What have we learned about ADHD comorbidities?

After 5.5 years, the CoCA project has come to an end. In this large-scale European research project, an interdisciplinary group of researchers investigated comorbid conditions of ADHD. They particularly focussed on depression, anxiety, substance use disorder and obesity, as these conditions frequently co-occur with ADHD in adulthood.

What has this extensive study brought us? Experts dr. Catharina Hartman (University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands) and prof. dr. Andreas Reif (University Hospital Frankfurt, Germany) were invited by Jonathan Marx for an interview on the online radio program Go To Health Media. In this program they talk about several aspects of the CoCA project: How often do comorbid conditions co-occur with ADHD? What do the genetics of ADHD comorbidities tell us? What should clinicians do to prevent or reduce these comorbidities in ADHD?

As professor Andreas Reif summarizes at the end of the interview, the main things that we learned from the CoCA project are:

  1. Comorbidity in ADHD is a very big problem. Adults with ADHD frequently have co-occuring conditions such as depression, anxiety, obesity and to a bit lesser extent substance use disorder.
  2. The type and prevalence of comorbidities differ between men and women.
  3. There is considerable genetic overlap between ADHD and comorbid conditions. We think that at least part of the overlap between comorbidities is caused by genetic effects (next to environmental effects that also play a role).
  4. The dopamine system plays an important role in comorbidity, through influencing brain processes.
  5. Disturbances in the circadian system (i.e. sleep cycle) are unlikely to play a causal role in these comorbidities, but they might be a consequence.
  6. Clinicans should look out for comorbidities when they treat ADHD patients, and inform their patients about their increased risk to develop comorbidities so that they can take preventive measures (i.e. be careful with alcohol to avoid substance use disorder). Secondly, clinicians should actively look out for ADHD symptoms when treating conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorder or obesity.

Watch the full interview with both experts by clicking on the image below:

More information about the CoCA project: www.coca-project.eu

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