Causes of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 11 March 2021

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

While no one knows for certain what causes ADHD, certain factors are believed to play a part.


Family link

ADHD is a condition that runs in families. About one-third to half of all ADHD parents will have a child with the condition. There are several inherited features that tend to be passed on.

A child has a higher than 50% risk of getting ADHD if their parent does. A child has a greater than 30% risk if an older sibling has it.

Pregnancy Problems

Children born with a low birth weight, born premature, or whose mothers had difficult pregnancies have a higher risk of having ADHD. The same is true for children with head injuries to the frontal lobe of the brain, the area that controls impulses and emotions.

Studies show that pregnant women who smoke or drink alcohol may have a higher risk of having a child with ADHD. Exposure to lead, PCBs, or pesticides may also have a role.

Researchers believe that some toxins may interfere with brain development. That, they say, could lead to hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and trouble paying attention.

What Doesn’t Cause ADHD

While it has been discussed, evidence would not support the notion that ADHD is related to excessive sugar consumption or excessive television viewing.


What Goes On in the Brain

Neurotransmitters, which are hormones in the brain, don’t function the same way in children and adults with ADHD, according to research. There are also variations in how nerve pathways work.

In children with ADHD, some areas of the brain can be less involved or smaller than in children without the condition.

Dopamine, a chemical found in the brain, can also play a part. It is related to breathing, sleep, mood, focus, and learning because it transmits signals between neurons in the brain.


Referenced on 2.3.2021: 

  1. CHADD: “What Causes ADHD?" ”Causes and Brain Chemistry,” “New Understandings of ADHD,” “About ADHD: Myths and Misunderstandings.”
  2. The ADHD Genetic Research Study at the National Institutes of Health and the National Health Genome Research Institute: “General Information about ADHD," “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”
  3. Mayo Clinic: “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.”
  4. Child Mind Institute: “Do Video Games Cause ADHD?”
  5. ADDitude: “ADHD and Video Games: Is Your Child Addicted?” “ADHD and Nutrition: Change Your Diet, Find Your Focus.”
  6. CDC: “What Is ADHD?”

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