The ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Connection

Authored by The Rx Advocates, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS


Many people have heard of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They likely know a child that has been diagnosed with it. Some people may not realize that adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD.

In contrast, Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is experiencing excessive ongoing anxiety and worry that is hard to control. It interferes with the activities of daily life.

Researchers are starting to notice those diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to also be faced with GAD at some time in their life.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder in the brain. Brain Imaging studies have shown differences in the brains of those diagnosed with ADHD. It is most often diagnosed in children, but more adults are recognizing they have the same symptoms.

There is not a lab test that confirms an ADHD diagnosis. Medical professionals diagnose ADHD based on the number of symptoms someone has, after ruling out other possible medical reasons for those symptoms.

ADHD affects the executive function skills in the brain. There are three main kinds of executive function: working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.

Skills included in executive function are:

  • Regulating emotions
  • Organizing, planning, and prioritizing
  • Understanding different points of view
  • Paying attention
  • Starting tasks and staying focused until completion
  • Self-monitoring

When someone is affected by ADHD, they are not lazy or lacking willpower. Difficulty with executive function makes it harder to focus and control emotions.

The Three Types of ADHD

The CDC lists three types of ADHD. They are inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined presentation.

The symptoms of inattentive type ADHD and hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD are a bit different. In the combined presentation, symptoms from both types are equally present.

For someone to be diagnosed with inattentive type ADHD they must have six of the following symptoms for children or five for adults. Symptoms are:

  • Does not appear to be listening when being spoken to directly.
  • Often loses what they need to complete tasks.
  • Avoid tasks that take a lot of focus over a long period.
  • Forgetting to do routine chores.
  • Failing to complete work tasks, chores, or assignments.
  • Is easily distracted.
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often makes careless mistakes or missing details.
  • Frequently has trouble focusing on tasks in different settings.

For a diagnosis of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, the person must show six of the following symptoms for children or five for adults. Symptoms are:

  • Talk too much
  • Interrupts conversations or blurts out answers or comments.
  • Not able to stay seated in a classroom or work setting.
  • Fidgets or taps hands or feet.
  • Always on the go, like they are driven by a motor.
  • Intrudes to others’ activities, taking or using others’ things without permission.
  • Runs around or climbs and plays with objects at inappropriate times.
  • Unable to do quiet activities.
  • Has trouble waiting in a line or for their turn.

Around 9.4% of children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. It’s estimated 4.4% of adults have also been diagnosed. It’s very likely many adults have the symptoms but have not been accurately diagnosed. It’s very common for inattentive type ADHD to be missed.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Having some anxiety in life is a normal part of being human. For people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, life is different. They feel extremely worried or anxious about everyday things even when there is no reason to feel that strongly. They have a difficult time controlling the anxiety they feel.

Many mental health conditions have anxiety as a symptom. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and panic disorder all have anxiety as a symptom.

Someone with one of those mental health conditions may have anxiety occasionally or about one particular thing. That is not the case with generalized anxiety disorder.

People with generalized anxiety disorder worry about several different things for six months or longer. Another possibility is worrying without being able to pick out the source of the worry.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms can be different among people. There are also physical symptoms that can show up.

General symptoms include:

  • Inability to let go of a worry.
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty.
  • Overthinking to the point of all worst-case outcomes.
  • Persistent worry about several areas that are out of proportion to the actual impact of the event.
  • Perceiving events as threatening even when they are not.
  • Worry and fear of making the wrong decision, indecisiveness.
  • Feeling restless, on edge, or having the inability to relax.
  • Feeling that the mind goes blank or has difficulty concentrating.
  • A general sense that something bad is going to happen.

Physical symptoms that can come from generalized anxiety disorder can include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling twitchy or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches or tension
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Diarrhea, nausea, or irritable bowel syndrome

The Connection Between ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A study done of adults with ADHD showed that 1 in 4 also has a generalized anxiety disorder. The study also said those with ADHD are twice as likely to experience a generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime than those who do not have ADHD.

Women with ADHD are four times more likely to have a generalized anxiety disorder than women who do not have ADHD. Also, ADHD in women is often underdiagnosed because they are more likely to have symptoms of the inattentive type. Most adult women with ADHD also have another mental health disorder.

An article in Psychology Today says symptoms of both ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder can be seen in childhood. For someone who has inherited the genes for anxiety and ADHD, there is a 30% chance of having both at the same time.

Treatment for ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Therapy can be helpful for both ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recommended for both. Physical exercise and stress management techniques are also helpful for generalized anxiety disorder.

Prescription medications can make a difference for people who have either or both disorders.

Common prescriptions for generalized anxiety disorder are SSRIs and antidepressants.

Some medications to help ADHD symptoms are:

Save Money on Prescriptions for ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Prescription medications are expensive, especially when someone needs more than one medication every day. The Rx Advocates can help people afford the medications they need to live their best life.

The Rx Advocates connect people with patient assistance programs. These programs are from the pharmaceutical manufacturers, providing the prescription for no cost. The paperwork for these programs can be confusing and sometimes difficult.

Patient assistance programs are not often advertised, many people may not know they are available.

The Rx Advocates provide a service to help people who qualify get into those programs. The only cost is a monthly service fee of $80 for one prescription or $90 for two prescriptions.

If someone needs three monthly medications, the cost is $100. No one will pay more than $110 a month for four or more prescription medications.

We can help people who need medications other than ADHD or generalized anxiety disorders also. Please contact The Rx Advocates today to find out how much money we can help you save every month on prescription medications.

ADDitude. What is ADHD? Meaning, Symptoms & Tests. 2021.

Understood. What is Executive Function? 2020.

CDC. What is ADHD? September 23, 2021.

Cleveland Clinic. What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Inattentive Type, in Adults? September 25, 2019.

American Psychiatric Association. What is ADHD? July 2017.

Healthline. What are the Three Types of ADHD? October 14, 2021.

National Institute of Mental Health. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control. 2016.

Healthline. Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety. September 3, 2020.

Healthline. An Overview of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. October 27, 2021.

Mayo Clinic. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. October 13, 2017.

Psychiatric Times. ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Hand in Hand? December 14, 2021.

ADDitude. Why ADHD in Women is Routinely Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Treated Inadequately. December 13, 2021.

Psychology Today. The Overlap of ADHD and GAD. June 30, 2017. Adderall. April 15, 2021. Dexedrine Spansule. June 30, 2021.

Call Now Button