Ask the Experts

Can Emotional Problems Cause ADHD?

“My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD last year, while my husband and I were in the middle of a divorce. I’m not convinced that she had these problems as a younger child. Is it possible for emotional problems to cause ADHD-like behaviors and lead to a misdiagnosis?”

ADHD is a biological disorder. If an individual has it, it has been present since early childhood. To make a diagnosis, the doctor should verify that symptoms — hyperactivity, inattention, and/or impulsivity — are chronic (have been evident at least since preschool) and pervasive (occur at different times and in different settings — school, home, during the summer). If your daughter’s ADHD-like behaviors began only during your divorce and occur only at certain times (when she’s visiting a parent, after hearing you argue), consider that a red flag.

If this is the case, the problem is likely not ADHD, but behavior caused by psycho-social stressors. I would take your daughter back to the doctor, or get a second opinion. You may also want to see a family therapist for counseling.

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