How ADHD affects the brain

As recently as the 1980s, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) became a popular topic of discussion in America. Suddenly, parents of children who had a hard time sitting still and listening during class knew that there was something in their child’s brain that hindered their ability to concentrate; they weren’t simply goofing off. People were relieved that there was now a name they could use to describe the disorder, but if you or someone you love is dealing with ADHD, you should understand how it can affect the brain.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD can present itself through inattentiveness, hyperactive-impulsiveness or a combination of the two qualities. While there’s no set way to test for the condition, medical professionals look at a person’s ability to pay attention to details and follow instructions, in addition to gaging how hyperactive or impulsive that person may be when making their diagnoses.

Signs of ADHD in adults

We often think of children being diagnosed when we talk about ADHD, but the truth is that roughly 8 million adults in the United States have the disorder, too. Nearly 5% of children in America are diagnosed with ADHD as kids, and 60% of these children continue to display signs of ADHD into adulthood. While many people blame things like sugar consumption and overstimulation as the cause of hyperactivity that’s associated with ADHD in children, scientists believe that the disorder is actually passed down genetically.

Adults with ADHD display many of the same symptoms that kids do – that is, they have a hard time focusing or listening, have trouble remaining organized and can often have excessive energy levels or feelings of restlessness. Like many mental health conditions, ADHD manifests in different ways in different people, and the impact of ADHD on someone’s life can range from a mild annoyance to causing significant setbacks.

how does adhd affect the brain

adhd brain effects

Another thing to consider when looking for signs of ADHD in adults is gender. Most early studies on diagnosing the disorder were done on young boys. The symptoms of ADHD often look different in female cases, meaning many times girls, and then women, go undiagnosed. While boys and men with ADHD may show outward signs of hyperactivity or restlessness, which can result in loud displays or bouts of impulsivity, women’s signs are often subtler. Culturally, women often take on many roles, both in their professional and personal lives.

Women with ADHD are more likely to experience the disorder on a more internal level, having trouble organizing tasks, remembering dates and times or being prone to bouts of daydreaming or distraction. Because we as a society put more pressure on women to not only excel at work but run households, women with ADHD can miss the signs; they feel afraid to speak up because they worry they’re just unable to handle what’s on their plate and it doesn’t occur to them that something’s going on in their brain.

What ADHD does to the brain

We know that ADHD is a disorder that occurs in the brain, but why? What happens, or fails to happen, in the mind that results in ADHD?

If you or someone you know has ADHD, is doesn’t mean that something is wrong or broken with how you process information – it just means your brain functions in a different way. Scientists have determined that ADHD is the result of the brain having low levels of a certain neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, or chemical produced by a neuron. These chemicals then send signals or messages to other neurotransmitters in the brain, which ultimately allows you to think, feel and act in certain ways.

adhd and the brain

woman dealing with the effects of adhd on brain

Norepinephrine is a chemical that’s made by your brain, which is also linked to dopamine production. If your brain is producing a low amount of norepinephrine, it can throw off your dopamine levels. Dopamine is responsible for several things, but in the case of ADHD, it’s important to mention because it’s responsible for our reward-motivated behavior. According to ADDitude Mag, these low levels of norepinephrine can affect the brain’s frontal cortex, limbic system, basal ganglia and reticular activating system. These different parts and symptoms in the brain control things like your emotions and executive functioning, which results in a display of ADHD symptoms like a lack of organizational skills, inattention and more.

Effects of ADHD medication on the brain

Although ADHD can sometimes be managed without medication through behavioral therapy and dietary changes, receiving the proper dosage of medication from a medical professional can be incredibly helpful. Doctors provide patients with stimulants to treat ADHD. Yes, stimulants. Although it might sound counterintuitive to provide someone with stimulants who is exhibiting hyper-activeness, stimulants can help regulate the brain’s neurotransmission functions.

Stimulants allow for a more regular release of neurotransmitters, meaning the brain can communicate messages of alertness and attention more effectively. As the most commonly prescribed type of ADHD medication, stimulants also allow the brain to better absorb information and cut down on restless behaviors.

effects of adhd medication on the brain

If you’re an adult dealing with ADHD, know that you’re not alone. There are millions of people living with the condition. You can still succeed in all areas of your life if you have ADHD – the key is simply in finding the treatment that’s right for you.

Important note

The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. See full disclaimer.

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