ADHD or Bipolar Disorder – Which?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Bipolar Disorder are two distinct mental health conditions that can share some overlapping symptoms, making differential diagnosis challenging.

Below is a detailed comparison to distinguish between the two:

ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Definition: ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interfere with functioning or development.


  1. Inattention:
    • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
    • Avoids or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities.
    • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
    • Forgetful in daily activities.
  2. Hyperactivity/Impulsivity:
    • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
    • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
    • Runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate.
    • Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
    • “On the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor.”
    • Talks excessively.
    • Blurts out answers before a question has been completed.
    • Has difficulty waiting for their turn.
    • Interrupts or intrudes on others.

Onset: Symptoms typically appear before the age of 12.

Course: Chronic condition that can continue into adulthood, although hyperactivity may decrease with age.

Diagnosis: Based on behavioral assessments and clinical evaluations using criteria from DSM-5.


  • Medication (e.g., stimulants like methylphenidate, non-stimulants like atomoxetine)
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Lifestyle changes (e.g., regular physical activity, structured routines)

Bipolar Disorder

Definition: Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by alternating periods of depression and mania or hypomania.


  1. Mania/Hypomania:
    • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity.
    • Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep).
    • More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking.
    • Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing.
    • Distractibility.
    • Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.
    • Excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., unrestrained spending sprees, sexual indiscretions).
  2. Depression:
    • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
    • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.
    • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite.
    • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
    • Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
    • Fatigue or loss of energy.
    • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
    • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
    • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempt.

Onset: Typically appears in late adolescence or early adulthood but can occur at any age.

Course: Episodes of mania and depression can vary in length and frequency. The pattern can be cyclical or irregular.

Diagnosis: Based on clinical evaluations using criteria from DSM-5. Requires the presence of at least one manic or hypomanic episode.


  • Medication (e.g., mood stabilizers like lithium, antipsychotics, antidepressants)
  • Psychotherapy (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoeducation)
  • Lifestyle modifications (e.g., regular sleep patterns, avoiding substance abuse)

Key Differences

  1. Nature of Symptoms:
    • ADHD: Primarily involves inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
    • Bipolar Disorder: Involves mood swings between depressive and manic/hypomanic episodes.
  2. Onset:
    • ADHD: Early childhood.
    • Bipolar Disorder: Late adolescence or early adulthood.
  3. Mood Episodes:
    • ADHD: Mood changes are not as extreme and are often short-lived, usually related to frustration or immediate environmental triggers.
    • Bipolar Disorder: Mood episodes are more severe and prolonged, lasting days to weeks.
  4. Course:
    • ADHD: Chronic and persistent symptoms.
    • Bipolar Disorder: Episodic with periods of normal mood between episodes.
  5. Treatment Response:
    • ADHD: Responds well to stimulants and behavioral therapy.
    • Bipolar Disorder: Requires mood stabilizers and often a combination of medications.


While ADHD and bipolar disorder share some overlapping symptoms, especially in the areas of impulsivity and distractibility, they are fundamentally different disorders with distinct treatment approaches. Accurate diagnosis often requires a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional, considering the individual’s full clinical picture and history.

  __________________________________________________ ___________________

Are you searching for support and resources for ADHD? The ADD Resource Center is the ultimate destination for help! We provide comprehensive resources and support for individuals with ADHD, as well as their loved ones and caregivers. Receive the guidance you need to thrive today.

646.205.8080 | |

Hal Meyer and The ADD Resource Center offer specialized behavioral intervention and educational services for ADHD. They empower adolescents, adults, couples, and their loved ones to manage ADHD symptoms and reach their full potential. They have the expertise to provide personalized guidance and unwavering support on the journey to success.

Harold Robert Meyer /The ADD Resource Center – -646/205.8080 06/06/2024


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