Some important differences to note between bipolar disorder and ADHD are both the ways in which the moods display themselves, and the potential causes for these mood changes.
A bipolar depressive episode may go on for weeks on end, whereas ADHD mood changes are sometimes known as ‘snaps,’ for how rapidly they can change. (Please note there are certain types of bipolar that entail very rapid mood changes such as ultradian cycling, however these are very rare.)
Whilst on the surface it may seem as though a manic episode and general ADHD behaviour is very hard to distinguish, there are certain ways by which they can be told apart. A manic episode usually results in the person losing touch with reality, may involve the destruction of property, and is often long lasting with a significant impact on the person’s life. In contrast to this, ADHD ‘manic’ behaviour is usually very short lived, does not entail destruction of property or the person losing touch with reality.
Some bipolar episodes are not the result of environmental stimulus, and may just happen — this is due to bipolar disorder being caused by chemical shifts in the brain. In contrast to this, mood shifts within ADHD are often as a result of something external, and are therefore ‘explainable.’
It is also possible to distinguish the two by identifying whether the person has lost all desire to care (which would signify a bipolar episode), or whether they do not have the ability to focus (which would likely indicate ADHD). People who have bipolar disorder are also more likely to respond very dramatically to big life changes or significant life events such as the arrival of a new baby, moving house, or divorce.
The age of onset of the two disorders is interesting to note, with ADHD generally setting in during childhood years, with symptoms usually noticeable by age 7, and bipolar disorder typically appearing in late teens to mid 20s.
Treatment for the two conditions is quite different, and is another way by which the diagnoses can be told apart. Some of the ways bipolar could be treated is through the prescribing of mood stabilisers such as lithium or sodium valproate, anti psychotics such as aripriprazole or quetiapine, or anti depressants such as sertraline.
Bipolar treatment is a fine balancing act and it can often take a while to find the correct method of treatment. Treatment may also include talking therapies such as seeing a psychologist, or cognitive behavioural therapy (or CBT).
Treatment for ADHD tends to be more focused on medication only, and generally involves the prescription of stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate, however talking therapy can be very helpful for the treatment of ADHD also.
If you feel you or a loved one may be displaying some of the symptoms mentioned in this article, it is imperative you seek medical help as soon as possible. Early intervention has a much better prognosis for recovery, and therefore contacting the relevant medical services should be done at the earliest opportunity.