ADHD and its Frequent Comorbid Conditions

Dr. Jeanette Mostert
About the Author

Dr. Jeanette Mostert specializes in Cognitive Neuroscience and Biological Psychiatry and is the Dissemination Manager for several Horizon2020 projects, including CoCA, PRIME and Eat2BeNice/New Brain Nutrition.


Having Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be quite a burden to someone’s quality of life. People with ADHD generally have problems with regulating their attention and their impulses, resulting in concentration and memory problems as well as reckless behaviour [1]. Luckily, this condition is receiving more attention these days, and an increasing number of people are receiving adequate treatment in the form of medication and/or behavioural therapy. But what is much less known is that many people with ADHD also suffer from other mental and somatic conditions.

The research consortium Comorbid Conditions of ADHD (“CoCA”) investigates the prevalence and the mechanisms of ADHD comorbidity [2]. This research focusses on the four most prevalent comorbidities: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and obesity. It is important to learn more about these conditions in the context of ADHD, as this can raise awareness among health care professionals. For instance, it can happen that an adult seeks treatment for depression, while this person also has undiagnosed ADHD. What’s more, the ADHD may even be the underlying cause of the depressive symptoms. In this case, it might be better to treat ADHD symptoms first.

A first step to raise awareness is to map out how often these comorbidities occur together with ADHD. For this, the researchers from the CoCA project have made use of several very large population datasets that contain information of millions of people. From these datasets they can find patterns of ADHD comorbidity. This way they have shown that indeed depression, anxiety, substance use disorder and severe obesity are much more frequent in individuals with an ADHD diagnosis.

Other patterns that emerge from this data is that depression, anxiety and obesity are more frequent in women compared to men in the general population, and this sex-difference is also present amongst individuals with ADHD. This means that when a woman with ADHD seeks treatment, it is especially important to be aware of these other conditions that may increase symptoms and reduce the quality of life.

To learn more about the prevalence of ADHD comorbidities, you can watch this webinar. Here Dr. Catharina Hartman and I explain and discuss the first findings from the CoCA project.