to a chronic history of functional deficits caused by the ADHD.

2. What is the most common co-occurring disorder associated with ADHD?

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Personality disorders – the most common psychiatric comorbidities associated with ADHD in adults

3. Is it true that bipolar disorder worsens with age?

If untreated, bipolar disorder may worsen over time with age. As time passes, an individual may have more intense and frequent episodes. For this reason, it is best to seek treatment when symptoms first present, as early intervention leads to better outcomes.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Rida Faqeer Muhammad is captivated by experiences of the world and showing it with words. She loves to increase productivity and mental capacities through her writings and expects the same from the public. Words are the weapons through which anyone can spread awareness but yes, only with the right use. And this is what exactly she’s doing on the platform of Marham.

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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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