Although they are two very different disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Childhood Bipolar Disorder have many common symptoms making them sometimes difficult to tell apart. However, a qualified mental health professional will be able to differentiate the two conditions and recommend the best course of treatment after a comprehensive evaluation.

For a better understanding, the following are frequently asked questions concerning the similarities and differences between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder:

What is Childhood Bipolar Disorder?

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Bipolar Disorder occurs in all age groups, young and old.” While everyone experiences ups and downs, children with a Bipolar Disorder have extremely powerful highs and lows that can affect their home life, how they interact with peers, and school performance. It can also be dangerous if the child tries to cause personal injury or attempt suicide.

What are the warning signs of Bipolar Disorder?

Children with Bipolar Disorder can be both manic and depressed at the same time. They typically have rapid cycles with multiple incidents of highs and lows. Some of the manic symptoms include:

  • Radical changes in mood
  • Highly elated, giddy or silly
  • Grandiose behaviors that can sometimes be dangerous
  • Increased energy level; decreased need for sleep
  • Very talkative; changes topics quickly and doesn’t like to be interrupted
  • Easily distracted; quickly moves from one topic to the next
  • Hypersexual with increased sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • Engages in risky behaviors or activities
  • Increased physical agitation
  • Excessively goal-driven

On the flip side, depressive symptoms include:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Persistently sad
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Loss of energy overall
  • Interruption in sleep pattern by oversleeping or not getting enough sleep
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Exceedingly low self-esteem or feelings of guilt
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or death

What are the similarities between ADHD and Bipolar Disorder?

Both disorders have symptoms of hyperactivity, irritability, impulsiveness, and difficulty concentrating which makes them challenging to differentiate.

How is ADHD different from Bipolar Disorder?

Although they may share some of the same symptoms, the main difference is the duration of the symptoms and how they are manifested. ADHD is a chronic disorder that affects behavior and attention lasting all day; whereas Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that occurs in cycles with periods of normal mood swings liberally sprinkled with episodes of mania and/or depression. ADHD symptoms can be triggered by a lack of structure or the environment, while a child with a Bipolar Disorder is reacting to unpredictable mood swings. Following an emotional episode, the child with ADHD doesn’t lose touch with reality and is able to recall the events. However, the bipolar child will have a distorted understanding of the episode and may not even remember it.

How is ADHD treated?

Children with ADHD are treated with behavioral therapy, psycho stimulant medications, and sometimes antidepressants.

How is Bipolar Disorder treated?

Children with a Bipolar Disorder are also treated with medications such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and/or antidepressants, in tandem with a family therapy plan.

Can a child have both disorders?

Getting back to the original question: Is it ADHD or Childhood Bipolar Disorder? The answer may be either or both. “Comorbidity” is the existence of two more disorders. Studies show that approximately 20 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also have a mood disorder. They are simultaneously treated the same way with comprehensive therapy and appropriate medications that are carefully monitored for side effects and success. You can read more about how ADHD is often misdiagnosed and/or overlap other disorders in Misdiagosing ADHD in Children.

If you suspect your child is suffering from ADHD and/or Bipolar Disorder, please contact a qualified professional to make sure they receive a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.