Difference Between OCD And ADHD

Mental illnesses are complex to understand and differentiate. They have different aspects which can be classified using various criteria. For instance, you might organize a mental illness using its symptoms, its causes, the mental processes it affects, and its severity. But sometimes, the boundaries between different mental health conditions get blurred, and misinformation makes understanding even harder. One typical example can be found in the difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD), as they are confused with being the same. But before discussing them, let’s study what makes them similar.

What Do OCD And ADHD Have In Common?

OCD and ADHD are conditions that sometimes get misdiagnosed despite their apparent differences. Such misunderstanding happens when the consequences of these mental health conditions are the deciding factor in an assessment. On the other hand, using the motivation and causes behind the apparent circumstances can lead to more accurate assessments. Still, these conditions share similarities as they are both:

-Related to the frontal lobe: According to an article by Amy F.T.A, ADHD is related to weaker structure and functionality of prefrontal cortex circuits. Similarly, OCD also affects the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia, and the thalamus.
-Adversely affect a person’s ability to have healthy relationships, pay attention, and succeed in work or studies: Both conditions cause problems in an individual’s personal and professional life. They lead to strained relationships, incomplete tasks, and lack of or diverted attention.
-Make it difficult to sleep correctly: ADHD is related to prolonged sleep, often leading to staying up late or waking up late at night. Similarly, OCD is related to reduced sleep time, grogginess, or inadequate sleep. Both conditions disturb the sleep cycle or circadian rhythm.
-Caused or influenced by trauma: Trauma can play a significant role in both conditions, acting as cause and effect.

Read more: Difference between ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome

Differences Between OCD And ADHD

1. Cause

ADHD is caused by lower activity in areas of the brain that control attention and activity level. It is marked by a lack of dopamine and norepinephrine. A deficit in these hormones can cause low levels of focus, problems with anger, low self-esteem, impulsiveness, lack of organization, anxiety, and other issues. On the other hand, OCD is caused by communication problems between the brain’s frontal parts, which use serotonin(a chemical that carries messages between nerve cells throughout the body) to communicate. Hence, increasing serotonin levels may lead to a reduction in the intensity of OCD.

2. Behavior

The behavior of individuals with OCD and ADHD is another clear differentiator. People with OCD engage in compulsive, repeating, or addiction-like behaviors. On the other hand, people with ADHD tend to be disorganized, lack focus and are unaware of the flow of time in daily activities(time-blindness).

3. Motivation

People with ADHD are motivated by a sense of interest, urgency, novelty, and passion. They have difficulty getting motivated for activities they lack an interest in. On the other hand, people with OCD are inspired by the need to escape intrusive thoughts or obsessions that keep coming back involuntarily.

Read more: People share their experiences on ADHD Awareness Month


OCD and ADHD can be confused by the general population and, in some cases, misdiagnosed, as these conditions share certain similarities. The apparent differences between these conditions are how they are caused, the specialized chemicals and brain regions they affect, how people with the conditions behave, and how their motivations differ.

If you’re confused about whether you have either condition or have difficulty understanding what a loved one is going through, taking professional help is advisable. Luckily, today you can find affordable online therapy with quality care from the comfort of your home. Here’s our list of the best platforms to help you do the same.

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