Differences Between OCD and ADHD

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2013/01/05 - Updated: 2021/06/11
Contents: Summary - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Article looks at and explains the differences in symptoms and forms of treatments for OCD and ADHD. Obsessions are thoughts that are involuntary and seemingly uncontrollable, or impulses that happen repeatedly in a person's mind. Compulsions involve rituals or behaviors that a person feels driven to act out on repeatedly.


A certain level of confusion seems to exist in the minds of certain physicians where distinguishing between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are concerned.

Main Digest

The diagnosis have been in the world for some period of time and adults experience these forms of disabilities. For the physicians of the world, telling these two forms of disabilities apart may at times be difficult. So, what are the differences in the symptoms and forms of treatments for OCD and ADHD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a form of anxiety disorder that is characterized by unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts and ritualized, repetitive behaviors a person feels compelled to perform.

If a person has OCD they most likely recognize the fact that their obsessive thoughts and behaviors are irrational, yet find themselves unable to resists them.

People with OCD experience obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that become so excessive they interfere with their daily lives. Despite their best efforts, they cannot seem to cease.

Fortunately, with appropriate types of treatments people can live with OCD and regain control of their lives.

Continued below image.
Illustration of the human brain showing white colored left hemisphere and multicolored right hemisphere.
Illustration of the human brain showing white colored left hemisphere and multicolored right hemisphere.

Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessions are thoughts that are involuntary and seemingly uncontrollable, or impulses that happen repeatedly in a person's mind. They do not want to have the ideas, yet do not have the ability to stop them. Sadly, the obsessive thoughts are many times distracting and disturbing.

Compulsions involve rituals or behaviors that a person feels driven to act out on repeatedly.

Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions disappear. As an example, if a person is afraid of contamination, they may develop cleaning rituals that are rather elaborate. Unfortunately, the relief provided by these rituals never lasts for long. The fact is that obsessive thoughts often return and are stronger, and compulsive behaviors many times end up causing a person anxiety of themselves as they become increasingly demanding and time-consuming.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

The majority of people who experience obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience both obsessions and compulsions, although some people experience just one or the other. The signs and symptoms related to OCD and obsessive thoughts can include the following:

People with OCD may also experience signs and symptoms related to compulsive behaviors. The signs and symptoms may include the following:

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults

One of the issues doctors struggle with is the fact that Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been perceived as a form of disability experienced by children, something that is simply not true - adults experience ADHD as well. Unlike OCD, ADHD has a different set of signs and symptoms that characterize the disability and set it apart as a clearly different diagnosis from OCD.

ADHD is not just a disability experienced by children. People who were diagnosed during childhood with ADD/ADHD may experience some of the symptoms of the disability in adulthood. Even if they were never diagnosed with ADHD as a child, it does not mean they may not be affected by it as an adult.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Adults

In adulthood, ADHD many times presents differently than it does in children, with symptoms that are unique for every person.

More common symptoms of ADHD in adults include difficulties with concentrating and remaining focused on daily and often mundane tasks. For example, people might be easily distracted by sounds or sights that are irrelevant and rapidly bounce from one activity to another, or become quickly bored with tasks.

Many symptoms of ADHD in adults are overlooked simply because they are less disruptive than symptoms such as impulsivity or hyperactivity, even though they can be just as troublesome. Symptoms related to inattention and concentration difficulties can include the following:

Adult ADHD and Hyperfocus

Adults with ADHD may also experience a tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are both stimulating and rewarding, a symptom referred to as, 'hyperfocus.' Hyperfocus is a mechanism for distraction or a means of tuning out chaos. It may become so strong that a person becomes oblivious to everything else going on around them. For example, a person may become so engrossed in a television show, a book, or activities on their computer that they completely lose track of time and neglect other tasks they are supposed to be accomplishing. Hyperfocus may be an asset if it is channeled into activities that are productive, yet it may also lead to work or relationship issues if it remains unchecked.

Adult ADHD, Disorganization and Forgetfulness

Remaining organized can be challenging for adults with ADHD, along with sorting out information that is relevant to tasks that are at hand, keeping track of tasks and responsibilities, prioritizing things that need to be accomplished, and managing time. The more common symptoms of ADHD in adults related to disorganization and forgetfulness can include:

Adult ADHD Symptoms of Impulsivity

Adults with ADHD who experience symptoms of impulsivity may have difficulties with inhibiting their behaviors, comments, or responses. They may act before thinking, or react without taking the consequences into consideration. They might find themselves interrupting others, blurting out comments, or rushing through tasks without taking the time to read the instructions first. Adults with ADHD and impulsivity difficulties can find being patient to be very difficult. Symptoms of adult ADHD related to impulsivity may include the following:

Symptoms of Emotional Difficulties in Adults with ADHD

A number of adults with ADHD experience difficulties with managing their feelings, particularly when it comes to emotions such as frustration or anger. The more common emotional symptoms adults with ADHD experience can include:

Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Adults with ADHD

Hyperactivity in adults with ADHD may appear much the same as it does in children. A person might be very energetic and continually on the go as if driven. For a number of adults with ADHD; however, the symptoms of hyperactivity become more subtle and internal as they age. The common symptoms of hyperactivity in adults with ADHD can include the following:

If the symptoms of adult ADHD get in the way of life, despite attempts to help yourself and manage them, it might be time to pursue outside assistance and support.

Adults with ADHD might benefit from several types of treatments to include individual therapy, behavioral coaching, vocational counseling, self-help groups, medication, and educational assistance.

Treatment for adults with ADHD should involve a team of professionals, as well as your family members and partner.

The Differences Between OCD and ADHD are Clear

The symptoms presented by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are clearly different from those experienced by people with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

While people with OCD many times experience obsessive thoughts surrounding order and fears, people with ADHD often experience symptoms related to hyperactivity, forgetfulness, disorganization, and other symptoms that are different from those presented by OCD.

A tendency among personal physicians to refer to specialists, as well as one to spend fifteen minutes or less with people during visits, might explain difficulties they have in distinguishing between these two forms of disabilities.

Another reason may be a continued move towards specialization in the medical field.

Despite the reason why physicians have difficulties with distinguishing between these two different forms of disabilities, it is vital for people, family members and friends to pursue adequate medical assistance when needed.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2013, January 5 - Last revised: 2021, June 11). Differences Between OCD and ADHD. Disabled World. Retrieved June 20, 2024 from www.disabled-world.com/health/neurology/ocd-adhd.php

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