What Causes ADHD?


"I was just diagnosed with ADHD, and I'm interested in learning more about it. Is the disorder caused by a specific genetic mutation?"

Dr. Larry Silver specializes in treating children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

ADDitude Answers

Recent studies suggest that there is a familial/genetic pattern in about 50 percent of the people who have ADHD, although no one knows the precise cause of the disorder. If you'd like to read more about possible causes of ADHD, let me recommend Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder , by Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D.

Posted by Larry Silver, M.D.

A Reader Answers

The cause of ADHD is somewhat known: it’s an under-active frontal lobe. Stimulants work by increasing the amount of neurotransmitter(s) in this region of the brain.

Posted by faye

A Reader Answers

Dopamine levels in the brain have to be within a very narrow margin in order for a person to be able to focus on their work. But in people with ADHD, dopamine levels are too low. Stimulant chemicals such as caffeine or amphetamines tend to increase dopamine levels.

For most people, adding stimulants will push dopamine levels too high, causing agitation and anxiety. But for people with ADHD, adding stimulants can get the levels just right.

Posted by Mitzi

A Reader Answers

There is continually mounting researched evidence regarding the role of dopamine and norepinephrine in brain function. CTs, MRIs, X-rays, etc, have all been shown to help explain the complexities of ADHD.

It’s very easy to blame sugar, TV or bad parenting for ADHD and much harder to take the time to understand what is really going on. It’s one more hurdle those with ADHD and their families have to overcome.

Posted by Havebeenthere

A Reader Answers

We all know what the medical explanation for ADHD is a lack of of dopamine in the brain, as well as other lack of brain function. We also know it’s VERY genetic. These are both medical facts, not “new theories.”

Posted by stef241116

A Reader Answers

ADHD is a multi-causal disorder, and not all causes are related to dopamine levels. A lot of research has implicated genes that regulate dopamine and dopamine reception as the cause for heritable ADHD (which is probably why stimulant medications are such an effective treatment), but about one-third of ADHD cases may stem from pre- or post-natal brain damage. These individuals may exhibit the same symptomatic behaviors as heritable ADHD cases, but they are much less responsive to dopamine altering stimulants. At best, a dopamine test could only hint at the possible presence of ADHD. At worst, it could miss it entirely in a large portion of the population. The best route, for the time being, is through patient interviews and psychiatric evaluations that identify the symptomatic behaviors and eliminate other possible causes.

Posted by BradW

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Larry Silver, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine . He is a former acting director and deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health , as well as the author of Dr. Larry Silver's Advice to Parents on AD/HD and The Misunderstood Child: Understanding and Coping with Your Child's Learning Disabilities .
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