What Causes ADHD?

February 1, 2009

What Causes ADHD? Clients frequently ask this very important question. In order to properly treat a medical condition, it helps to know what caused it. There are a number of factors to consider, but at this point it is well known to science that the leading cause of ADHD is genetics. ADHD is almost as heritable as height. If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, there is a 15-20% chance that your sibling has ADHD and a 10-30% chance that one of your parents has ADHD. And if you are an identical twin diagnosed with ADHD there is a 60-70% chance that your twin will also have the condition. 

 

But genetics isn’t the only cause. There are other risk factors for ADHD such as prenatal exposures, maternal smoking during pregnancy, maternal alcohol use during pregnancy, psychosocial stressors, and traumatic brain injury. However all of these other factors only add up to approximately 30%, while genetics is the cause of ADHD 60-70% of the time.

 

What does this mean for treatment? It tells us that ADHD is a medical, biological, neurodevelopmental condition, not a choice and not a made up diagnosis by the pharmaceutical industry. It reminds us that what may appear to be willful bad behavior on behalf of an ADHD child is more likely to be as hard wired in their DNA as the color of their eyes. It tells us that medication should be at least considered for a medical condition. It also guides us in our decisions regarding non-medication interventions.

 

Research has shown one of the best non-medication treatments for ADHD is education. A simple yet effective intervention for ADHD is in educating those around us – what ADHD is and what it is not. We need to educate medical professionals, teachers, parents, partners, spouses, employers and anyone else who will listen so that expectations can be adjusted for an ADHD individual and accommodations can be implemented as needed. One of my colleagues, Walter Sherburne, has started a free Adult ADHD support group in the Andover area as part as our initiative for public support and education. Additionally Drs. Cerulli and Stern are implementing www.askdrcerulli.com, a free Q&A teleseminar hosted the second Wed evening of every month. Just log onto www.askdrcerulli.com and post your question for the next live Q&A. We will be in touch!

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