Understanding the Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The first thing to understand when studying Attention Deficit  Hyperactivity Disorder is that  there is not one single culprit that has been identified as causing ADHD. Among some professionals, ADHD is characterized as a fringe diagnosis. Indeed, who could blame them?  How can one determine the cause of a “disorder” that cannot be diagnosed with a lab test?

Despite the difficulties of “diagnosing” something that doesn’t easily lend itself to diagnosis, some researchers believe they have some key facts about the “disorder.” Relying primarily on studies conducted on  twins, adopted children, their non-adopted brothers and sisters, and other family members of people with ADHD, these researchers believe that they have ample evidence to show that ADHD is a neurologically-based disorder passed on through the genes.

These researchers claim that the presence of certain genes predisposes people to ADHD.  They’ve taken a look at certain genes in dopamine transmitters because studies involving animals coupled with theoretical deliberations are pointing to a dysfunction involving dopamine.  This suspicion is further reinforced by the demonstrated effectiveness of stimulant medications like Ritalin. The fact that Ritalin works suggests to these researchers that the dysfunction must involve dopamine neuro transmitters. Further, these researchers believe that majority of ADHD cases arise from a combination of a number of genes.

Others involved in the study of ADHD have offered further possible causes. In the 1970s Dr. Ben Feingold hypothesized that the hyperactivity in ADHD could be traced to allergies to certain foods and food additives. Author Thom Hartmann, on the other hand, has an interesting take called the “hunter vs. farmer theory” to explain ADHD.  According to Hartmann, ADHD people are such because somehow they’ve retained the “hunter” characteristics associated with man before he stayed in one place and started cultivating the land. The hyperactivity of ADHD patients is nothing but the remaining vestiges of the “hunter” in every one of us.

Still others have suggested that ADHD is the result of the individual being exposed to alcohol and tobacco smoke and nicotine while a fetus is in utero. Somewhat related to this is the claim by others that it is early exposure to lead that’s the culprit. However, a 2010 study disagrees, stating that the culprit is pesticide exposure. The list of suspects is long, with some professionals even maintaining that infections while in the womb, at birth, and in early childhood is what causes ADHD. The World Health Organization disagrees. It claims that the root of ADHD could be found in family dysfunctions or inadequacies in the educational system rather than in psychopathology.

Working along similar lines, some researchers think it is the individual’s relations with caregivers while young that determines the individual’s ability  to pay attention and conform his behavior to generally accepted standards. It would seem that the frequent change in the primary caregiver of an individual wreaks havoc on the psyche, causing the child to develop ADHD symptoms.  A study of foster children would seem to support this hypothesis, especially in the presence of a separate study which shows ADHD behavior exhibited by children who have been subjected to violence and emotional abuse.

The bottom line is that causes of attention deficit is still under investigation. Though it seems that there is a genetic correlation between people with ADHD, there may also be some environmental causes for attention deficit as well.