What causes ADHD? (And some misconceptions)

Following the ADHD diagnosis, many people with ADHD or their loved ones often want to know what causes ADHD. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of what the causes of ADHD are, as well as some misconceptions about the causes of ADHD

Unfortunately, current research is yet to pinpoint one singular cause of ADHD. Research suggests that it is likely a complex interplay between several factors, including genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors.

The genetic component of ADHD

Studies suggest that genetics are one factor linked with causing adhd

Genetic factors are thought to play a significant role in developing ADHD. Studies have shown that ADHD tends to run in families. The heritability of the disorder is estimated to be around 70-80%. Put another way, if someone is diagnosed with ADHD, there is a 70% likelihood that one or more of their family members has ADHD. 

Certain genes have been identified that may increase the risk of developing ADHD, such as those involved in regulating dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in the brain’s reward system, motivation, and attention. In a different article, we will expound more on dopamine and other neurotransmitters and how they affect ADHDers. 

The environmental aspect of ADHD

Environmental factors may also contribute to the development of ADHD. Exposure to toxins during pregnancy, such as lead or alcohol, has been linked to an increased risk of ADHD. In the relationship between lead exposure and ADHD, one study found that in people with a particular gene, there was a causal link between exposure to lead and ADHD symptoms, specifically hyperactivity. The researchers noted that while lead in and of itself does not cause ADHD, it might contribute to the diagnosis.

Studies suggest that some circumstances during pregnancy can increase the chances of an ADHD diagnosis in future

Another study noted the relationship between prenatal alcohol exposure and increased odds of an ADHD diagnosis in children. Additionally, premature birth, low birth weight, and other complications during pregnancy or childbirth may increase the risk of developing ADHD.

The neurobiological component of ADHD

Neurobiological factors may also play a role in the development of ADHD. Studies have shown differences in the structure and function of certain brain regions in individuals with ADHD compared to those without the disorder. For example, the prefrontal cortex, which is important for executive functioning and impulse control, may be smaller in individuals with ADHD.

Overall, the exact causes of ADHD are not yet fully understood, but research suggests that it is likely a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors.

Misconceptions about the causes of ADHD

ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. This particular assumption is quite harmful to parents of children with ADHD, who are often trying their best

There are several common misconceptions about the causes of ADHD that are not supported by scientific research. Here are a few examples:

  1. Poor parenting: While inconsistent or neglectful parenting can certainly contribute to behavioral difficulties in children, it is not a cause of ADHD.
  2. Too much screen time: While excessive screen time can negatively affect children’s development, including attention and impulsivity, it does not cause ADHD.
  3. Sugar and food additives: Despite popular belief, research has not found a consistent link between sugar consumption or food additives and the development of ADHD.
  4. Lack of discipline or willpower: ADHD is not caused by a lack of discipline or willpower. It is a neurobiological disorder that affects the way the brain functions. This misconception is particularly harmful to people with ADHD, who often work harder than those without to accomplish the same things their non-ADHD peers do. 
  5. Vaccines: No evidence supports the idea that vaccines cause ADHD or other neurodevelopmental disorders.
  6. Pretending: There are people who do not believe that the ADHD diagnosis is real. There have been numerous tests and studies proving the existence of ADHD and showing its impact on those with the condition. 
Source People with ADHD are not lazy, even though it may appear as if they lack willpower or discipline.

It is important to rely on scientific evidence when considering the causes of ADHD and to avoid stigmatizing or blaming individuals with the disorder or their families. ADHD is a complex condition that requires comprehensive evaluation and treatment by qualified professionals.


There have been many research studies carried out on those with ADHD. While they have been truly beneficial in giving both those with ADHD and relevant parties that interact with them, there is no conclusive cause of ADHD. Here are some key takeaways from what we know so far. 

Key Takeaways

  • ADHD is caused by an interplay between three key factors: environmental, neurobiological, and genetic factors. 
  • Some environmental factors include maternal consumption of alcohol while pregnant and exposure to lead.
  • Genetically, ADHD is highly hereditable, and there is a high chance that if a person has it, one or more of their genetically related family members also do
  • Numerous studies have shown differences between the brains of people with ADHD and those without, making them neurobiologically different.
  • Common misconceptions that are not ADHD causes include poor parenting, lack of willpower, too much screen time, and vaccines.

Thanks for reading. Please share this article with anyone you think may be interested. 

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