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The popular maxim that men are from Mars and women are from Venus may not be far off when it comes to adult ADHD and co-occuring conditions.

Women are more likely to experience mood, anxiety, and eating disorders, while men have higher rates of substance abuse, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders that looked at adult ADHD in men versus women.

Craig Surman, MD, a Harvard neuropsychiatrist, ADHD researcher, and co-author of Fast Minds: How to Thrive If You Have ADHD (Or Think You Might), found that about 60 percent of adults with ADHD had another mental health condition. So with ADHD, it’s important to be on the lookout for other issues.

“I like to talk with people about ‘states’ versus ‘traits’ — many conditions, like depression, mania, and panic attacks, involve an episode of distress, a state,” said Dr. Surman. “ADHD, however, is a pervasive challenge with self-control in the domain of attention, restlessness, or impulsivity. If someone has felt better or functioned better in the past, it may indicate there is another condition present now.”

ADHD Men vs. ADHD Women: Polar Opposites

Why men and women with adult ADHD display such different behaviors still needs to be explored. It’s likely that there is a biological component at work, but other contributing factors may exist as well.

“Women, both with and without ADHD, are more likely to internalize emotions, leading to higher prevalence rates of depression, eating disorders, and anxiety,” said Kevin Antshel, PhD, associate professor of psychology and director of the clinical psychology program at the Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences. “The same mechanisms operate in women with and without ADHD — the same reasons that women in general are more likely to experience these internalizing symptoms are also relevant in ADHD.”

Men, on the other hand, tend to externalize their emotions, and that can lead to more aggressive and risky behavior. Men, both those with and without ADHD, are more likely to manage stress with substances rather than look for outlets like social support or therapy.

How to Manage ADHD and Another Disorder

Tobi-Dawne Smith from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada knows this firsthand as she lives with both ADHD and anxiety. “In all honesty, all things are connected,” she said. “For me, that’s always been a given. So there was never an ‘aha’ moment when I realized that ADHD and anxiety could have a connection. It’s just intuitive to me that they were linked.”

Getting professional help can make living with ADHD and other mental health issues easier. A better understanding of ADHD and how to compensate can reduce the stress that often comes with it and may make your day-to-day life more fulfilling.

“A good ADHD specialist can help you see the forest [for] the trees, which is often a struggle for ADHDers,” said Joshua Kreiss, MD, a board certified adult neurologist in Menlo Park, Calif.

Many of Dr. Kreiss’ patients with eating disorders and ADHD have benefitted the most from cognitive behavioral therapy. Some medications may help as well, but it depends on the specific eating disorder.

For anyone struggling with substance abuse, seeking help is key. “The core question to ask oneself is, is a substance in control of my life — not just can one go without it, but does your life revolve around it or is it necessary for feeling okay or coping,” said Surman. “If the answer is yes, accepting that fact and seeking the advice of people who have dealt with addiction — peers or experts — can be lifesaving.”

While there is no substitute for expert help when needed, cutting yourself some slack can do wonders. Just ask Smith: She takes Ritalin now only when she needs it and has pushed herself to tackle new situations despite her anxiety, including running for provincial and federal office. Her secret? Accepting herself.

“Be awesome!” she said. “We’ve all got issues. Seriously, there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t have something going on. So give yourself the freedom to be perfectly flawed.”

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For information on Drug-Free ADHD Treatment, contact us at Unique Mind Care.