What Causes ADHD?
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What Causes ADHD? Culture Vs. Biology

Most researchers point to genetics and heredity as causes of ADD or ADHD. Some scientists are investigating whether certain genes, especially ones linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, may play a role in developing attention deficit disorder. Other experts contend that our fast-paced, stressed-out, consumer-driven lives are also triggers for ADHD.

13 Comments: What Causes ADHD? Culture Vs. Biology

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  2. Adults with ADHD will almost inevitably traumatize their children. The toxic environment created by parents with ADHD results in traumatized children. See the Harvard Center for Childhood Development on the developing brain and how trauma experienced during the most critical years for brain development (0-7) do not allow normal, healthy brain connections to develop. Until the parents come to terms with their own traumatic experiences, this intergenerational pattern will repeat itself over and over again.

    I don’t believe looking for detached scientific causes unique to the child with ADHD will help anyone. The parents have to get help for themselves. That’s the only way their children will ever have a chance for healthier brain development and to mitigate the damage that causes ADHD. This process will have to be repeated and built on for several generations before the kids will have a chance at real happiness.

  3. Here’s my take:

    Nature: born in the polluted steel manufacturing city in the 1970s. Birth mother a “creative” type – no mention of adhd in women back then. Lead paint and other toxic chemicals still used. Theo Colborne was finishing her PhD and about to report on the disease rates around the Great Lakes & industrial pollutants

    Nurture: adopted, abused, adverse childhood experiences, daydreaming,fed loads of margarine in the 80s and 90s, migraines, drinking untreated hard groundwater in rural area.

    Now: drinking water is likely contaminated with pesticides, hydrogen sulphate from natural gas wells in area, microcystin exposure in air from lake algae blooms….adhd has never been this bad.

  4. i find the Amish study interesting and am very curious if anyone know’s of any similar comparative studies done within different communities? I seem to remember one that found that ASD rates can rise within religious communities. It could also be interesting to find if this is something unique to the Amish community or if there are varying rates within different groups.

    I’ve long had this weird feeling that there is some sort of correlation between NPD and ASD… and that most of the people i know with a form of ASD also seem to have at least one parent or relative (usually undiagnosed) who could quite easily be NPD. Also feels that cultures where NPD is almost encouraged seem to have higher ASD population…
    *disclaimed: this is very much a random hunch and not something i’m backing up and i’m sure very much adding to pile of correlations and easy answers that people like me are always looking for etc.

    It’s more like, well i’m asd/adhd and i’m pretty sure my father could be NPD…and then like i see on the news that Trump’s son clearly is ASD…and yeah…it just got those cogs whirling i guess.

  5. My comment above of June 15, 2018 needs an update. In an unusual circumstance (an on-the-spot exam by a sleep apnea expert), I was given a CPAP machine without first going through the usual protocol of having an overnight sleep study first. The study was ordered by a VA physician, after he heard my story (and my opinion that I was misdiagnosed with ADD and spent 20 years taking medication that, had I been diagnosed with sleep apnea at the outset, I would never have been prescribed).

    When I awoke after the sleep study, I was informed that if I had met certain criteria, I would have been awakened and fitted with a CPAP machine. I did NOT meet those criteria. I have yet to get the analysis of the test, but I anticipate being told that “I do not suffer from sleep apnea,” and therefore don’t need the machine. (I will post again after I get the physician’s “verdict.”)

    So…assuming I anticipate the “verdict” correctly… If I don’t have sleep apnea, why was I diagnosed 20 years ago with ADD, a condition which presents symptoms virtually identical with sleep apnea? Was my life before diagnosis just a bad dream? Did my lifetime condition BD (Before Diagnosis) spontaneously go into remission, now that I approach my 73d birthday?

    I propose a more rational explanation for the (anticipated) results of my sleep study: the CPAP machine functioned (for the last 4 years) as a training device. Before the CPAP, I would sleep on my back as a preferred or dominant position, causing my airway to collapse and starting the apnea cycle: blocked airway, cessation of breathing, buildup of CO2, triggering of the autonomic system to produce a jolt of adrenalin sufficient to make me roll over but insufficient to arouse me from sleep, and an inevitable repetition of this cycle as many as 100 times a night, producing all the usual ADD/sleep apnea symptoms (as I propose, in my case, caused by the combined cumulative effects of all those jolts of adrenalin and lack of the proper amounts of deep, restorative sleep).

    The “training ” which I propose that the CPAP machine provided was this: whenever I would sleep on my back, closing off my airway, the CPAP machine would automatically increase its pressure to keep my airway open, as it is designed to do. At that maximum pressure, the face mask would leak, bringing me fully awake because of the airflow over my face, at which point I would reset the machine and roll over on one side. After 4 years of use, this machine “trained” me to sleep only on one side or the other, never on my back, even after I stopped using the machine. (Conveniently, in the context of this analysis, the week before the sleep study I unintentionally left the machine at home.)

    As I said above, I will report the official medical “verdict,” and the response(s) to my rhetorical questions above, in a subsequent post.

    1. as somone who has both central apnea and ADHD i’m not sure i’d say the symptoms are identical although there is perhaps a lot of room for misdiagnosis if not done by a specialist. I’ve often found though that with everyone i know with ASD the best person to perform (at least as an adult) an initial assessment is them. I understand you’re frustration with the apnea diagnosis…i had to relocate to another country just to get taken seriously for it and at the time i was pretty sure i had severe apnea but i thought it would just be sleep apnea..when they ran the test here turned out i was triggering severe central apneas at a ridiculous rate throughout the night and was kinda lucky to be alive :D. Although i guess the reason i have a pinch of caution to what you’re saying is because i feel i’ve encountered extreme views on both ends of the apnea and ASD in the process. I think the worst was a GP who was very clearly not well informed about ASD (something which is unfortunately rather common) who was trying to push the idea that my symptoms where only related to the apnea and that once that was treated i would essencially become “normal”. Suprise suprise this didn’t happen but they where still very agressive about this idea that felt to me to be quite dogmatic and ideological at points (seemed to relate to old ideas from Freud about a cold mother and some other outdated stuff), what was very clear to me however was that when it came to ASD this GP clearly did not know what they where talking about… one thing that stood out was them telling me “oh well you have not had any ticks whilst we’ve been talking”…to which i responded “in the last 5 minutes we’ve been talking”? to which they said “actually it’s been 10 minutes” -.-…… so yeah at that point i got pretty anxious (also they ended up illegally cutting off my medication which wasn’t much fun either). Unforunantly before i relocated to this country i also had to deal with the opposite extreme (people not willing to do sleep tests because they thought all the symptoms could be explained by ASD).. I’ve found over time that really the ASD is more responsible for my symptoms which for many years i thought where either caused by the apnea or depression…over a long period of time i’ve learned more about “brain fog” and how this is actually a much clearer explanation of what i’m feeling that simple “fatigue” or “tiredness”. So to go back to what i said at the beginning i feel in these situations i would trust your gut first then be prepared/unafraid to push to speak to a specialist and if you really do feel that the shoe doesn’t fit….it’s maybe the wrong one (or wrong size etc). Also if you feel you can’t trust your own judment for what ever reason then the next best thing is somone who has spent a lot of time around you or knows you well (sometimes a better person to bounce those things off than a gp or in some cases even a specialist).

  6. It does seem like everyone has ADHD these days. And, I can see where the constant input from so many places could have an impact on anyone. And maybe it’s become somewhat of a catchall. My mother always said that my brother was hyperactive, but later he was diagnosed with ADHD. He was born in 1960.

    My dad always needed to be busy. He worked all week, and then found more to do on the weekends. I don’t think I ever saw him truly relaxed until he was ready to drop. My mother was very smart, but often distracted and very disorganized. I’m the oldest child in the family, and I was pretty active, too. But what I mostly remember was feeling like I was stupid. I had trouble in school, especially math. However, I loved art and always did well with that. Once I hit puberty, I recall being depressed a lot of the time, but I think it was mostly attributed to being a moody teenager.

    I have another brother who seems to have trouble relating to others. He’s even told me recently that he’s not good at picking up on facial cues. He’s always been awkward, but he’s certainly smart, and he also has had problems with depression.

    My husband was the one who pushed me towards seeing a therapist, and eventually I was diagnosed with ADHD. What really makes me aware of my family now is being with my husband for so many years. He’s very different in the way he handles life. He’s a lot more relaxed, and has much easier time of remembering things (including names!). I have to admit that being diagnosed was actually helpful for me. It gave me a completely different perspective on my own behavior.

    I guess my point is I have an entire family who grew up before computers, TV 24/7, and all the other distractions. We lived in the country, so lots of time spent outside. If it’s not hereditary for some of us, then I don’t know what caused it.

  7. So the article referenced by Dr. Ruff is 11 years old. I expect a little better out of ADDitude. Also I’m tired of articles that imply parents are to blame for ADHD. My husband and I tried our best to follow all best parenting practices to a T, but our daughter has ADHD. We did positive parenting, parent-child bonding, didn’t miss a well child visit, limited screen time, read daily, breastfed and gave proper nutrition, the works. I don’t think the right type of research is being done into causes. I read a several articles from Europe with a link between febrile seizure and ADHd; my daughter had a febrile seizure. Makes me wonder.

  8. ADHD has been described in the past as being an general “umbrella” medical diagnosis for some types of cognitive impairments that have no specific or apparent cause. Sometimes, ADHD symptoms may be caused by multiple medical/social factors that are hard to assess or discover.

    In addition to biology/heredity and social environment as possible causes of ADHD, it seems to me there may be a 3rd cause of ADHD that is not often discussed – traumatic brain injuries caused by sudden-impact accidents that may result in physical or psychological cognitive problems…

    I’ve read that soft-tissue injuries or accidents that cause a brain concussion can lead to possible ADHD symptoms. The reason may be that ADHD – which may affect human Executive Decision-making functions and/or Emotions – is related to the pre-Frontal Cortex area of the Brain that is located behind the Forehead and above the Eyebrow area. This forehead area of the Brain can also be damaged or impaired from frontal soft-tissue brain injuries caused by car accidents, contact sports, tumbling down stairs, falling off a House Roof, etc.

    As a result, I wonder if amateurs and professionals who participate in contact sports (especially US Football or European Rugby players with CTE injuries) tend to experience multiple brain concussions over an extended period of time that may result in ADHD symptoms.

    I wonder what medical studies or research statistics have been completed that may show a link between brain injuries caused by accidents and how this may be compared to ADHD symptoms. Supposedly ADHD medical studies have been running for the past 10+ years, so I am surprised there is little discussion about an ADHD extension to CTE injuries.

  9. “February/March 2006”

    I am thankful that ADDitude.com has seen fit to tag an original publication date on at least these articles that came from specific magazine issues. Older dates don’t make the articles less useful, but having the date attached at least gives us some additional context to interpret what is written. It would be very good to see this expanded to everything else. Not having dates attached makes it appear you are hiding the fact that more of the information here is older vs not.

    Receiving an email dated today, though, with the same description of “latest science”, when the article is from 12 years ago?? This is not an appropriate way to sell it to us, in my opinion.

    Please don’t misrepresent the age of the information you are making available here. It does a great disservice to readers.

  10. I have no desire to contradict any of the conclusions reached by others about the causes of ADD/ADHD in general, or the causes of any one person’s symptoms in particular. However, my personal history is sure to be helpful for many others diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

    During my time in public school (the 1950s and 60s), my condition was usually labelled “minimal brain damage.” I had to wait until age 49 before being diagnosed with ADD (up to that point being judged as a person “never living up to their potential”).

    Every possible test was done, physical and mental, to determine the cause of my symptoms, except for one. (Stay tuned.)

    I was diagnosed with “adult ADD” (a novel diagnosis at the time, as ADD was considered a problem only for children.) After 20 years of medication (the typical combo of Ritalin and Prozac), I received a second diagnosis, which (at the time) I considered unrelated to my ADD: I had Sleep Apnea. I was sent home with a CPAP machine and a bundle of information, including videos, which described my condition to a “T.” Much to my amazement, the symptoms of sleep apnea are virtually identical to those of ADD!

    After one month of nightly use of the CPAP machine, I felt no further need for the medications and have not taken them since. Most of the symptoms are gone, and I am living another life as a result.

    It’s been 5 years since I’ve been using the CPAP machine, and recent research I’ve done indicates that about 75% of those diagnosed with ADD “also” have sleep apnea. None of these studies venture to say that anyone has sleep apnea “instead of” ADD.

    From my experience and the results of recent studies, I have drawn two conclusions: first, every person (of any age) diagnosed with ADD should be tested for sleep apnea. Second (and more controversial), serious consideration should be given to the proposition that a preponderance of ADD symptoms are caused by sleep apnea.

    The controversy will arise primarily from the phenomena of “vested interest in error.” As Sinclair Lewis said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Here we have a collection of symptoms with a label, ADD or ADHD, with no causes known to a certainty, and no cure–but with an entire community, culture and pharmaceutical industry profiting from its existence. In contrast, we have sleep apnea, a well-established physical condition with known causes, and a cure. There is immense profit potential in the treatment of symptoms with no cure available, and little profit potential in producing a cure: the ideal source of monetary and intellectual corruption.

    Perhaps someday there will be studies proving cause-and effect connections between ADD/ADHD and physical conditions other than sleep apnea ( or “minimal brain damage”), as opposed to mere correlations. So far, I have seen none. Anyone who has, please let us know. In the meantime, there are millions of people who are “not living up to their potential,” missing out on a cure and medicating themselves to alleviate symptoms while exposing themselves to the side effects of these medications.

    As always, it’s up to us to take charge of our own well-being.

    1. I have 2 dd’s diagnosed w/ ADHD who have recovered & are thriving now w/ mild Adhd.

      My 13 yr old rising 2e GT 7th Grader had breathing issues at birth, Speech delay & is Predominantly Inattentive. In her 3rd grade at school in class while volunteering I saw she was very pale & had dark circles so I got a Fitbit to chk her HR & oxygen levels during sleep. There were interruptions throughout the night. I was surprised since she always appeared to sink into deep sleep. A sleep study confirmed she had low oxygen levels & did not sleep thru night. We then visited ENT. He looked in her nose & throat & said he didn’t see any issues. I gave him the sleep study & he was surprised & said let’s do X-ray. The X-ray revealed very enlarged adenoids. Bam!!! We had adenoids removed. Dr. Said it may take 3 months for brain to work optimally once it has the oxygen it needs.

      My 12 yr old snored so it was obvious she had blockage somewhere. She had an X-ray & swollen adenoids as well just not as enlarged as her sister. We had her adenoids removed same day.

      My well respected pediatrician ignored the symptoms & never recommended having ENT X-ray to check for blockage nor did he recommend a sleep study. I was a novice & ended up going about the process of discovery the more expensive way. Should of had ENT X-ray 1st then sleep study would have been unnecessary. The catch though is as the ENT wasn’t going to order the X-ray until I showed him the sleep study confirming low oxygen levels & sleep interruptions.

      It’s been a journey & my now 7th Grader still masters Reading & Language. She is still however recovering academically in Maths so Summer Mathnasium has been our fun game style gap filler. She has characteristics of Dyscalculia. So a combination of obstacles kept being put in her way such as removing her RTI svc to see if she could hang, accelerated State Staar drill prep that caused a gap year in I believe 2012-2013 or 2013-14, enlarging adenoids causing low oxygen levels thus sleep deprivation.

  11. Yes it is! Genetics and environment the latter being more simple to treat/combat as far as myself is concerned. However , i have contemplating on between?, Conception to birth. When the environment takes toll on one on how early in a child’s development in the womb. That cannot be overlooked. Healthcentral.com gave myths and facts on the causes of adhd but by now just entering that saying on search engine it can be found most anywhere.

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