Identifying And Managing ADHD Risk Factors

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated August 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many parents worry their child will develop a mental or physical health condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder seen in children, though it often lasts well into adulthood for many people. Read on to learn more about identifying and managing the risk factors associated with ADHD.

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Is Your Child At Risk Of Developing ADHD?

What Is ADHD?

The American Psychological Association defines ADHD as a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by traits related to impulsivity, inattention, and for some people, hyperactivity. People with ADHD often experience difficulties with organization, focus, thinking before acting, and making realistic plans. Behaviors may include being fidgety or noisy, an inability to adapt to changing circumstances and situations, aggression, defiance, and social ineptitude. 

ADHD Subtypes

  • Predominantly Inattentive
  • Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive
  • Combined

ADHD Symptoms

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the symptoms of hyperactivity are almost always evident by age seven when they are present. Other symptoms may not become apparent until elementary school. Though the symptoms can vary by person and presentation, here are some of the typical core ADHD characteristics:

  • May or may not include hyperactivity and related behaviors
  • Trouble focusing and a short attention span
  • Difficulty controlling impulsivity
  • Problems with follow-through and disorganization
  • Frequent mistakes due to carelessness
  • Easily distractable
  • Often takes unnecessary risks
  • Challenges with taking turns
  • Inability to be still, often presenting as fidgeting and squirming
  • Tendency to lose or forget things
  • Trouble resisting temptation

ADHD Vs. ADD: Changing The Language

Researchers at the Child Mind Institute said mental health professionals no longer use the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD). Knowledge of the condition has evolved, and now it is called ADHD, either with or without the hyperactivity element. 

What Causes ADHD?

Although ADHD is one of the most well-researched areas of childhood and adolescent mental health, the precise cause of the disorder remains unknown. This article will explore some of the known risk factors of ADHD. 

ADHD Risk Factor Categories

  • Genetics
  • Chemical and environmental influences
  • Food and nutritional factors
  • Lifestyle factors


According to a recent study, genetics can play a substantial role in the risk factors for ADHD. Research data indicates that ADHD may be an inheritable condition with up to an 80% chance of developing when someone has a close blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with the disorder. However, some researchers place that chance around 22%, leaving the subject open for debate to explain the enormous range. 

“While molecular genetic approaches have identified a range of potential candidate genes, it is now clear that the genetics of ADHD are characterized by a number of genes, each of which makes a small but significant contribution to the overall risk.” — Authors of The Genetics of ADHD.

Chemical And Environmental Influences

Researchers consider exposure to environmental toxins as another ADHD risk factor. Lead is often found in the paint and pipes in older buildings and has been known to cause or contribute to numerous health issues. Exposure to lead or other heavy metals, dangerous synthetic compounds like pesticides, and prenatal alcohol, substance, caffeine, or tobacco use may also be contributing factors. 

Food And Nutritional Factors

Nutrition is vital for human survival, and if a person has a deficiency in something they need, it can have long-lasting effects, particularly during infancy and childhood. Scientific studies have found an association between ADHD and nutrient deficiencies such as folate, zinc, iron, omega-3s, and copper. Certain food additives, such as sodium benzoate and various food dyes, are also being explored as potential risk factors for ADHD. 

Brain Injury

A study from the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders found that even mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can increase the risk of developing ADHD. The study found that TBI effects can extend years after the original injury, with 62% of children more likely to have ADHD as late as six years after their TBI. In comparison, only 15% of children without TBIs in the study developed ADHD. 

Lifestyle Factors

While lifestyle factors aren’t likely to cause ADHD, they may contribute to an individual’s overall likelihood of developing the disorder. Screen time, such as television, phones, video games, and other electronic media, has been shown to impact ADHD rates. Excessive screen time online can also lead to a potential internet addiction, which comes with behavioral concerns of its own. 

Recognizing ADHD Signs And Symptoms In Females

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), global rates for ADHD are between 3% and 7%, with the male-to-female ratio as high as nine to one in clinical samples. 

While science doesn’t have an explanation for why boys are diagnosed and treated for ADHD more often, a 2013 study suggests that the disorder often presents differently in females, leading it to be consistently under-identified and undiagnosed. 

How You Can Reduce Your Child’s ADHD Risk

Is Your Child At Risk Of Developing ADHD?

While research doesn’t support the idea that ADHD can be caused by overeating sugar, parenting struggles, watching too much television, poverty, or chaos in the home, according to the CDC, such elements may be contributing factors when combined with genetics. Such aspects may also make symptoms worse for some people. 

  • During pregnancy, avoid alcohol, tobacco, and substance use. 
  • Prevent exposure to pollutants and toxins during pregnancy and childhood.
  • Limit screen time and encourage a variety of activities to support overall growth and wellness. 
  • Provide a balanced diet with a limited intake of processed foods. 

Identifying Typical Behavior Vs. ADHD

Most children are inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive at some point. However, if your child exhibits difficulties in these areas at home and school, along with frequent behavioral issues, you may want to speak to your healthcare provider to learn more about the diagnosis process for ADHD. After a medical evaluation to rule out any other potential causes, you may be referred to a specialist to receive a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. 

How You Can Help Your Child Manage ADHD Symptoms

The Child Mind Institute suggests parent training therapy, which can help reduce many of the behavioral issues often seen in children with ADHD. Parent-child interaction therapy can also help build and maintain a strong bond between you and your child. Positive reinforcement can encourage desired behaviors, and working with a therapist can help your child develop an array of practical coping skills to manage stress and behaviors while learning healthy ways to identify and express their emotions. 

Treatment for ADHD typically involves behavior therapy and medication, with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that children under age six not be given ADHD medication. As children age, cognitive behavioral therapy or other psychotherapy varieties may also be added to the treatment plan to help develop emotional regulation, intelligence, and literacy, which can help your child recognize, process, and express their emotions in healthy ways. 

As Many As 6 In 10 Children With ADHD Have Another Disorder

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Behavior or conduct problems like oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder
  • Learning disorders such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders

CDC Statistics about ADHD

Adult ADHD

ADHD symptoms can persist into adulthood for many people, which can create unstable relationships, low self-esteem, and difficulties in work or school performance due to focus troubles. Adult ADHD may affect as much as 4.4% of the American population between 18 and 44

How Therapy Can Help Manage ADHD Symptoms

If you are concerned about how ADHD may affect your family, you may consider speaking to a licensed therapist. Therapy can teach parenting, communication, and coping skills while offering professional support and guidance. When you are more balanced and emotionally stable, you may find it easier to handle any symptoms or behaviors your child may exhibit. Many parents find it hard to find time for in-person therapy treatments. If that’s the case for you, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be a viable alternative worth considering. 

Parenting interventions like online therapy are an effective alternative to in-person treatments. Recent studies show online therapy can be a viable, accessible therapy method with many benefits, such as reduced costs, shortened wait times, and the convenience of receiving treatment from home—on your schedule. 


It may be helpful to speak to your child’s healthcare provider if you are concerned about them developing ADHD. The information outlined in this article may help you gain an understanding of the risk factors related to ADHD and how you can reduce your child’s chance of developing the disorder. If you’d like more support, therapy can be an option.

Gain a better understanding of ADHD

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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