The 4 most common anxiety disorders associated with ADHD: Anxiety and ADHD – part 2

Editor’s note:  Last month we talked about how anxiety occurs more frequently in ADHD community than in the mainstream population.  This month we’ll look a little deeper into 4 types of anxiety most commonly occurring for people with ADHD.

The DSM-IV Defined Anxiety Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association defines 12 anxiety disorders:

  1. Separation Anxiety Disorder
  2. Panic Disorder – with and without agoraphobia
  3. Agoraphobia –  without history of Panic Disorder
  4. Social Phobia – exaggerated fear of embarrassment or humiliation
  5. Specific Phobia – e.g. of spiders, elevators, flying, etc.
  6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  7. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  8. Acute Stress Disorder – symptoms< 30 days
  9. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  10. Anxiety Disorder due to a General Medical Condition
  11. Substance-induced Anxiety Disorder
  12. Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

The 4 most common anxiety disorders associated with ADHD

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  2. Separation Anxiety Disorder
  3. Social Phobia
  4. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The remainder of this article will talk in more depth about the unique characteristics of each of these anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

General Anxiety Disorder is a serious issue for the ADHD community.  It is far more likely to occur during the lifetimes of children with ADHD than in the general population (25% ADHD versus 2.9 – 4.6% general population).  Half (52%) of adults with ADHD will experience GAD in their lifetimes – opposed to only 5% of adults in the general population.

General Anxiety Disorder is the big anxiety disorder that people tend to miss.  With the others – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, separation anxiety, and social phobia – it’s more obvious when you have it.  And, since GAD often comes along for the ride with depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders, it may be relegated to a back seat in terms of recognition and treatment.

General Anxiety Disorder is characterized by 6 months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience.  People with GAD usually expect the worst.  They worry excessively about money, health, family, or work, even when there are no signs of trouble.  They are unable to relax and often suffer from insomnia.  Sometimes the source of the worry is hard to pinpoint.  Simply the thought of getting through the day can provoke anxiety.  General Anxiety Disorder may also grow worse with stress.  In addition to excessive anxiety and worry, people with GAD have at least 3 of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty sleeping

Separation Anxiety Disorder

About 10 times as many children with ADHD will have separation anxiety compared with the rate in the general population of 2.4%

Separation Anxiety Disorder develops in childhood and can persist into adulthood.  Basically this means a child is fearful of being separated from his or her safety net (familiar place or person).  The child may develop excessive worrying to the point of being reluctant or refusing to go to school, being alone, or sleeping alone.  The child may also experience repeated nightmares and complaints of physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting.

Social Phobia (a.k.a. Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD)

18% of people with ADHD will have a lifetime occurrence of Social Anxiety Disorder – half again as common as in the general population.

Social Anxiety Disorder is an intense fear of becoming humiliated in social situations, specifically of embarrassing yourself in front of other people.  It includes performance anxiety issues.  It often runs in families and may be accompanied by depression or alcoholism.  Social phobia often begins in early adolescence or even younger.  The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.  About 13% of the general population will experience social anxiety at some point in their lives.  Social Phobia is actually the third most common psychiatric disorder in the United States after depression and substance abuse.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD

Although there isn’t a lot of information on PTSD and ADHD specifically, there is some evidence that people with ADHD are more vulnerable to developing PTSD.  For more information consult Adler LA, Kunz M, Chua HC, Rotrosen J, Resnick SG. (2004). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adult patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): is ADHD a vulnerability factor?  Journal of Attention Disorders.  Aug; 8(1):11-6.

How to manage your anxiety

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but you have to recognize first that they exist.  If you think this might be you, seek the advice of a professional and find out what your options are.

An ADHD coach can also help you learn to identify your anxiety triggers and things you can do to keep your anxiety under control.

Watch for part 3 of our ADHD and Anxiety series where we will talk about some steps you can take to help you manage your anxiety.

Do you have ADHD and anxiety?  What have you done to keep it under control?  We invite you to share your story here and help others learn what you have to keep your edge! You don’t have to live with anxiety, sign up for an Edge Coach and start taking charge of your life today.


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21 Responses

  1. Ann Imrie Howlett

    I found this article to be very informative and helpful. It explained veru easily and quickly symptoms to be aware of. It also highlighted the diifference between the disorder and normal worries and anxiety. I part 3 on what statregies to use to help will be very useful.

  2. dizzymum

    Thanks for sharing. My son suffers from GAD, and to be honest, I’ve had it on and off since childhood too. Poor little guy, but it’s getting better.

  3. Alex the Lion

    I found this article to be very informative and helpful 5 stars for good writing.

  4. […] of physical and psychological symptoms associated with anxiety.

  5. wanttochange

    I was wondering if I suffered from Social Phobia. After reading this article I’m pretty sure that I do have it. The discription decribes me closely. The article inspires me to do something about my problem.

  6. anxiety

    I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

    • Peggy -- Edge Foundation blogger

      Glad you’ve found our blog to be helpful. Hope you will let us know if there are topics we can cover that are of interest to you!

  7. […] keep anxiety at bay and builds on the material in these Edge blog posts: ADHD and Anxiety Overview, Common Anxiety Disorders and ADHD, and Non Drug Treatments for Anxiety Everyone Can […]

  8. anony999

    I have ADD and GAD developed before I was given proper treatment. GAD can be tragic if you don’t know what to look for and how to treat it. GAD will lead straight to substance abuse, because its the only way you can relax, and you don’t understand why you are all anxious to begin with. Very dangerous combination for young people. Get proper screening from a good doctor everyone.

    • Peggy -- Edge Foundation blogger

      Thank you for reminding our readers how important it is to seek the advice of a professional to work out a treatment plan for your anxiety!

  9. Jenna

    I have ADD and GAD. Both disorders can affect your memory. My memory I feel has gotten worse over the years, and I’m not even old yet!! I’m only 21! If I need to go into a room for something, by the time I get to that room I have forgotten what it was I went in there for. I’m CONSTANTLY repeating myself in conversations because I forget what I’ve already told people. I try leaving myself notes and making to do lists, but I seriously feel mentally handicapped sometimes. Its quite distressing and I would love to know if theres anything that can help people like me with memory.

    • admin

      The issue with your memory is fairly common with AD/HD. Among other things, AD/HD affects attention span and short term memory which can be very frustrating and can also be magnified by your General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I suffer with this myself and my wife often laughs at how many times I will go up and down the stairs in the morning to get a few short tasks accomplished. I will usually forget what I am going to get during the short journey up the stairs.

      Identifying this as the problem is a huge step to uncovering ways to address it and quickly “capture” that information before you lose it. There are several things that you can do to cope with this type of challenge, such as writing yourself a quick note on a sticky pad, or even leaving yourself a quick voice note on your cell phone. The key is to experiment with these types of coping mechanisms to see which work for you and why. For instance, I have tried many things, but learned that the voice recording did not work for me, while it works for others. It was frustrating, but I thought about why it did not work and learned that I am not an auditory processor. Hearing information is not as helpful for me as seeing it. I am a visual processor.

      The key is learning about yourself and understanding the easiest way to capture information in some tangible form before it flies to the other side of the grand canyon in your mind. Very often a skilled coach can help you learn about yourself and how you respond to situations in order to help you understand your strengths and develop coping skills to navigate around your weaknesses. Edge coaches will not just recommend coping mechanisms but help you understand why some will work for you and why others may not. They will help you tap into your unique talents and help you to sharpen your edge.

      I hope this is helpful. Please let us know if you would like more information about our coaching program and always remember that you are not alone. There are many of us out there just like you.

      Robert Tudisco, Edge Foundation Executive Director

  10. Ric Gene Watson

    I have been on Zoloft for about one year. Was on 25mg, I recently increased the dosage to 50mg, to help get through a stressful time. It has definitely worked for me. This increase though I am noticing more dry mouth and stomach upset decreased appetite. I have had really bad anxiety about social situations and sleep (not getting enough) I hated going places or being around people. This medication has helped me greatly. I’m hoping it will continue to do so on 50 mg, and I hope to step back down so I do not get the burnout effect that so many people talk about.

    Ric Gene Watson

  11. Steven Hawkings

    General anxiety disorder greatly affects 5% of the total American population. It is more prevalent in women than men and in the young than the old. People who have general anxiety disorder have symptoms like tension, restlessness, hyperactivity, fear, rumination, worrying and inconsistency.

  12. Simone

    This has been a fantastic article for last two years I’ve been wondering what was wrong with my 7 year old son now I’m sure after reading this article my son has SAD.. I’m 99% sure and I will be mentioning this at the next tax meeting so glad I saw this article I need to find out what causes it and what help is out there for it x

  13. Aditya

    ADHD and anxiety
    often go hand in hand with adults as well. In fact, it’s pretty much the same sort of scenario discussed above. One difference is that adults aren’t in a school setting, so they usually don’t have tests and exams to worry about. They do however frequently move from one job to the next, unless they’re fortunate enough to end up in a job with keeps them constantly stimulated.

  14. Paul Koppel

    Many people who faces the ADHD will also suffer with anxiety. Negative thoughts and worry’s will make the anxiety more. Reduce the worry and stress, try to adopt good self- care and healthy habits, and sleep also plays a important role. consult your physician to beat the anxiety and adhd in a effective manner.

  15. anxiety rash

    Yes! Finally someone writes about Anxiety.

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  17. Maxs

    Great information. I have just been diagnosed with ADHD. Anxiety awhile ago. All of the symptoms have been really prevalent. I am really frustrated. I have always done ok. I am not sure how this has changed and become magnified x 10000. Before I functioned way better and now I feel I am not me. I also feel people think I am stupid or something is wrong with me. Menopause has not helped in all of this. I go to therapy and have a psychiatrist. I feel lost and on fast forward. Also my memory is horrible. I never had this problem until a year ago. I have other factors. I can’t manage time, not good with socializing, impulsive, no friends, yell, upset, can’t make plans, hard to communicate, emotional, messy, clutter, miss details, and more ..
    I do go to work and have some other positive things. I feel bad and worry about most things. I used to do better but I have a new doctor who thought my meds should be changed and never cared. I fell apart and now my doctor has tried a few meds and seems better but my anxiety is real high most days. Sleep is better. I am 51 years old and have not been thought I was doing ok until 2012 Menopause and late 2015 diagnosed ADHD etc….Feel like things are out of control. Always lose things,forget things, not organized etc..