Myths vs. Reality

Myth #1: ADHD isn’t a real medical disorder.

Why do people believe the myth?

  • Many people in the medical field, including the “father” of ADHD, Leon Eisenberg, have stated that it is not real.
  • People are suspicious of overdiagnosis in children and blame hidden agenda by pharmaceutical companies.

What is the reality:

  • Eisenburg made statements in the German press that were mistranslated and misunderstood by mainstream media. In fact, he was saying that the disorder was overdiagnosed in children. His preference was to look for psychosocial reasons for child behaviour rather than medicate to control behaviour. Also, Eisenburg did not father or discover ADHD, but he did contribute significantly to it’s exploration.
  • Other medical and psychiatric professionals have published books denying the existence of ADHD, but provide incomplete, inconclusive or incorrect research and evidence to support their claim, and many are attempting to create a name for themselves by positioning themselves in the opposing viewpoint.
  • Such an outlook seems to be directed at ADHD in children, but most articles that claim this overlook adult ADHD, of which there isn’t a lot of research to date.
  • ADHD has been recognized as a legitimate diagnosis by major medical, psychological, and educational organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education. The American Psychiatric Society recognizes ADHD as a medical disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
  • ADHD is biological in nature: Research shows that it’s a result of an imbalance of chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, within the brain. Its primary symptoms are inattention, impulsiveness, and, sometimes, hyperactivity. Brain scientists have found that deficiencies in specific neurotransmitters underlie many common disorders, including anxiety, depression, anger-control problems, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • ADHD was the first disorder found to be the result of a deficiency of a specific neurotransmitter — in this case, norepinephrine — and the first disorder found to respond to medications to correct this underlying deficiency. Like all neurotransmitters, norepinephrine is synthesized within the brain. The basic building block of each norepinephrine molecule is dopa; this tiny molecule is converted into dopamine, which, in turn, is converted into norepinephrine.
  • In spite of this knowledge, repeated misdiagnoses muddy the waters and make the entire issue seem suspect to the population at large.
  • It is not reasonable to assume that there is an underlying conspiracy by ‘big pharma’, since the costs of doing so would vastly outweigh the costs of simply acting ethically.

Myth #2: Children eventually grow out of ADHD.

Why do people believe the myth?

  • Overt symptoms ‘seem’ to disappear. Hyperactivity often moves from the physical manifestation to the mental — instead of being ‘fidgety’ or noticeably excitable, in adulthood, we experience racing thoughts and have difficulty with executive functions, all of which is not apparent or explainable by any number of other reasons.
  • Such a statement is not based on research or empirical data, but on observations — usually of people who have no official diagnosis (people who ‘seem’ like they ‘could’ have ADHD.)

What is the reality?

  • More than 70 percent of the individuals who have ADHD in childhood continue to have it in adolescence. Up to 50 percent will continue to have it in adulthood.
  • Although it’s been estimated that 6 percent of the adult population has ADHD, the majority of those adults remain undiagnosed, and only one in four of them seek treatment. Yet, without help, adults with ADHD are highly vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. They often experience career difficulties, legal and financial problems, and troubled personal relationships. Such things are not always attributed to existing ADHD.

Myth #3: People who have ADHD are stupid or lazy – they never amount to anything.

Why do people believe the myth?

  • The behaviours and manifestations an ADHD person has make it seem as though this is true. Poor executive skills result in lack of productivity or work advancement. Poor emotional control make it seem as though we are immature or moody. Poor time management makes us seem like we aren’t responsible. The constant need to re-up our dopamine levels skews our priorities and makes us seem chaotic.
  • It is easier to summarily judge someone in this way than it is to understand what it might be like for them.

What is the reality?

  • Other people do not have these problems and cannot relate to our situation. What seems easy or normal to them is not for us. Therefore, they are judging us with a social mirror that is not at all accurate.
  • People with ADHD are of above-average intelligence, recent studies show. Many very successful people have ADHD.

Myth #4: ADHD Medications are dangerous and addictive.

Why do people believe the myth?

  • Many ADHD medications are methylphenidate- and amphetamine-based, both of which have a high incidence of abuse and can be addictive.

What is the reality?

  • Studies in rats indicate that young pups exposed to methyphenidate (Ritalin) develop as adult animals a response termed sensitization which predisposes them to drug-seeking like behavior. However, it is rarely noted by proponents of this myth that these animals received from 50-200 times the dose of medication prescribed for ADHD. Therefore, it is unlikely that these animal studies are particularly relevant in humans.
  • These medications, believed to affect the activity of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, have, at the right doses, a paradoxically calming and focusing effect on people with ADHD.
  • When these stimulants are taken in higher doses or in other forms than described (such as crushed and snorted), the risk for abuse rises. The newer time-released formulations (such as Vyvanse, Concerta, or Focalin XR) are less likely to be abused because of the way your body processes them.
  • Overall, research has found stimulant medications to be effective and safe. Over 80 percent of people with ADHD will respond to the first or second stimulant they trym, which is a very high response rate.

Myth #5: Information Overload Causes ADHD.

Why do people believe the myth?

  • The “information age” presents a whole host of distractions to the average citizen.

What is the reality?

  • There is no such thing as adult-onset ADHD. About 65 percent of cases are inherited, while 35 percent are believed to result from prenatal exposure to alcohol, tobacco infection, or a brain injury in early life.
  • A non-ADHD person may struggle with having too much to do, but the person with ADHD, because of the specific construction of their brain, has a significantly harder time concentrating and feels far more pressure than the average person when trying to manage the tasks of daily life.


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