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Understanding ADHD: Causes and Risk Factors

By Albulena Murturi


9 February 2024

ADHD Causes and Risk Factors

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts both children and adults, affecting around 5% of school-aged children. While often associated with childhood, ADHD can persist into adulthood, with around two-thirds of children experiencing symptoms as adults. Understanding the causes and risk factors of ADHD individuals can lead fulfilling lives and overcome the challenges associated with the condition.

Types of ADHD

There are three primary presentations of ADHD as defined by the DSM-5:

  1. Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: Difficulty with attention and concentration, often overlooking details or failing to follow through on tasks.
  2. Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: Excessive energy, impulsivity, and trouble sitting still, leading to behaviors like fidgeting, interrupting conversations, and impatience.
  3. Combined Presentation: Features both inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

ADHD Causes and Risk Factors
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Symptoms of ADHD

ADHD is characterized by challenges in attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, leading to difficulties in various aspects of life. Children with ADHD may exhibit forgetfulness, daydreaming, trouble staying on task, disorganization, and avoidance of tasks requiring focus. Additionally, they may display hyperactive behavior such as fidgeting, excessive talking, and risky behavior. Depending on the type, some symptoms of ADHD may be:

1. Inattention

  • Difficulty paying attention to details and making careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities.
  • Trouble staying focused on tasks or activities, particularly those that require sustained mental effort.
  • Being easily distracted by unrelated stimuli.
  • Frequently losing important items like keys, phones, or homework.

2. Hyperactivity

  • Fidgeting or squirming when seated.
  • Difficulty remaining seated in situations where it’s expected, like during class or meals.
  • Running or climbing excessively in inappropriate situations.
  • Feeling restless or constantly on the go.

3. Impulsivity

  • Acting without thinking about consequences.
  • Interrupting others during conversations or activities.
  • Difficulty waiting for their turn in situations like waiting in line or during games.
  • Making impulsive decisions without considering the long-term effects.

4. Executive Functioning Challenges

  • Difficulty with organization and time management.
  • Forgetfulness in daily activities or responsibilities.
  • Struggles with planning and prioritizing tasks.
  • Difficulty regulating emotions and managing frustration.

5. Social and Behavioral Issues

  • Difficulty getting along with peers or keeping friendships.
  • Impulsive behavior that may lead to social conflicts.
  • Trouble following rules and instructions.
  • Risk-taking behavior or engaging in dangerous activities without considering the consequences.

Remember, not everyone will have all of these symptoms, and they can vary from person to person. If you think you or someone you know might have ADHD, it’s best to talk to a doctor or mental health professional for help.

In adults, symptoms may manifest differently, with less hyperactivity and more restlessness. The typical stresses of adulthood can exacerbate ADHD symptoms.


Diagnosis involves evaluating symptoms, typically through a diagnostic interview conducted by healthcare professionals, considering the individual’s behavior in different settings, and ruling out other potential causes.

ADHD Causes and Risk Factors
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Understanding the Causes and Risk Factors of ADHD

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurobehavioral condition characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While the exact cause of ADHD remains elusive, researchers have identified various factors that may contribute to its development. This article delves into the diverse causes of ADHD, from genetic predisposition to environmental influences and prenatal factors.

Genetic Factors

Genetics plays a significant role in the development of ADHD, with studies suggesting that over 70% of the risk for ADHD can be attributed to genetic factors. Despite this strong genetic link, inheriting ADHD genes from a parent does not guarantee that a child will develop the disorder. ADHD is a multifactorial condition influenced by both genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

The study also states that ADHD is not tied to a specific gender. In simpler terms, it means ADHD can affect both males and females, and it’s not exclusively inherited from fathers. Some may believe that ADHD is solely passed down from fathers, thinking that if the father doesn’t have ADHD, then the child can’t have it either. However, this notion is incorrect. ADHD can be inherited from either parent, regardless of their gender.

Environmental Factors

Various environmental factors can increase the risk of developing ADHD. Exposure to toxins during childhood, such as lead found in older paint or gasoline, can cause hyperactivity and inattention. Furthermore, prenatal exposure to substances like alcohol and tobacco increases the likelihood of ADHD in children.

Studies have shown a correlation between maternal smoking during pregnancy and the likelihood of a child developing ADHD, particularly with heavy smoking.

Illnesses and Injuries

Certain medical conditions and injuries can also contribute to the development of ADHD. Illnesses like meningitis and encephalitis may result in learning and attention difficulties. Traumatic brain injuries, even those considered mild, have been associated with an elevated risk of ADHD in children for up to a decade after the injury.

ADHD Causes and Risk Factors
©️ Freepik


ADHD is likely influenced by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. While genetics play a significant role in determining susceptibility to ADHD, environmental triggers such as exposure to toxins and substances during prenatal development can further increase the risk. Additionally, illnesses and brain injuries may contribute to the development of ADHD symptoms.

Understanding the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors can help individuals and healthcare providers better comprehend the origins of ADHD. While the exact causes may remain elusive, effective treatments are available to manage ADHD symptoms and improve quality of life. Consulting with a healthcare provider can provide valuable insights into suitable treatment options for ADHD.

While the causes of ADHD may be multifaceted and not fully understood, ongoing research continues to shed light on the complex nature of this neurobehavioral disorder. By identifying genetic predispositions, environmental influences, and other risk factors, healthcare providers can tailor treatment approaches to effectively manage ADHD symptoms. Seeking professional guidance and exploring available treatment options are crucial steps toward addressing ADHD and improving overall well-being.

Treatment Options

ADHD is commonly treated with behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Behavioral therapy includes behavior modification, parent training, social skills training, and organizational skills training. Medications include stimulants as well as non-stimulant options.

Lifestyle Changes

According to various studies cited in VeryWellMind, certain lifestyle modifications can complement ADHD treatment, including maintaining a nutritious diet, increasing physical activity, improving sleep quality, and limiting screen time. Effective time management strategies are also crucial for managing symptoms.

Alternative Treatments

While some alternative treatments like brain gym and mindfulness training may have anecdotal support, many lack scientific evidence of effectiveness and may even be harmful. Before trying any alternative treatment, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider.

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Coping Strategies and Support

Living with ADHD, whether as an individual or a parent of a child with ADHD, can present unique challenges. Seeking professional help and accessing support networks can provide valuable assistance in understanding and managing ADHD-related difficulties.

In conclusion, ADHD is a complex disorder that affects individuals across the lifespan. With proper diagnosis, treatment, and support, individuals with ADHD can lead fulfilling lives and overcome the challenges associated with the condition.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

You may also like: Master Your Mind: 8 Tips for Improving Mental Focus

Albulena Murturi

An enthusiastic learner rediscovering the joy of writing.