What’s the difference between ADHD and OCD? Which one do I have?

What’s the difference between ADHD and OCD? Which one do I have?

Reviewed by:
Austin Lin, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
February 29, 2024
In this article

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two mental health conditions that are difficult to diagnose. While they may share symptoms, they're actually very different diagnoses. One thing they do have in common: They're treatable.

This article will help you understand their similarities and differences and how healthcare professional, like psychiatrists, can help.

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Are OCD and ADHD related?

OCD and ADHD are distinct conditions that operate in different ways. ADHD is considered an externalizing disorder, meaning it affects the ways a person interacts with their environment. While OCD is an internalizing disorder, meaning that it affects the way a person relates to themself.

OCD is characterized by intrusive and obsessive thoughts and sometimes leads to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). People living with ADHD might experience difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  

While some people have both OCD and ADHD, and some research suggests they may have overlapping genetic and neurobiological factors, they are distinct conditions and there is no cause-and-effect relationship between these two disorders.

Because there is an overlap in symptoms between OCD and ADHD, it can be challenging for patients to accurately assess their own condition—that’s why speaking with a mental health professional about how you’re feeling is so important.

Similarities between OCD and ADHD

Though they operate in different ways, OCD and ADHD can both impact executive functions such as:

  • Decision-making
  • Planning and managing time
  • Controlling or suppressing impulses
  • Switching between tasks
  • Staying focused on tasks  

Keep in mind that many different conditions can have similar symptoms, so having one or more of these doesn’t mean you might have OCD or ADHD (or any diagnosable condition). Only a medical professional can diagnose what you have. If you’d like to learn more, consider Talkiatry. We’re a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network and 100% virtual care. Fill out this quick assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist and see if we’re right for you.

Can you have both ADHD and OCD?

Yes. A person can be diagnosed with both. OCD and ADHD are considered comorbidities, meaning it is possible for a person to have both conditions at the same time. One study found that people who had developed OCD during their childhood were more likely to have ADHD as an adult.

If you’ve been diagnosed with more than one condition, it’s important that your doctor knows. There are certain treatments that may help one condition, but negatively impact another. Your care team will know what to do in those cases. The more they know, the better care they can provide.  

OCD vs ADHD: Symptoms

ADHD and OCD share some symptoms, like difficulty completing tasks and managing time, but they are different in a few key ways.

You check out the chart below to compare a few of them.  

Keep in mind, though, if you have either of these mental health disorders your symptoms can become more or less intense and they can present differently over the course of your life. It's tempting to self-diagnose, but seeking the help of a medical professional like a psychiatrist can ensure you receive the appropriate treatment so you can get back to feeling your best.

Symptom OCD ADHD
Difficulty getting things done x x
Time management issues x x
Compulsive behavior x
Impulsive behavior x
Intrusive thoughts x
Inability to sit still x
Prone to sensory overload x x
Seeks routine x
Seeks new experiences x

OCD symptoms

It’s common for people with OCD to experience unwanted or intrusive thoughts. And they may feel driven to perform compulsions, like checking the locks multiple times, to help soothe the anxiety those thoughts cause. For people who experience compulsions, it’s usually very difficult to stop performing them, to the point that it disrupts daily life.

Here common symptoms to look out for if you think you have might have OCD:

  • Fear of contamination
  • Pattern of obsessions, or unwanted thoughts
  • Ritualized handwashing, showering, brushing teeth
  • Fear of harming yourself or others
  • Anxious about unfinished tasks or disordered objects
  • Repeatedly check locks, appliances, switches
  • Repeated counting or reciting of phrases

ADHD symptoms

Hyperactive and impulsive type ADHD can be marked by excessive energy, distractibility, and disorganization. Here are some common signs:

  • Constantly fidgeting and difficulty staying seated
  • Finding it difficult to perform leisure activities quietly
  • Feeling always “on the go”
  • Overly talkative and frequently interrupting others
  • Easily distracted by things around you and completing tasks
  • Forgetting and misplacing things

OCD vs ADHD treatment  

Treatment for OCD and ADHD can vary, but both of them can be successfully managed with a combination of medication and therapy, as well as self care and relaxation techniques, like maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how else treatment approaches for these conditions can differ.

Treatment for ADHD

  • Stimulant medications, like Adderall or Ritalin
  • Nonstimulant medications, like Strattera or Qelbree
  • Skills training
  • Psychotherapy
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) for children with ADHD

Treatment for OCD

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically, exposure and response prevention (ERP)
  • Antidepressants  
  • Neuromodulation and surgical treatments

Do I have ADHD or OCD?

If you’ve ever wondered if you have OCD or ADHD, it’s worth speaking with a medical professional, especially since both conditions share similar symptoms. They will be able to provide you with a diagnosis and medication, therapy, or strategies to help cope.  

If you’re not ready to see a psychiatrist yet, you can learn more about these mental health conditions by answering a few questions. If you want to learn about ADHD, head here. For OCD, start here. Those questions can help you understand what you’re feeling and provide guidance on next steps.  

FAQs about ADHD and OCD

Your frequently asked questions about ADHD vs. OCD answered.

Can ADHD be misdiagnosed as OCD?

Yes, misdiagnosis can happen between ADHD and OCD due to overlapping symptoms such as restlessness and difficulty focusing. Thorough evaluation by a qualified clinicians is crucial to differentiate between the two disorders and ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Can ADHD medications help with OCD?

ADHD medications primarily target symptoms related to attention and hyperactivity, so they are not typically prescribed as first-line treatment for OCD. ADHD and OCD treatment can impact the other, so decisions should be made with a healthcare professional who can assess your specific needs to tailor the right treatment plan and monitor your progress.

Is obsessive thinking part of ADHD?

Obsessive thinking is not a core symptom of ADHD, but individuals with ADHD may experience repetitive or intrusive thoughts, particularly related to unfinished tasks or worries about forgetfulness. These obsessive thoughts are usually caused by difficulties with attention regulation, instead of being characteristic of OCD.

Does Adderall make OCD worse?

Adderall, a medication commonly used to treat ADHD, can potentially exacerbate symptoms of OCD in some individuals due to its stimulant effects on the central nervous system. Stimulant medications like Adderall may increase arousal, triggering any obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviors. Keep in mind responses to medication can vary, and some people with comorbid ADHD and OCD may find that Adderall helps manage their ADHD symptoms without worsening their OCD behaviors.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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