Three Most Common Misconceptions of ADHD

June 3, 2013

Girl with ADHD

by TK Cooke

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (hereon ADHD) has come into public scrutiny as of late because of the media blitz reporting on its overdiagnosis. The increased scrutiny is not without cause—a report from Psychology Today stated that the diagnosis of ADHD has increased by more than 40% over the past decade. The increased scrutiny has also brought upon a lot of misconceptions about the disorder and what it entails. So to set the record straight, we are going to talk about some of the more common misconceptions of ADHD. The following are three of the most commonly-held misconceptions about the disorder:

Adderall (Or any other ADHD medication) Makes You Study (Better)

This is a common belief among those who do not have ADHD, especially those in college. Ritalin, Adderall, and other methylphenidate/amphetamine run rampant in colleges, with many students believing it to be the silver bullet to acing their finals. This is a myth. ADHD medication will not make you do anything you didn’t want to do in the first place. Although popularly labeled as a stimulant, The Last Psychiatrist thinks ADHD medication should be labeled as reinforcers instead. The medication reinforces your will—but if you do not have a will to study, then there is nothing to reinforce. Yes, Ritalin (and the like) will make you hyper-focused. But what you are going to focus on is entirely up to you. If you want to talk to your significant other, the medication will make you focus on that and no medication in the world is going to make you study if you don’t want to.

If I Can’t Concentrate, I Must Have ADHD

The lack of concentration is just one of the hosts of symptoms used to render a diagnosis of ADHD. If you find yourself unable to concentrate but do not display any other types of symptoms, it does not mean you have ADHD.  ADHD is broken into several subsets: inattentive, impulsive-hyperactive, or combined, and the disorder itself presents the following set of symptoms:

  • Difficulty paying attention to details
  • Easily distracted by trivial matters (such as a buzzing sound or crickets chirping)
  • Difficulty finishing work or participating in activities that requires some sort of prolonged attention
  • Frequently shifting from one thing to another without ever finishing
  • Procrastination
  • Disorganized
  • Forgetfulness
  • Tendency to make careless mistakes
  • Failure to complete tasks
  • Frequent shifts in conversation
  • Not listening to other people while they talk
  • Fidgeting, squirming when seated
  • Getting up frequently to walk or run around
  • Running or climbing excessively when it’s inappropriate (in teens this may appear as restlessness)
  • Difficulty in a quiet setting
  • Always needing to be ‘on the go’ and doing something
  • Excessive talking
  • Impatience
  • Difficulty delaying responses
  • Difficulty controlling impulse for immediate gratification
  • Frequently interrupting others in order to get your point in
  • Starting conversations at times that would seem inappropriate

You do not have to have all the above symptoms for a diagnosis of ADHD; however you do need to display a more than just inattention. And remember, you cannot develop ADHD as an adult—the onset of the disorder is only from early childhood.

ADHD is Not Real?

On the other side of the spectrum are non-believers who do not believe that ADHD is a real disorder. This misconception stems from the same originating premise as the previous misconception—that the only symptom of ADHD is the lack of concentration. Although ADHD is a highly subjective diagnosis, advances in neuroscience have made it possible to diagnose the disorder via imaging studies. Brain scans have shown that those with ADHD have a variant dopamine receptor gene that has been linked to regulating behavior. In addition, studies using brain scans have also found that ADHD is related to lowered dopamine production.

Image Credit: Mark Sebastian