If you were a child or around school-aged children between the 80s and today, you are probably familiar with “ADD.” Nowadays we call it ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) rather than either ADD or ADHD, and we understand it much better than we used to. Unfortunately, a lot of myths and misconceptions about ADHD remain and even more continue to evolve in our society. We’re here to clear things up and offer some guidance about what you might do if you or someone you care about has ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurobiological disorder, with “neurobiological” meaning that it is based in the structures and cells of the nervous system, and “disorder” simply meaning that it is a difference in functioning that is distressing to the person who has it. Sure enough, ADHD is usually noticed and diagnosed after someone is struggling to function in their school, home, community, or workplace and seeks help because they don’t know how to fix the problem.
A simple cause for ADHD is not known, but there is clearly a strong genetic or hereditary component to the disorder. It is also associated with things like prenatal exposure to toxins such as smoking or alcohol, brain injury, and low birth weight. Again, it is a neurobiological disorder, so things that affect brain development are more likely to impact someone having the disorder or not. 
Specifically, people with ADHD struggle with:
- Sustaining attention
- “careless” mistakes
- Being easily sidetracked
- Difficulty organizing, prioritizing tasks
- Poor working memory
- Difficulty sitting still or staying seated
- Interrupting, finishing people’s sentences
- Excessive talking or moving in times when it is inappropriate
Notably, these signs will be present throughout the lifespan, and true in all domains of life- not just at home or at work. 
So what do we do about it?
If you wonder if you or someone else might have ADHD, speak to your primary care provider, psychiatrist, or a patient coordinator at Avance about being assessed for ADHD. You would then complete a series of questionnaires and meet with a licensed mental health provider (like a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or clinical social worker) to complete a more thorough assessment about other areas of life. Finally, you and that provider would review the assessments and discuss their conclusions about whether you have ADHD or not. If you still have questions or concerns, you should absolutely bring those up. That provider is there to clarify and provide insight. You are always entitled to a second opinion as well.
You may find yourself thinking, ‘well wait a minute- I experience some of those some of the time’ or even, ‘that just sounds like kids being kids.’ You’re right- everyone struggles to pay attention or sit still some of the time. However, there are different degrees to which these symptoms show up and how consistent and distressing they are. All of these factors go into the assessment of whether or not your neurobiology might be that of someone with ADHD.
This last point is an important one. Determining if someone has ADHD impacts how we help. If someone is showing signs of ADHD for other reasons, you would not treat it in quite the same way. Other factors can produce the symptoms of ADHD: anxiety, exposure to stressful situations like bullying or the threat of discipline at school or at home, sleep, nutrition, medical symptoms, and others. Ruling out some of these factors goes into assessing for ADHD and can, in some cases, be the most helpful part of treatment for kids or adults with ADHD. 
Why is treatment so important?
If there is one thing you take away from this article, I hope it is that appropriate and “on target” treatment is required. Treating ADHD with medications is shown to be the most effective treatment, but there are other aspects of ADHD that deserve attention. Difficulty with concentration, impulse control, and organization just make life harder for some obvious reasons. However, having ADHD is also associated with some serious health and lifestyle factors that make screening for and treating ADHD very important. ADHD is associated with anxiety, depression, under employment, higher rates of divorce, vehicle accidents, and higher rates of substance use disorders and addiction.  Early intervention is always best.
Therefore, other treatments like coaching, behavioral training, parent training, educational supports, and psychotherapy are recommended [2,3]. In fact, even though medication is usually the first line of defense, some people find more success without meds, but through behavioral training and mindfulness. Treatment is a process that will require monitoring and adjustment.
Some other important points!
First, it’s very important not to self-diagnose or diagnose your loved ones. Yes- keep an eye out for signs and symptoms, but be wary of concluding that you or someone else has ADHD. A recent study had experts view the 100 most popular TikTok videos with the tag “ADHD.” Using a valid and reliable assessment measure, they determined that 52% were “misleading” and only 21% were “useful” (the other 27 were deemed to be expressing personal experience).  Be careful to check your information, and get a second opinion!
Second, there is a pattern among college students and young people of “test-driving” stimulant ADHD medications thinking that they may have ADHD. However, due to the nature of stimulants’ effects on our brain, there is a high risk of dependence and ultimately making functioning worse in the long-run. In fact, studies have shown no increase in mental performance compared to a placebo in non-ADHD college students in some cognitive tasks .
Last, please understand that other things can mimic ADHD. As we mentioned before, things like anxiety, depression, substance use, and various health factors can appear similar to ADHD. Some people will not like to hear this, but habits like types and frequency of video games, online habits, and even exposure to new levels of stressors like school or a new job can lead to signs and perceived symptoms of ADHD. However, the treatment will be very different for these causes as the underlying neurobiology is very, very different.
Living with ADHD can be frustrating and a daily challenge. Having perspective and education on the disorder is helpful and can be a major relief. Don’t hesitate to bring the subject up with a provider and get started on making a change.
Avance Care Behavioral Health
- American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Neurodevelopmental Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.).
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (n.d.). About ADHD-Overview. Retrieved November, 21, 2022, from https://chadd.org/about-adhd/overview/
- Barkley, R. A. (2014, Sep. 3). ADHD is a Disorder of Executive Functioning. [Keynote speech]. CADDAC Conference, Toronto, Canada.
- Lakhan, S.A. & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impat, and adverse effects. Brain behavior 2(5), 661-677.
- Yeung, A., Ng, E., & Abi-Jaoude, E. (2022). TikTok and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study of Social Media Content Quality. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue Canadienne de psychiatrie, 67)12), 899-906. https://doi.org/10.1177/07067437221082854