5 Myths About Adult ADHD

In September our medical director Dr Natalie Krapivensky spoke at the Melbourne Medibrain Centre to a group of Melbourne GPs on the topic of Adult ADHD.  Our workshops are designed to provide GPs with direct access to leading Melbourne Psychiatrists in an open discussion forum to assist in the development of best practice in medical care for patients with mental illness.  With the significant interest in Adult ADHD, here is an article on the topic in and easy to use format that you can share with anyone interested in Adult ADHD.

Myth #1: ADHD Is Just Another Name For Bad Parenting

We often associate ADHD with undisciplined children who are fidgety, ill-mannered and show an inability to listen …or to do as they are told. They refuse to concentrate on simple tasks. Often it is simply considered to be just a case of bad parenting.

Fact: ADHD is a complex disorder of the brain’s management system and exhibits symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity and significantly interferes with functioning and development.

People suffering with ADHD exhibit impairment in focus, organisation, motivation, emotional modulation and memory.

ADHD is essentially problem of the chemistry which controls the brains’ management system. DSM-5 is the standardised diagnostic manual used by Psychiatrists and GPs in Australia to identify mental disorders so they can appropriately apply treatments for their patients.

A detailed DSM-5 diagnostic description of ADHD can be found here.

Myth #2: Only Children Suffer From ADHD

People suffer from ADHD throughout their lives. It is a natural misconception that only children suffer from ADHD because we first notice the symptoms of ADHD in children. At first most people consider ADHD to be a problem of children who simply refuse to sit still and are unwilling to listen… but as awareness of ADHD has increased within communities … acceptance of ADHD as an illness is now all but universal … but we still feel it is something that affects only children.

As patients became older, with the application of appropriate treatment and behavior management strategies, the symptoms of ADHD became less obvious … and importantly …they had less of a disruptive impact on surrounding environments. Management strategies and medication are designed to restore function and social behavior and as a result of successful treatment … symptoms became less obvious … so we tend not see ADHD as an illness afflicting adults.

Fact: ADHD is a complex and chronic disorder which requires life long treatment.

Underactivity of the brains management system is typical of people suffering from ADHD and if left untreated, can cause more serious problems with learning, relationships and development, which can further develop into more serious mental disorders such as chronic depression, anxiety or substance abuse. In many cases adult ADHD sufferers have struggled all of their lives with undiagnosed childhood ADHD which has manifested in adult life as a complex combination of mental disorders.

Adults suffering from ADHD are 6 times more likely to also suffer from another mental illness.

Myth #3: Only Males Suffer ADHD

Again this belief stems from the times that we first recognise the symptoms of ADHD… and while it may be true that boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD … girls are just as likely to suffer from ADHD.

Fact: The medical incidence of ADHD is equal among males and females.

This leads us to the conclusion, that females are more likely to suffer with undiagnosed ADHD. Left undiagnosed, ADHD can have a devastating impairment affect on adult mental health. The reason for non-diagnosis of ADHD can stem from a range of factors, including gender specific behavior norms, severity of presented symptoms and socioeconomic considerations.

If girls sit quietly and ‘daydream’ they will draw less attention to themselves than boys misbehaving disruptively. According to DSM-5 ADHD can exhibit inattentiveness, hyperactivity … or both.

Myth #4: Certain Foods Trigger ADHD Hyperactivity

Most of us have heard that red cordial can trigger hyperactivity in kids, but is there any proof that certain food additives can trigger ADHD symptoms?   ADHD has been the subject of much research over the last 30 years and while successful treatments have been identified and well researched, much of the research points to a hereditary predisposition to ADHD.

Fact: There is no conclusive evidence to show any causal relationship between food coloring additives and ADHD.

However, is this the best way to look at this issue ?  If these is no conclusive evidence that food additives can cause ADHD,  does this also mean the opposite is true ?  Does it for example prove that food additives do NOT contribute to ADHD?

Certainly not. There is renewed interest in this subject matter and at best we can say that the findings are so far inconclusive.  It is worth mentioning here that the EU have mandated warning statements on labeling for foods containing artificial food colorings, and certain manufacturers have removed artificial colorings from their products altogether..

There is no direct scientific evidence that any specific dietary behavior can help cure ADHD but recent studies have found a strong relationship between gut bacteria and brain function. Science is making great progress in this import field of research but w
e cannot recommend replacing medications and therapy with diet.

For more information on dietary considerations for ADHD sufferers, here’s a relevant article from The Harvard Medical School.


Myth #5: ADHD Medications Are Addictive

Medical treatments for ADHD are well researched and effective. Appropriate treatment of ADHD are stimulants which help to improve the functionality of an underactive brain management system.

There is a generally held belief that long term use of ADHD stimulant medications will lead to addiction, substance abuse or other health problems.

Fact: ADHD medications are well controlled by medical practitioners.

ADHD medications are well supervised and cannot be prescribed without specialist psychiatric supervision and management,  and ADHD medications used are among the best researched in the world.  The risks of using appropriate medications to treat ADHD are minimal.

We cannot overstate the risks of leaving ADHD untreated. or inadequately treated.  The risks are very significant and left untreated ADHD will often severely impair personal relationships, family life, learning, careers and risk behavior.

ADHD Is A Lifelong Condition

People do not simply outgrow ADHD.  Adult ADHD is a complex and chronic condition.  With appropriate medication and therapy adults suffering with ADHD can lead quite functional and very fulfilling lives.

If you (or someone you care for) feel they may be suffering from ADHD
Melbourne Medibrain Centre can help.
Feel free to call us to discuss available options.

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