ADHD Confirmed to be a Brain Disorder

We have known for some time that ADHD is a brain disorder characterised by a number of problems including disturbances in chemistry (neurotransmitters) and electrical activity (brainwaves) that lead to changes in normal brain function, affecting key networks in the brain controlling attention and impulse-control.

We have also known for a while that the brains of people with ADHD are structurally different.  Scans of people with ADHD have previously shown less grey matter (brain cells) and white matter (the connecting pathways) in the cortex (the “top” part of the brain), especially at the front (a region known as the pre-frontal cortex).

A very large international study just published in The Lancet Psychiatry has shown that additional brain areas, beneath the main cortex, are also smaller in those people with ADHD.

This new study measured the differences in the brain structure of over 1,700 people with a diagnosis of ADHD and over 1,500 people without, all aged between 4 and 63 years old. Researchers were looking very carefully at the size of the sub-cortical nuclei (brain regions below the main cortex) and found that these were smaller in those people with ADHD, especially children. The sub-cortical nuclei are also involved in attention and self-regulation.

This further supports our understanding that ADHD is a developmental brain disorder, and not just a label given to “difficult” children or caused by poor parenting.

How common is ADHD ?

ADHD is the most common mental health problem affecting children, affecting 300,000 young people in Australia. ADHD is often missed as people get older and evidence indicates that there are about 665,000 adults in Australia with ADHD. That is a total of almost 1 million people in Australia.

Research shows that the core problems of ADHD can have a severe impact on school, work and home life.

Children with ADHD are at an increased risk of having disciplinary problems and falling behind at school. Adolescents with ADHD have an increased risk of car accidents and are more likely to smoke cigarettes and abuse drugs, and are at an increased risk of mental health problems. Adults with ADHD are at an increased risk of physical and mental health problems including drug or alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, marital and relationship difficulties as well as employment problems.

Research shows that more than 40% of young people with ADHD experience moderate to severe difficulties with school or work, more than 30% report moderate to severe difficulties with friends and nearly 50%  have moderate to severe difficulties with their family.

Not surprisingly the wide-reaching effects of ADHD can lead to feelings of embarrassment, frustration, hopelessness, disappointment, and loss of confidence. Getting a diagnosis of ADHD is often an enormous source of relief. It helps you understand that you or your child are not to blame and the difficulties you or they have been experiencing are the symptoms of ADHD and not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw.

Getting successful treatment for ADHD will probably change your life, or your child’s life, and the lives of people around you.


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