What is ADHD exactly?

What is ADHD exactly?

I am often asked the question “what exactly is ADHD?” Once I was asked this question by a 13 year old boy who had been diagnosed with it, was taking ADHD medication for it, and yet no one ever sat down to explain to him what it was. I was deeply saddened by this and explained it to him in a way he could understand. He was very grateful for the explanation and felt better about this part of himself. Then, I became determined to educate the public and also to dispel the myths and correct the misunderstandings about ADHD.  


ADHD Defined

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is less of a disorder and more of a difference in the brain, as well as a collection of traits and tendencies – some positive, and very challenging. It is a way of being in the world that is different than those without ADHD. It is an extremely misunderstood neurological difference that impacts the parts of the brain that help us plan, focus on, and execute tasks;  it impacts motivation; it regulates emotion, and transfers information into memory.

Most experts agree that “Attention Deficit Disorder” is a misleading name. It is more of a difficulty regulating attention, and not a lack of attention, because most people with ADHD have more than enough attention — they can focus— they just have a hard time harnessing it in the right direction at the right time with any consistency. And so individuals with ADHD tend to hyperfocus on things that are interesting to their brain, and lose track of time, or have trouble focusing on boring or mundane tasks, because the brain needs stimulation to keep engaged.

ADHD Symptoms

ADHD symptoms vary based on the sub-type - whether it is Inattentive, Hyperactive or Combined type. It used to be called Attention Deficit Disorder for those with Inattentive Type, and ADHD with the hyperactivity component by the American Psychological Association in their book, “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. But then in the last version of the manual, the hyperactivity component was added to the name regardless of whether a person has hyperactivity or not.  

Common ADHD symptoms include difficulty with the following:

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  • focus and concentration

  • motivation

  • procrastination

  • planning

  • prioritizing

  • time management

  • follow through

  • forgetfulness

  • impulse control

  • controlling emotions

  • hyperfocus or lack of focus

  • hyperactivity

  • inattention


What causes ADHD?

No one actually knows what causes ADHD, but we know that it tends to run in families. Like many traits of behavior and temperament, ADHD is genetically influenced, but not genetically determined. So in other words, no one actually inherits ADHD, but one can inherit a proclivity for developing the symptoms of ADHD.

Research does suggest that genetics and heredity play a large role in determining who ends up with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. However, scientists are still investigating whether certain genes, especially ones linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, play a defined role in developing ADHD. Additional research suggests that head injuries as well as exposure to toxins and chemicals may increase a child’s risk of having ADHD.

ADHD is a brain-based, biological difference. ADHD is not caused by bad parenting, too much sugar, or too many video games. Brain imaging studies and other research show many physiological differences in the brains of individuals with ADHD, so it is important to understand that it is biological in nature, and not a behavioral problem. People with ADHD want just as badly to succeed in life and be happy, it is just harder for them to function easily due to the brain difference they have.


Impact of ADHD

People with ADHD tend to be very intelligent, creative, curious, spontaneous and fun, and tend to think outside the box.  Many become very successful, however, if left undiagnosed or untreated, and the symptoms are severe, it can wreak havoc on the life of the person with ADHD and those around him/her. Untreated ADHD can have alarming consequences and is associated with higher incidences of:

  • Academic problems

  • Low self-esteem

  • Depression

  • Job failure

  • Incarceration

  • Divorce

  • Weight problems

  • Alzheimer’s disease

Furthermore, 33% of children with ADHD are never able to finish high school (which is 3 times the national average) so they end up having difficulty finding jobs and end up in jobs that don’t pay well. And according to one study from Harvard, 52% of people with untreated ADD abuse drugs or alcohol.

To find out more, read my ADHD Treatment page.

Reach Out Today

If you think you may have ADHD and are struggling, please reach out. There is much hope, you are not alone and there is a lot that can be done to improve your life. It’s very helpful to let a trained, compassionate counselor, like me, help you understand yourself and your brain. I am here to help you start the work of accepting yourself, to feel better and live a happier life. You can have that, and I can help.

To get this extra support, please feel free to contact me today for a free phone consultation to find out how I can be of service.