People with ADHD, especially when they first begin to wonder whether they have it, get told all sorts of interesting things about it from others. Much of what they hear is well-meaning but misinformed. Here are some typical things that are said – and here are the facts.
1. “You? ADHD? But you’re not at all “hyper”!”
Studies show that only 65 percent of boys and less than 30 percent of girls with ADHD exhibit significant symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. By age 30, only 40 percent of men and 20 percent of women with ADHD show hyperactivity, figures that continue to decline gradually with age. But the non-hyperactive, “inattentive” symptoms of ADHD do not decline as reliably, and in fact may increase with age and as a result of life stressors.
2. “You can’t be ADHD – you made it through grad school/always got good grades”
A lot of very intelligent people with ADHD were able to get A’s and B’s all the way through high school even though they never studied or wrote term papers before the very last minute. Unfortunately, many of them would then “crash and burn” in their first year of college, when they no longer had authorities imposing a structure on them and could no longer do well without effort.
But then many would eventually go back to school and get undergraduate and even graduate degrees, despite gargantuan struggles with organization and time management, through hard work and sheer single-minded determination. Only later, faced with the complex multiple tasks of holding down jobs and raising families, do they finally get overwhelmed and need help.
3. “ADHD is just an excuse for laziness, irresponsibility and lack of self-discipline and self-control.”
ADHD is a very real brain-based condition. Nobody really wants to be distracted, forgetful, disorganized and impulsive and get in trouble all the time for failing to meet expectations. But these symptoms are very difficult to near-impossible for ADD’ers to control without the right kinds of help. Children with ADHD become demoralized from hearing over and over that they’re not trying hard enough when they feel like they’re trying as hard as they can.
4. “ADHD is a terrible plot to drug active and energetic boys to make them conform”
America may have a serious problem of over-medicating children – but it’s mostly limited to low-income children who are being given medications rather than the help and support they need. The fact is, millions of Americans boys and girls, and men and women, are not or never have been “behavior problems” or academic failures, yet still suffer from undiagnosed ADHD and would greatly benefit from good treatment.
5. “ADHD is caused by sugar/food additives/bad parenting/emotional issues/too much Internet or TV. And have you tried an herbal supplement?”
The data from more than 1,800 studies into the causes of ADHD indicate that ADHD is 70-80 percent genetic. There is no evidence that either sugar or food additives cause it, although many ADD’ers feel more focused on a low-carb diet. (Exercise helps too.) Bad parenting doesn’t cause it, although the wrong kind of parenting can make it worse. Emotional issues, trauma and family stress can cause symptoms that mimic ADHD, or they can exacerbate existing ADHD. Too much internet, TV and video games can be a symptom of ADHD and can make it worse, but doesn’t cause it.
As for supplements, there’s some evidence that Omega-3 oils help a bit. But if there was an herbal supplement that truly was highly effective at alleviating ADHD symptoms, it would go viral through the online ADHD community. So far none has.
6. “Stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall are just a crutch. People get addicted to them”
If Ritalin and Adderall are a crutch for ADD’ers, then insulin is a crutch for diabetics. One of the latest theories is that these stimulants substitute for an as-yet-unknown chemical in the brain that is either not produced or getting metabolized too quickly in the brains of people with ADHD, much as synthetic insulin is substituting for what is not being produced in the diabetic’s pancreas.
People with ADHD do not get addicted to their medications. They do not get high. They often have trouble remembering to take their meds, which is not something an addict would do. When they find the dose of a medication that’s right for them, they typically stick with it for months or even years, because taking more than that dosage makes them feel worse, not better.
That said, there are people who get addicted to stimulants, more commonly Adderall, which is being sold and traded illegally on many college campuses as a “study drug.” People who abuse Adderall are taking very large doses, chewing the pills to bypass the time release, snorting it or even injecting it. But millions of people with ADHD take it safely every day.
I do want to point out, however, that occasionally, after months or even years of using a medication effectively, a person can suddenly begin to develop irritability as a side effect. If this happens to you (your spouse may tell you that you’re suddenly biting everyone’s head off), it may be time to switch stimulant medications, lower your dose, or possibly stop taking a stimulant temporarily.
7. “You Americans! In my country, there is no ADHD”
Though it may go by a different name, wherever ADHD has been researched it has been found, including South America, Europe, Japan, China and the Middle East. Considering how much it is genetically transmitted, it would be very strange if it was only in America. After all, almost all of us come from people who came from somewhere else! Personally, my ADHD clients have included people from mainland China, India, Southeast Asia and one man whose parents were both from East Africa.
There may be different cultural ways to respond and adapt to ADHD, and ADHD may be more noticeable or debilitating in America than it may be in some other countries. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist everywhere else.