Saturday, November 1, 2014

ADHD Explained?

Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.
What's up in the brain and what to do?
These findings suggest that people with A.D.H.D are walking around with reward circuits that are less sensitive at baseline than those of the rest of us. Having a sluggish reward circuit makes normally interesting activities seem dull and would explain, in part, why people with A.D.H.D. find repetitive and routine tasks unrewarding and even painfully boring.

Psychostimulants like Adderall and Ritalin help by blocking the transport of dopamine back into neurons, thus increasing its level in the brain.

Another patient of mine, a 28-year-old man, was having a lot of trouble at his desk job in an advertising firm. Having to sit at a desk for long hours and focus his attention on one task was nearly impossible. He would multitask, listening to music and texting, while “working” to prevent activities from becoming routine.

Eventually he quit his job and threw himself into a start-up company, which has him on the road in constantly changing environments. He is much happier and — little surprise — has lost his symptoms of A.D.H.D.
So,  change your  environment to one that's challenging and unpredictable and you're good to go. As for school:
I think another social factor that, in part, may be driving the “epidemic” of A.D.H.D. has gone unnoticed: the increasingly stark contrast between the regimented and demanding school environment and the highly stimulating digital world, where young people spend their time outside school. Digital life, with its vivid gaming and exciting social media, is a world of immediate gratification where practically any desire or fantasy can be realized in the blink of an eye.


  1. Good stuff, but not so recent. It's the thesis of Thom Hartmann's excellent book on ADHD, written at the very end of the last century ;-)

    1. You're right about that Rich. I was sort of surprised that there was nothing in the article about that. As I recall, it's put in terms of hunter-gatherers vs. farmers. Or, for that matter, Aesop's grasshoppers and ants.

  2. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comDecember 6, 2014 at 7:11 AM

    Hi Bill,

    Healthline just published this infographic outlining ADHD statistics and numbers in a visual guide. You can see the graphic here:

    Our users found this info very useful as it showcases the high cost of ADHD and which states ADHD is most prevalent in, and I thought it would be a great resource for your page:

    Please take a look at the guide and consider adding it to your page. The graphic is also embeddable, so you can embed just the images if you choose to do so.

    Thanks again and let me know if you have any questions.

    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us:

    1. Hi Maggie, Here's a clickable link to your page of ADHD stats. And then there's also this working paper of mine:

      Music and the Prevention and Amelioration of ADHD: A Theoretical Perspective

      Russell A. Barkley has argued that ADHD is fundamentally a disorientation in time. These notes explore the possibility that music, which requires and supports finely tuned temporal cognition, might play a role in ameliorating ADHD. The discussion ranges across cultural issues (grasshopper vs. ant, lower rate of diagnosis of ADHD among African-Americans), play, distribution of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, neural development, and genes in culture (studies of the distribution of alleles for dopamine receptors). Unfortunately, the literature on ADHD does not allow us to draw strong conclusions. We do not understand what causes ADHD nor do we understand how best to treat the condition. However, in view of the fact that ADHD does involve problems with temporal cognition, and that music does train one’s sense of timing, the use of music therapy as a way of ameliorating ADHD should be investigated. I also advocate conducting epidemiological studies about the relationship between dancing and music in childhood, especially in early childhood, and the incidence of ADHD.