Is ADHD Genetic? Here's What The Experts Say
Updated January 30, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell
If you or someone you know struggles with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you may wonder if you could pass the condition on to your child. Or, if someone in your immediate family has ADHD, you may wonder if you too could someday develop the condition.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is considered a developmental disorder. It is usually diagnosed in children, but adults can be diagnosed with it too - especially since, for many adults, tests for ADHD were not around when they were kids. While you have probably heard of the condition before, it is not as common as it may seem. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimates that only about 5 percent of children and 2.5 percent of adults in the United States have ADHD.
Signs You May Have ADHD
Symptoms of ADHD include:
- Becoming easily distracted
- Has difficulty organizing activities
- An inability to listen when directly spoken to
- Avoiding or not being able to complete tasks that take a long time to do
- Forgetful while doing daily activities
- Cannot finish work or chores due to a lack of understanding about what's involved
- Unable to focus on the immediate task
- Does not pay close attention to details, and so makes mistakes
- Loses things needed for certain activities
For a child to be diagnosed with ADHD, he must exhibit at least six of these nine symptoms. Unfortunately, this is usually the child who parents and teachers get frustrated with because they don't understand what is going on.
Is little Billy constantly leaving his lunch box at school? He may have ADHD. Has little Suzy lost friends because she walked past a group of them at lunch and, despite them calling her name, she wasn't paying attention? She may have ADHD. Children like this are often called "lazy," or "spaz," or "ditzy" when, in reality, they may be struggling with a developmental disorder.
Is ADHD Hereditary?
You may find, after scheduling your child for an ADHD evaluation, that you match a great deal of the signs that your child's doctor is evaluating your child for. Chances are if your child is diagnosed with ADHD, then either you or your partner have the disorder.
Experts still cannot agree for sure on whether ADHD is hereditary. However, the evidence does suggest that 75 to 80 percent of the variation in the possible ADHD traits can be traced back to genetic roots. Some studies place the figure even higher, at 90 percent.
If your child's doctor finds that your child does indeed have ADHD, then the next logical step would be to evaluate you and your partner as well. But, to be fair, many physicians are not even aware of the potential genetic link.
Therefore, you should not be afraid to speak up and request that your doctor schedule an evaluation for you, too. Once ADHD is detected in a child, the testing should not stop at the child but should instead search for the genetic link.
ADD Versus ADHD
Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, is a form of ADHD. The name is shortened for the very reason that the condition is different: while a person may exhibit signs that he is unable to focus or are easily distracted, he does not have the hyperactivity or impulsivity that accompanies ADHD. In fact, ADD is known as inattentive ADHD.
There is also combined ADHD, which is a condition wherein a person exhibits symptoms of all three: hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity.
When diagnosing ADHD, or one of its forms, a doctor looks at whether the patient is showing signs of hyperactivity, inattention, or impulsivity. Typically, a child who is diagnosed with a form of ADHD has already displayed several of the signs before he or she reaches the age of 12 years old.
To determine whether the child is actually suffering from a condition and it's just, say, bored at school, the doctor will evaluate whether the child shows similar signs in different locations, such as school versus home, or being with friends. Not only must the child show signs of ADHD, but there also has to be evidence that those signs are interfering with the child's ability to function normally at school, home, and in other social situations.
It is important that these elements are established so that a child who may be suffering from an emotional or anxiety disorder is not misdiagnosed as having ADHD, and vice versa. A proper diagnosis can ensure that the child receives the proper care.
Adults With ADHD
Adults who have ADHD have, more than likely, had the condition since they were children but had not been diagnosed until they were adults. Normally, adults who undergo an ADHD evaluation only do so after a friend or coworker notices that something is "off" with their performance or in their interactions with others.
What's interesting about adult ADHD is that the symptoms can vary from the symptoms seen in children. This is due both the maturity of the adult and the physical differences that exist between adults and children. Unfortunately, this also means that there are many more symptoms that can affect an adult with ADHD, rather than a child. Those symptoms include:
- A lack of focus or, conversely, hyperfocus (the absorption in what you're doing to the point where you lose all sense of what's going on around you)
- Impulsivity (such as interrupting others or doing things that are otherwise considered socially inappropriate, or rushing through tasks)
- Disorganization (having trouble keeping track of or prioritizing tasks)
- Issues with time management
- Emotional issues, like mood swings and depression
- A poor self-image due to the lack of understanding of what's truly going on with them
- Difficulties in all relationships - professional, romantic, or platonic
- Lack of motivation
- Health concerns
- Substance abuse (not as common)
Diagnosing Adults With ADHD
It is just as important that adults with ADHD are diagnosed as it is for children. This is because an adult who has been struggling with ADHD for years can see his problems compound as a result.
He may seem himself as a failure because he can never get his tasks done on time, not realizing that he has a developmental disorder that is holding him back. He may see relationship after relationship fizzle out, with his partners and friends telling him he's callous and insensitive when really, his disorder is impacting his ability to behave in a more socially appropriate manner.
An adult with ADHD may feel, upon his diagnosis, like he's already gone through life for this long with the condition, so why seek treatment now? But the truth is that you can experience a more fulfilling and rewarding life when you learn you have a disorder and are taught ways to control it.
Typically, cognitive behavioral therapy is employed to help adults with ADHD. What this means is that you re-train your brain on how to respond to certain situations. Depending on whether your condition is mild or severe, you may want to consider speaking with a professional who can help you get better organized and keep you on the right track.
The Varying Severities Of ADHD
ADHD can be mild for some, severe for others. Every person is different. While some people may become less focused and disorganized when they're working on a task they don't particularly enjoy, you may have to pull them away from the tasks they do enjoy because they're so engrossed in them.
When the symptoms become more severe, that's when they start affecting a person's ability to excel in work, at school, and in social situations. Interesting, symptoms tend to be more severe in environments that are unstructured, like the playground at school, than environments that are structured, like a classroom.
Additionally, if a person is already suffering from a condition like depression or anxiety, or if he or she is also struggling to cope with an additional learning disability, this could all made his or her ADHD worse.
Some have reported that their symptoms went away as they matured. For instance, an adult who struggled with ADHD as a child may now find that he or she can focus on an unappealing task when such a thing wasn't possible when they were younger. Or the person may have gotten better with his or her forgetfulness than they were as a child.
Knowledge is power, and the first step to leading a more rewarding life is to schedule an evaluation to find out if you have ADHD or a related learning disability. Once you know for sure, you can use that information to your advantage. And if you're a parent, and you see some of these signs in your child, early intervention is key to ensuring that they do not compound their condition later on in life and suffer things like depression and poor self-esteem as a result.
Do you have ADHD, or think you might? Contact one of our BetterHelp counselors today. We can offer guidance and support, and we can put you in contact with an expert, should you need to have your condition properly diagnosed.