Causes of ADHD

The exact causes of ADHD are unclear, although many people mistakenly believe that the disorder arises from social factors or child-rearing methods. Through research, scientists are refining their theories about the possible causes, some of which include environmental agents and genetics. Brain injury, food additives, and sugar are no longer thought to cause ADHD.

Do Scientists Know What Causes ADHD?

When a child is diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), many parents wonder "Why? What went wrong?" or "Did I do something to cause this?" The fact is, ADHD research scientists do not currently know the exact cause or causes of ADHD. However, over the last few decades, scientists have come up with several theories about what causes the condition. Some of these have led to dead ends, while others have led to exciting new avenues of investigation.
A few plausible theories regarding the causes of ADHD include:
  • Environmental factors
  • Genetics.
Other factors that have not shown to cause the condition include:
  • Brain injury
  • Food additives and sugar.

Possible Environmental Causes

There is little compelling evidence at this time that ADHD can arise purely from social factors or child-rearing methods. Most of the possible causes of ADHD appear to be related to neurobiology and genetics. This is not to say that environmental factors cannot influence the severity of ADHD, and especially the degree of impairment and suffering the child may experience, but that such factors do not seem to cause the condition by themselves. Knowing this can remove a huge burden of guilt from parents, who might blame themselves for their child's behavior.
Studies have shown a possible correlation between the use of cigarettes and alcohol during pregnancy and risk for ADHD in the child. As a precaution, it is best to refrain from both cigarette and alcohol use during pregnancy (see Alcohol During Pregnancy).
Another environmental agent that may be associated with a higher risk of ADHD is high levels of lead in the bodies of young preschool children. Since lead is no longer allowed in paint and is usually found only in older buildings, exposure to toxic levels of lead is not as prevalent as it once was. Children who live in old buildings where lead still exists in the plumbing or in lead paint that has been painted over may be at risk.
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ADHD Information

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