ADHD Causes & Effects

No one experiences ADHD the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of ADHD is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding ADHD

Learn about ADHD

Many children will occasionally struggle to remember to do their chores and finish their homework, or they may daydream during class, act without thinking about the consequences, or squirm during church. Children and teens who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), however, experience these problems on a much broader scale. Behaviors associated with ADHD can directly impede a child or teen’s ability to learn and play with his or her peers. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurobiological disorder that generally appears during early childhood (typically with an onset before the age of 7) and is marked by behaviors lasting at least six months that include inattention, impulsively, and hyperactivity. It’s important to note that symptoms of ADHD occur along a spectrum and range in severity. Not all children, for example, who have ADHD are hyperactive. Some may be inattentive and appear dreamy, but are not excessively energetic.

Until recently, it was believed that children outgrew ADHD in adolescence as the hyperactivity associated with the disorder tends to fade as a child ages. However, it is now understood that many of the symptoms of ADHD can persist long into adulthood and significantly impact the daily life of adults. People who have ADHD can be quite successful in life; however, without appropriate interventions and treatment, ADHD can cause significantly negative consequences for those living with the disorder. Early identification and treatment of ADHD is extremely important for the success and future of a person with this disorder.


ADHD statistics

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a very common behavioral disorder that affects about 5% to 8% of school-aged children with as many as 60% (or 4% of adults) of children experiencing symptoms well into adulthood. ADHD affects boys three times as often as it does girls, although the cause for this is not known. In a classroom of 30-35 students, it is likely that at least two children will have ADHD.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ADHD

Much research has been devoted to understanding the causes for ADHD and that research suggests that a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental risk factors work together to cause ADHD. Commonly noted risk factors and causes for ADHD include:

Genetic: ADHD runs in families, which suggests that the disorder has a genetic, familial component. Children who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has ADHD are at a far higher risk for developing the disorder.

Physical: Low birth weight, premature birth, and maternal smoking during pregnancy have been noted as increasing one’s risk for developing ADHD.

Environmental: Chaotic home lives and excessive stress may play a small role in the development of ADHD. Additionally, high levels of lead in the blood and postnatal injuries to the prefrontal areas of the brain have been found to contribute to the risk of developing this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Maternal drug use
  • Premature birth
  • In utero exposure to environmental toxins

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ADHD

The classic image of a child who has ADHD is a kid bouncing off the walls, out-of-control, and disrupting everyone around him or her. However, this is not the only possible presentation of the disorder. Some children may be very hyperactive, while others may be lost in their mind, daydreaming. It’s important for caregivers and parents to look at the bigger picture of symptoms so that ADHD is caught early and treated appropriately.

It can be hard to recognize when a child has ADHD rather than normal childhood daydreaming and forgetfulness. However, by age four or five, most children have learned to pay attention, sit quietly when asked, and not to blurt out things that pop into their head. By the time a child is school-aged, the primary symptoms of ADHD should stand out in children who have this disorder. ADHD is broken down into types of symptoms, which include:

Inattentive Symptoms of ADHD: It should be noted that children who have ADHD are not always inattentive; when they find something that interests them, they have no trouble staying on task and focusing. However, once a task is boring or repetitive, a child who has ADHD will quickly tune out. Some specific inattentive symptoms that may be present in a child or teen suffering from ADHD can include:

  • Trouble staying on track at school or during play
  • Poor organization of school work
  • Poor organization of time and planning ahead
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Easily distracted
  • Inattention to details
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Appears not to listen when spoken to
  • Becomes bored with a task before completion
  • Frequently loses or misplaces toys, school work, books, and other important items

Hyperactivity Symptoms of ADHD: Hyperactivity is probably the most noted symptom of ADHD as children who have ADHD are always moving, bouncing from one thing to the next. These symptoms may include:

  • Fidgeting and squirming while trying to sit still
  • Talking a lot
  • Often leaving one’s seat during situations in which sitting quietly is expected
  • Having difficulty playing quietly or relaxing
  • Always being on the go
  • Quick temper with short fuse
  • Moving around all of the time, often running and climbing on things that are inappropriate

Impulsive Symptoms of ADHD: The impulsive symptoms of ADHD in children often lead to problems with self-control, self-censoring, and other behaviors. These symptoms might include:

  • Acting without thinking through the consequences
  • Blurting out answers in class without raising hand and being called upon
  • Being unable to wait patiently for his or her turn
  • Often saying the wrong thing at the wrong time
  • Interrupting others
  • Intruding on other people’s games or conversations
  • Guessing rather than trying to solve problems
  • Inability to contain emotions, leading to temper tantrums and angry outbursts


Effects of ADHD

With proper treatment and therapies, ADHD can be managed and a child can learn ways to cope with some of the symptoms of the disorder, allowing them to live a normal, happy life. As many cases of ADHD persist long into adulthood, if ADHD is left untreated and undiagnosed, the long-term effects can lead to significant impairment in daily life. Effects of ADHD include:

  • Social isolation
  • Decreased scholastic and job performance
  • Inability to form lasting bonds with others
  • Dropping out of school
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Depression
  • Conduct disorder
  • Family disruption and stress
  • Delinquency
  • Risks for accidental injuries
  • Substance abuse
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Co-Occurring Disorders

ADHD and co-occurring disorders

ADHD is often diagnosed with other types of mental disorders of childhood. These disorders may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech or hearing problems
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Tics
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Disruptive behavioral disorder (DBD)