January 27, 2023

ADHD and Tics: Exploring the Link

By: Design
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Medicially Reviewed By:
Dr. Priya Chaudhri
credentials here

If you have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you may be surprised to notice you also have tics. Tics are repetitive and unintentional movements, such as blinking, coughing, sniffing, or shrugging. Sometimes, people with ADHD exhibit these tics. Keep reading to learn more about the link between ADHD and tics.

About ADHD

ADHD is a neurological disorder that affects about 8% of schoolchildren and 4% of adults. ADHD affects the executive functions of the brain, including impulse control, decision-making, focus and concentration, and emotion regulation. In adults, this translates to the following symptoms:

  • Trouble paying attention at work, school, or social events.
  • Struggles to organize tasks or chores easily overwhelmed and confused.
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli.
  • Forgetting important events or dates, failing to fulfill responsibilities due to forgetfulness.
  • Avoids tasks that require sustained attention.
  • Makes careless mistakes, and no attention to detail
  • Tendency to be late for appointments or work
  • Prone to frustration and anger.
  • Poor listening skills
  • Makes errors due to being unable to pay attention to instructions
  • Fails to complete assignments at work or school
  • Misplaces or loses important papers or items, “scatterbrained”

What Causes ADHD?

Science has yet to provide a cause for ADHD, although some risk factors have been noted. These risk factors include:

  • Genetics. ADHD will sometimes run in families. Also, ADHD is a risk if there is a family history of other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorder.
  • Premature birth. A connection has been made between being born prematurely, the mother has had a difficult pregnancy and ADHD.
  • Toxins. There is some evidence that leads to exposure, such as found in old metal pipes or paint, during childhood is involved. Some believe that exposure to pesticides or PCBs may also play a role in ADHD. It is thought that these toxins may interfere with brain development.
  • Exposure to substances in utero. Pregnant women who drank alcohol, used drugs, or smoked during pregnancy have a heightened risk of their child having ADHD.
  • Faulty neural pathways. ADHD may be caused by developmental impairment in the central nervous system.

Why Are ADHD and Tic Disorder Linked?

Some people with ADHD develop tics. These are the movements that occur that are unintended, such as repetitive blinking, throat clearing, coughing, or sniffing.

While there are several disorders that can co-occur with ADHD, one of them is a tic disorder called Tourette’s. Tourette’s syndrome features involuntary movements or sounds referred to as tics. These tics range from mild to severe.

People with ADHD are at a greater risk of developing Tourette’s syndrome. This is possibly due to certain genes found in people with both disorders, as well as with OCD and autism. There is also a school of thought that believes ADHD meds may cause the tics.

How to Reduce Tics

When you struggle with both ADHD and tics, you probably want to learn how to reduce the tics if possible. It can make you feel very self-conscious, only adding to the hardship of having ADHD. There are some therapies that have been shown to help to reduce tics. These include:

  • Habit reversal therapy. This is a behavioral therapy that guides the person toward adopting new responses to tics. They identify the tic out loud when it occurs, then they do a different action to break the tic habit.
  • Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics. CBIT helps the person become aware of what might trigger the tics. This helps to guide them toward avoiding the settings or situations that set off the tics.
  • CBT. CBT can help modify irrational thinking that drives ADHD. Examples of this are black-or-white thinking, catastrophizing, personalization, and negative thinking.
  • TMS. TMS is an outpatient brain stimulation therapy that speeds up the neurons in the brain. This has been shown to reduce the severity of the tics.

How to Manage ADHD

When living with ADHD causes problems, such as being unable to keep work projects straight, you do have options. There are several actions to take that can help you better manage your ADHD. These include:

  • Use organization tools. Try using organizational tools to better manage your daily tasks and keep appointments and important dates. They might be organizer apps, planners, or using a daily to-do list. Being able to list and track these tasks and appointments relieves stress.
  • Divide tasks into smaller chunks. It can feel overwhelming when you face a large project or task. Instead, break the project into smaller, more manageable chunks to reduce stress.
  • Managing stress levels. Stress can intensify the ADHD, so learning how to better manage it is the answer. Try adding some self-care actions into the routine. These might include practicing mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, and meditation.

Treatment Options for ADHD and Tics

Treatment for ADHD with or without tics involves three basic elements:

Therapy. Therapy is helpful for people who have ADHD, as it gives them a safe place to share their struggles with the disorder. A therapist can offer new coping tools and guidance to help improve their quality of life. The therapies noted above are usually part of the treatment plan.

Medication. Certain medications can help reduce the ADHD symptoms, as well as the tics. These include stimulants and non-stimulants. Some people with both ADHD and tics may find that the meds only worsen the tics. If this happens, the drugs can be adjusted or changed.

Lifestyle. Regular exercise improves limbic system functions through the release of endorphins. The limbic system is the area of the brain that regulates impulsivity, decision-making, and mood. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can also help those who struggle with ADHD.

Living with ADHD is challenging, but there is expert help available to assist you in the quest to improve daily functioning.

Elevation Behavioral Health Leading Mental Health Provider

Elevation Behavioral Health is an upscale private residential mental health program. If you or someone you care about has both ADHD and tics and needs support, please reach out at (888) 561-0868.

Our team of experts is here to help you.