ADHD is a mental health condition that affects how people pay attention, stay organized and control their actions. It can lead to problems at home, in school and with friendships. It is treatable with medicine, psychotherapy or a combination of treatments. People with ADHD can learn strategies to improve their functioning, such as using planners, calendars or reminder notes, keeping keys and other essential items in a certain place, and participating in structured activities that are rewarding and stimulating.
The cause of ADHD is not fully understood, but researchers know that genetics plays a role. Having a parent or sibling with the disorder increases a child’s chance of having it. Children born prematurely or whose mothers used drugs during pregnancy also have a higher risk of having the disorder. Experts also believe that differences in how the brain works — especially how nerve cells send signals to one another — may contribute to ADHD symptoms.
Some experts think that a reduction in the chemical dopamine, which helps to transmit signals from one nerve cell to another, may play a role in ADHD. People with ADHD often have low dopamine levels, which can make it difficult to concentrate and control their behavior.
Symptoms of ADHD usually begin before middle school, but can be seen as early as age 3. They include trouble sitting still and difficulty paying attention, being easily distracted by irrelevant noise or events and having trouble following instructions. Hyperactivity and impulsivity are the other main symptoms of the disorder. People with this type of ADHD are restless, can’t wait their turn in group activities or games and have trouble waiting for a reply to their questions. They might also blurt out answers before the question has been finished and have trouble waiting for their turn in conversation.
People with ADHD are more likely to have other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. These conditions can be caused by factors such as stress, family or school problems, poverty and other environmental issues. It is important to seek treatment for these conditions, as well as to manage ADHD, in order to have the best quality of life possible.
The most effective treatments for ADHD are medication and psychotherapy. Medications that are approved by the FDA to treat ADHD reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity and help people focus, work and learn. It is common for a person to need to try several different medications before finding the one that is most helpful. It is also important to talk with the prescribing doctor about side effects, as these can vary from person to person. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is also an important part of the treatment for ADHD, and can help improve functioning, relationships and self-esteem. For more information, visit NIMH’s Psychotherapy for ADD/ADHD webpage. Many children and adults with ADHD benefit from psychosocial treatment, such as parental support, family education, behavioral training and counseling, and dietary changes. Schools and other community groups can offer services, such as mentoring programs, tutoring or peer counseling for students with ADHD.