Expert Blogs | Childhood ADHD Expert Blog
What Caused Your Child's ADHD - and What Didn't
photo of family walking in park

Why does it seem like so many more people have ADHD these days?

Is there more ADHD out there? And if so, what’s causing this increase?

It’s definitely true that more people have been diagnosed with ADHD in the last 10 to 20 years than they were before that. But this doesn’t mean that there are now more people who have ADHD – it just means we’re doing a better job of identifying those people who always had ADHD.

As many of my older clients will tell you, they have had ADHD for 60 years, but it was only diagnosed more recently. We’re also doing a better job of identifying ADHD where it less obvious – for example, in groups like those with the inattentive subtype (sometimes called ADD) or in girls and women who don’t fit the stereotype of the hyper boy.

What Actually Causes ADHD?

ADHD mostly results from factors involving a number of genes related to dopamine transmission. It is so heritable that about a quarter to a half of immediate family members (parents, children, siblings) also have ADHD. Relatives in older generations are extremely unlikely to have received an official diagnosis, but there are probably family stories that seem to fit.

In addition, anything that affects early brain development during pregnancy or in the first months or years of life can have some impact on how ADHD symptoms appear – things like smoking during pregnancy, lack of oxygen during birth, etc.

Finally, other stresses can also impact the severity of ADHD symptoms, even though they don’t directly affect the ADHD itself. For example, other conditions like anxiety or depression, sleep problems, learning disabilities, family stress, inconsistent parenting, trauma, etc. can all impact someone’s functioning. Additional stresses will worsen performance, while protective factors may enable someone to perform better, at least within their limits – sleep deprivation may make someone more distracted, but a great night of sleep won’t cure ADHD.

What Doesn’t Cause ADHD

ADHD doesn’t result from bad parenting. Actually, the opposite is true – difficult kids (such as those with ADHD) tend to make parents act more negatively. The kids wear their parents down, so the parents bring less of their A game. Therefore, addressing the child’s ADHD helps the parents respond better to the usual daily struggles.

ADHD isn’t linked to diet, either. Again, the influence goes the other direction – kids with ADHD tend to seek out less healthy foods more than kids without it. And parents with poorly managed ADHD who are working harder to keep their heads above water are less likely to cook the healthier foods that take more time and planning. If diet has a major effect on how someone feels or functions, then an allergy or intolerance is more likely to blame, not ADHD. Parents should get that checked out as well.

Finally, too much screen time doesn’t lead to ADHD. Once again, the influence goes the other way – folks with ADHD have a harder time resisting the exciting temptations on their devices when they should really be doing more boring work. As a result, they spend more time on fun screen time.

The Cause Matters

 All of this matters because you can’t treat ADHD with better parenting, a healthier diet, or less screen time – at least not beyond the general benefits that would apply to anyone. There’s nothing a mother can do during pregnancy that will make a difference beyond getting good prenatal care and regular check-ups. So, if you’re beating yourself up over your child’s ADHD, stop. Instead, focus on the things that you can do something about that will actually make your child’s life better. Besides, it was probably your in-laws’ fault.




Photo Credit: Morsa Images / Stone via Getty Images

Tell us what you think of this post?
0 Like
0 Sad
0 Cheered up
0 Empowered
0 Care
WebMD Expert Blog © 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CST

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CST

Clinical psychologist

Ari Tuckman, PsyD, CST, is a psychologist, author, speaker, and an expert on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He is the author of four books on ADHD and a frequent contributor to ADHD publications. He’s a popular speaker who has presented across America and internationally. He’s appeared on CNN, XM Radio, and in national publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Men’s Health, and others. He volunteers as the conference co-chair for CHADD, the national ADHD advocacy organization. He is in private practice in West Chester, PA.

Latest Blog Posts From Ari Tuckman, CST, PsyD

How Therapy for ADHD Helps -- and Doesn’t

How Therapy for ADHD Helps -- and Doesn’t

Doctors often recommended therapy when a child or teen is diagnosed with ADHD. Sure, it can be helpful, but what should you expect? Let’s start with the basic fact ...

Read more
ADHD: Advice for Newly Diagnosed Families

ADHD: Advice for Newly Diagnosed Families

The first thing to do when your child gets an ADHD diagnosis is to take a deep breath. That’s also the second, third, and fourth things ...

Read more