Is it ADHD?  Is it PTSD?  It might be both.

Soldier with PTSD

Having ADHD alone can be a contributing factor in getting PTSD due to their many risk-taking behaviors.  Post traumatic stress disorder is a condition that looks similar to ADHD, however there are varying differences.  The underlying reasons for the symptoms of both can be confusing.

  • Survivor’s guilt
  • Hypervigilance (constantly on the look-out for possible threats)
  • Flashbacks (replaying the trauma in their mind)
  • Obsessions (the experience takes over every part of their life)
  • Physical pain in the the joints and muscles (not attributable to another medical condition)

Teens and young adults with ADHD have a higher likelihood of trauma exposure.  By age 16, more than 25% of teens experience trauma in some form.  These are often a result of interpersonal problems and self-regulatory issues.

ADHD is a neurobehavioral developmental disorder, needing six or more symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.  It must take place across two or more settings, with clear evidence of impairment.  It is classified as either Inattentive Type or Hyperactive-Impulsive Type.

PTSD is defined by a trauma that overwhelms coping mechanisms.  It creates ongoing cycles of re-experiencing the negative event.  Avoidance is often sought, but rarely results in a diminishing impact.  A history of life stressors can further aggravate the condition.

Causes of these disorders are the root of identifying their differences.  Inattention is a central characteristic of Inattentive-Type ADHD.  In PTSD, it results from hypervigilance or warding off stimuli.  Impulsivity, anger, and lack of sleep could actually result from hyperarousal.  This cluster of symptoms can also result from poor memory and lack of concentration.

Treatment for people with a dual diagnosis benefits from medical treatment.  Some research extols the benefits of using ADHD stimulants to ease PTSD symptoms.  They have been shown to improve cognitive difficulties.  The use of these medications has enhanced emotional and relational deficiencies. However, other research champions non-prescription solutions.

  • Treat the ADHD first.  Reduce chances of experiencing traumatic events.
  • Hire a professional.  Integrate relaxation techniques.
  • Enlist teachers.  Use educational interventions.
  • Look for alternative therapies.  Combine the past with the present (i.e. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
  • Build a team of professionals.  Incorporate clinical judgement in treatment decisions.

Traveling  on the Wayback Machine…

Yea! I finally got a job in education. It’s not in the classroom, but it’s got to do with teaching.  Who knew that parents would listen to their teenage kids?  Whining helps.

Speaking of whining, why don’t my colleagues want to work with older kids?  Just wanting to be in charge when you’re 13 can’t be all bad.  One of them was Susan.

Susan was a 16-year-old child with ADHD.  She had of 2 loving parents.  Too bad she didn’t pick up on their positive attitude.  Her head was always on the desk.

Finally she mumbles.  “Coffee?”

“Not a chance.  So what’s wrong?”  I tried not to sigh.


“My dad pushed me down the steps.”

More silence…this time from me…


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that often co-exists with ADHD.  This anxiety that occurs after a traumatic event can be masked by the behaviors associated with ADHD.  Evaluations do not typically involve trauma analysis.  If you suspect PTSD, you should mention it to your medical provider.

Have you or your child experienced a serious trauma that affects their life?


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