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Complex PTSD and ADHD in Adults

Aug 10, 2023

An inaccurate mental health diagnosis can have several consequences, which can impact your well-being, treatment requirements, and overall quality of life. A misdiagnosis can be potentially time-consuming and costly, too. In this blog post, we’ll discuss two conditions that present overlapping symptoms, Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and ADHD, and introduce some of the effects of leaving C-PTSD untreated into adulthood.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) share some overlapping symptoms, which makes how they present in an individual similar at times. Both can involve difficulties with attention and concentration and be marked by impulsive behaviors, for example. However, C-PTSD is characterized by trauma-related symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, emotional dysregulation, self-identity issues, and relationship-based difficulties that aren’t related to ADHD. Getting a proper diagnosis is critical as treatment and interventions for C-PTSD differ from those for ADHD. Origins Recovery Center offers treatment for C-PTSD as part of a program for men whose unmet mental health needs have contributed to a history of alcohol or drug misuse.

Similarities between C-PTSD and ADHD

C-PTSD and ADHD can overlap in the presentation of symptoms in several ways. Inattention, hyperactivity or restlessness, impulsivity, and executive functioning difficulties are among them. It’s important to get an assessment by a trained professional and not rely on symptoms only to self-diagnose.

Inattention: Both C-PTSD and ADHD can cause problems with attention and focus. Individuals suffering from C-PTSD may struggle to focus or maintain attention due to hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, or emotional anguish connected to their trauma. Individuals with ADHD may also suffer from a short attention span, distractions, and weak organizational skills.

Hyperactivity/Restlessness: ADHD symptoms include restlessness and hyperactivity. The appearance of hyperarousal in C-PTSD may stem from heightened vigilance, impatience, or trouble relaxing. This hyperarousal state in C-PTSD is frequently confused with the hyperactivity found in ADHD.

Impulsivity: Impulsivity is a key characteristic of ADHD, in which people act without thinking about the consequences. Impulsive behaviors can also emerge as a coping technique in C-PTSD, with patients engaging in impulsive acts or drug use to manage their emotions or avoid upsetting memories.

Executive Functioning Difficulties: Both circumstances can make executive activities, including planning, organization, time management, and decision-making, more difficult. This might make it challenging to complete everyday activities, finish work duties or school assignments, or maintain routines with any consistency.

Potential for Misdiagnosis

Some symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) overlap, making diagnosis difficult. An incorrect mental health diagnosis can have a number of consequences for the individual’s well-being, therapy, and general quality of life. Some of the potential outcomes of an incorrect mental health diagnosis include delayed or inappropriate treatment, medication mismanagement, psychological and emotional distress, unnecessary medical expenses, and missed opportunities for support.

Effects of Untreated C-PTSD in Adulthood

Untreated C-PTSD from your childhood can have significant and long-lasting impacts on you as you transition into adulthood. It can contribute to long-term emotional and psychological problems which can includes symptoms like acute anxiety, despair, emotional dysregulation, and hopelessness. You may also have poor self-esteem, feelings of shame or guilt, and difficulty trusting others and creating healthy relationships. Within relationships, you may experience intimacy issues, struggle with setting boundaries, and show patterns of withdrawing during any conflicts. You may struggle with developing a consistent and positive sense of self and have recurring issues with self-worth and self-acceptance. Untreated C-PTSD may result in chronic pain conditions, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular problems, and other stress-related health issues. Your educational and professional life may also be impacted. Concentration, memory, emotional management, and self-esteem issues can all interfere with work performance, career growth, and academic accomplishment.


Adults with untreated C-PTSD are more likely to turn to drug use or self-medication to cope with their emotional anguish and discomfort, or to reduce the intensity of traumatic memories. This substance use may compound their challenges and lead to additional issues in numerous aspects of their lives. They may begin to misuse alcohol or drugs more frequently and develop a substance use disorder. Someone with untreated C-PTSD who struggles with judgment and impulse control may return to substance abuse even after facing financial, legal, and medical troubles. Symptoms can even continue to affect a person who tries to get help for drug or alcohol problems. Underlying trauma can significantly impact your response to treatment, your motivation, and your ability to engage in recovery.

Getting Help for C-PTSD at Origins Recovery Center

A correct diagnosis of mental health needs can be difficult because symptoms might overlap between disorders and may be presented differently in different people. With an accurate assessment of your C-PTSD, a program can be customized to address your underlying trauma and your history of substance use with co-occurring disorder treatment. Trauma-focused therapies include evidence-based interventions to assist you in processing traumatic memories, challenging negative trauma-related beliefs and ideas, and developing coping strategies to manage uncomfortable feelings and symptoms. One of those interventions, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR, uses bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or tapping, while revisiting painful experiences. This aids in helping you process traumatic experiences and reduce the emotional distress associated with them.

Origins Recovery Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 866-875-1558.

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