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ADHD and PTSD: A Surprising Link


In recent years, there has been a growing body of research exploring the relationship between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While these conditions may seem unrelated, studies have shown that they often occur together, and that the symptoms of one can exacerbate the symptoms of the other.


Let’s delve into the surprising link between ADHD and PTSD! We will explore the latest research and offer insights into how this knowledge can help inform treatment and support for those struggling with these conditions.


Have you ever wondered why something you experienced is so traumatizing to you and not to another person that experienced the exact same thing? Research in recent years has shown that there is a link between people that have ADHD, and experiencing trauma that leads to PTSD.


The nervous system in people with ADHD tends to be activated, even at baseline. So it takes less to trigger a fight or flight response in a person with ADHD than in someone else. Thus, the person with ADHD perceives the SAME experience as MORE THREATENING or traumatic than the person without ADHD. This leads to a higher incidence of PTSD in people with ADHD.


When a person has both ADHD and a more sensitive nervous system, it can be doubly difficult to regulate emotions. This can cause more stress and problems dealing with trauma than non-ADHD people. When an individual has both ADHD and PTSD, it impacts the severity of the symptoms of both. Because the symptoms are more severe it can be difficult to diagnose both ADHD and PTSD. Daily life might feel like having all the stereos, televisions and noise on full blast in the house as well as people coming and going with vibrant colors yet trying to have deep meaningful conversations that require intelligent answers, and then assigning a task that requires concentration and focus with a time limit. Sensory overload all the time. The pain from the trauma as well as the ADHD tendencies must be addressed in therapy simultaneously.


An evidence-based model discussed as successful for this type of therapeutic work is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR. EMDR can take the trauma experience that is emotionally charged (the ADHD component with the higher nervous system response) and because the brain has become stuck due to the trauma, pair it with bilateral stimulation (eye movements or tapping) which recreates REM sleep and allows healthy processing. EMDR allows a person to pair a positive thought with a memory of trauma and change the person’s perception of the whole bundle of memories. The person can then put the memories and trauma away and move forward.


What kind of situations are we talking about that ADHD folks are more susceptible to? Women and children with ADHD are more likely to experience victimization and form PTSD afterwards. Women with ADHD are more likely to experience Intimate Partner Violence. ADHD bodies have a harder time recovering after stressful events. ADHD can also be paired with Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, and Autism. If you are curious about yourself or someone close to you, ask for a screening or an appointment with our psychiatric staff. You can also discuss these dual diagnoses with one of our qualified therapists. You can see their bios under the team tab. We even have two therapists that are trained in EMDR therapy. We look forward to meeting you.


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