Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder: Fact or Fiction?


“Somewhere, I’m not Scatterbrained.”

Too often people pass off Attention Deficit Disorder as some kind of “joke” or as a creation of impatient parents, appeasing Doctors, lazy Teachers and Greedy drug companies. And although there is some legitimacy to these claims, the fact is many in the Mental Health Field believe ADD is actually under-diagnosed, especially among adults, and I concur.

As an adult with ADD, I promise you it’s no joke. Like any other Axis I diagnosis, ADD is debilitating and it’s effects are felt throughout the lives of those who suffer with it. (Often quietly).

I once heard a psychologist compare a person with ADD to a man holding hundreds of keys in his hands trying to figure out which one opened his front door. After a while he either gets upset and kicks down the door or he says f-it and leaves.

I think that’s a great way to put it. I was telling a friend recently that over the past ten years I’ve written five books, three plays, and even a ballet, and only one of them is actually on paper. The others are still stuck in my head because I can’t figure out how to open the door and get them out. ADD is a motivation killer.

People often think that those with ADD are “Lazy” but this isn’t true, at least not for most. It’s hard to finish a task when you can’t decide on which one to do or when you’re half way through and you get distracted by something else. And when I say “distracted” I mean, I go into my kitchen to get a drink and end up washing part of the dishes, making two phone calls, sweeping the floor, getting out my vacuum, taking out the garbage, smoking a cigarette, making another phone call and then when I finally make it back to my computer I have no drink.

What makes it even harder is that ADD makes you very tired, I mean constantly tired no matter how much you sleep. But this is just one of the misconceptions about people with ADD. There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation when it comes to ADD.

For example, many people, including myself for a long time, believe you “grow out” of ADD. Wrong. Do people grow out of Diabetes? There are cases where 70 year old men have been diagnosed with ADD. Maybe the symptoms get better because as people age they learn to compensate, but it doesn’t “go away”. It is considered a chronic and incurable disorder.

So what causes ADD? Well, there is still some debate about that; is it allergies, a protein deficiency, a glucose metabolizing problem in the brain, environmental, is it nonsense?

The most likely culprit, and where most of the science points, is Dopamine.

Dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and is associated with the “pleasure center”. There seems to be a connection between “positive” results and levels of Dopamine in the brain. The theory is that Dopamine acts as kind of a Motivator for a person to learn from their experiences. “That was good, that was bad. I like this, I don’t like that” etc.

Anyone who’s ever dealt with a person who has ADD knows they/we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes or if we do it takes forever. Part of the reason is people with ADD don’t respond to stimulus the same way “Normal” people do because we have lower levels of Dopamine in our brains. (As an example, I am hard to startle because I don’t respond to stimulus as quickly as others, I think about it first. I know that may sound strange, but it’s almost as though my mind slows things down or more accurately my brain is in fact slowed down. Another theory suggests that Dopamine has something to do with the prioritization of stimuli and people with ADD are unsure on what and where they should focus their attention. This explains why I have a hard time in large groups or wide open spaces).

Dopamine also has a great deal to do with the function of the frontal lobes and acts as an information “Regulator” between the frontal lobes and other parts of the brain. When  Dopamine levels are low people have a hard time processing information, paying attention and remembering what they’ve processed, ADD. When the levels are too high people show signs of Schizophrenia; auditory and visual hallucinations etc. (There’s a good article in Wiki if you want to learn more about Dopamine and it’s many functions. Dopamine)

This leads to a second misconception about ADD. People with ADD do not have “hyperactive brains”, well we do, but not because of ADD. Our brains are on overdrive because they’re trying to compensate for the fact that we are actually under-stimulated. The constant motion, talking, thinking (obsessively), impulsivity, dangerous  behavior etc  is a way to try and “speed” up or stimulate the brain.

This is why many people with ADD use stimulants; cigarettes, coffee, even cocaine in some cases, and this is also why stimulants are used to treat ADD. Drugs like Concerta, Strattera, Ritalin and Adderall are prescribed to people with ADD because Amphetamines are similar in structure to Dopamine and force the Dopamine transporters to essentially work backward. Instead of storing Dopamine they release it or “remove” it.

(A recent study however, suggests that the problem may not be with the transporters, but with the actual amount of Dopamine in a person’s brain. That possibly people with ADD simply don’t have enough of it).

Whatever the reason, ADD affects millions of people and it’s impact can be devastating. People with ADD have difficulty in school, and most importantly staying in school. (This despite the fact that many test in the higher ranges on I.Q. tests). It’s estimated only 5% of people with ADD go on to graduate from college as compared to 27% for the general population. (I guess, in at least that respect, I did alright).

But it affects more than education, it also affects relationships and our employment. (Around 35% of ADD sufferers end up self-employed by the time they reach their 30’s) People with ADD can be hard to deal with and it takes patience and a lot of understanding. We tend to be impulsive. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought, “Did I just say that?” It’s as though the words originate not in your brain but in your mouth and emerge without permission. And we’re not very good listeners. I see people’s mouths moving, and I hear sound, but if they don’t hurry up it becomes white noise and I’ve already moved on to another conversation or two down the road. (Be concise when speaking with a person that you know has ADD. We don’t respond well to long drawn out lectures).

We also tend to be scatterbrained, disorganized, haphazard and forgetful. (I can’t remember other people’s birthdays without looking at a calendar, or where my car keys are or that I was supposed to be at your house two hours ago, but I can remember what someone said on March 5, 2004 at 9:30 pm).

But it’s not all bad. People with ADD can also “hyperfocus” as long as what they are doing is challenging and interesting to them. This blog is a great example. Some days I jack around with it for hours on end. There’s a lot going on and it keeps my focus.

We also can be intuitive. For some reason many people with ADD can read or see things that others cannot. We pick up on subtle cues in a person’s mannerisms, facial expressions or in the inflection of their voices. Anyone who’s ever witnessed a child with ADD in an argument knows what I’m talking about. It’s as though they can reach inside a person’s heart, find their weakness, and then beat them over the head with it. (I realize that’s not really a “positive” per se, but that skill can be used for good as well. Counseling for example).

ADDers are also good “idea” people. If you ever need an idea just drop a note in our comment box. I’ve had about 15 since I started writing this paragraph. But you’ll have to get someone else to help with the follow through.

In conclusion, let me say I’m by no means an “Expert” on ADD. I’m still learning about it as I go. But I promise it is very real, and the propaganda out there that casts aspersions helps no one. As I said at the beginning, many people go through life suffering quietly with ADD because they are either unaware they have it, although they know something “ain’t right”, or because they’re embarassed.

The medications for treating ADD are getting better and better, as is the science behind its causes. There are also some natural treatments you can try. (Omega 3,6, and 9)

So, if you know someone, or if you are the someone, get out there, research it, talk to people, try the medications or supplements and make up your own mind. One thing you’ll find is that you’re not a mutant. There are millions of people who understand when you say, “I’m not exactly sure why I did that, but I don’t think I could have stopped myself even if I could go back in time.”

*If anyone wants more information here are two great resources; CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder), and the Brain Place, which is run by Dr. Daniel Amen who wrote a book that helped me diagnose myself.*


~ by servo7 on May 21, 2007.

16 Responses to “Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder: Fact or Fiction?”

  1. The crap you have to go through even to receive adequate medical help when dealing with ADD is unbelievable.
    My former family doctor told me that ADD was a myth and the problem with my daughter was lack of supervision. What an asshole!
    You hit the nail right on the head with this one.

  2. This is a great post. I’m going to forward it to some others. Thanks.

  3. Lorenzo, there’s no doubt there are still people who don’t take it seriously and that comes from Doctors who over-diagnose it to appease lazy parents and/or teachers who mistake normal behavior for ADD and simply don’t want to deal with it, which begs the question, “Why do you have children?” or “Why are you a teacher if you don’t like children?”

    Kind of like the whole Global Warming debate, opponents find a few people who disagree and somehow that’s considered “legitimate doubt” when the overwhelming consensus refutes such doubt.

    Blue Gal, thanks. Fairlane told me about your blog and I’ll be checking it out later today.

    We’ve had trouble finding interesting people with whom to link and communicate.

  4. That’s exactly how I feel with ADD. It’s horrible, I have so many ideas, but I just can’t sit down and write them. Nowadays I can hardly even sit down and read a book properly, and it’s not that I don’t want to.

    I wonder how I will ever make it through IB with ADD.

  5. Just wanted to say I found this extremely interesting, a friend of mine just said “I think I have ADD”. “What’s that?” “Read this”. I’ve read it, and I must say I’ve never heard of ADD before I read this blog.
    It really is pathetic that some people would consider it a myth, if it really is so. But maybe that’s the deal with various diagnosis’. Some people just want to keep it hidden or deny that there is in fact something called ADD, for example.
    But well, nice work!


  6. It’s not “fiction” in any way. In fact, the neighborhood I used to live in, over 80% of the kids in the area (mainly boys) some form of ADD/ADHD (and it was really easy to figure out who).

  7. Yes, attention deficit disorder they called it, but it turns out they were just creative spirits trapped in boring jobs. What was held as “symptomatic proof” turned out to be wonderful masterpieces that can now be found in this blog.

  8. Wonderful article. I agree on so many points, especially how frustrating it can be.

    Thank you for taking the time to put it all down on your blog. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed and look forward to more of your insights.

  9. btw, if you guys want to move your server to a non-wordpress subdomain, I’d love to share my server and bandwidth with a fellow ADD sufferer and his five friends. please let me know.

  10. Sorry it took me so long to respond.

    Thanks for the offer and for subscribing to our blog.

    I’m not sure what we’re doing just yet. We’ve only been around a month, and our traffic has really started picking up in the past 10 days or so. We are definitely considering moving on, but I’m not sure when.

    Thanks again.

  11. I have what can only be described as manic depression. On one hand manic depression and now something resembling fibromyalgia. Aches and pains 24 7 365.

    But you should try to have this topical discussion with a scientologist. Oh what fun.

    They crack wise on people with mental illness and are complete nut bunnies.

    There are people out there that have no empathy what so ever, if it isn’t happening to them then it isn’t happening to anyone.

    I better close here because I am getting blasted as it is.


  12. I was diagnosed between 8th and 9th grades. Ever since I was a little jihad, I would knock standardized tests out of the park and test far above my peers, but I did completely crummily in school. I was bored but would forget to finish assignments and could not get credit for what I knew cold.

    It was not until I started drug treatment that I, completely inadvertently, started doing as well as I felt I should be doing.

    I have often enjoyed the benefits of hyperfocus. Mine comes in bursts of hyperproductivity. My blog, for instance, does not take nearly so much time as one would think. I get into the zone and come out the other end before I know it.

    There is, of course, the problem of being a compulsive spazz, and I find that I am often usurped by my own brain. I hate that, but I’m dealing. Came to accept it a long time ago. Anywho, a good summary, and one I can completely identify with.


  13. Thanks for this article. Since being diagnosed a few months ago I find people’s reactions vary from “Oh, I know all about it – they’re those kids who jump all the time – you can’t possibly have it,” to “Doesn’t everybody get overwhelmed at times?” to “I daydream – I must have it as well.”

    Those who don’t have it will find it hard to understand just how much of life it effects. My combination of medication has relieved me, and let me see, the extent of the frustration and anger I’ve dealt with all my life. I was a chronic stimulus seeker and either had, or was driving away, all the people and all the things I cared most about. Actually, “chronic” is a good word. Chronic ill-ease. Chronic discomfort. Chronic anger. Chronic frustration. Chronic stimulus seeking or reaping in one form or another. Chronic erosion of your base personality, of your psyche, of your energy.

    Lazy? No way. Tell those who don’t have it what it’s like to read, write, do dishes, try to get to sleep when every fraction of a second your thought direction changes, overlaid with a million song snippets, flashing scenes, while simultaneously noticing smells, sounds, sensations, almost every demand there is from your environment. Getting even simple tasks done can be agony. Even the thought of getting simple tasks done is agony. You work all day and at the end have little to show because nothing is completely completed. You’re always dissatisfied and then you have to think about the next day. No wonder anxiety and/or depression go hand in hand with AD/HD. Chronic unhappiness.

    Oh yes, there is hyperfocus. That just confuses everyone. Others say, “How can she not be able to laundry when she can build rocket ships? She doesn’t want to do the laundry because she’s angry at me or passive aggressive.” The AD/HD person says, “I build rocket ships. How can I not do be able to something so simple when there’s all this intelligence, or at least I think there’s all this intelligence, inside me?” How many times has a smart AD/HD person heard something along the lines of, “She’s highly intelligent but lacks common sense.” Chronic confusion.

    I have trouble with the idea of taking “stimulants” (that actually calm me down) for the rest of my life to keep a “chronic disorder” under control but the drugs are a filter that let me experience an unpolluted world and let me make decisions, let me make choices, that I never would have been able to otherwise. Simple, stupid things like whether I like a person for who they are rather than the fact they tap their fingers or chew bubblegum. Choices “normal” people have always taken for granted.

  14. Although Adderall helps me concentrate it doesn’t really calm me down much. My thoughts are still all over the fucking place, I’m just better able to prioritize them. And then there’s, as you said, the depression and anxiety, which exacerbate the problem of being inattentive or hyperactive. So then they want you take something else to alleviate that problem, and so on and so on.

    The more I learn about ADD, the more complex it becomes, and the more I see it in every aspect of my life. Even this blog, which I can’t keep focused in one direction because I get “bored.”

    I often wished that I could transfer my thoughts into the heads of those who doubt the validity of ADD. I imagine they’d shut up after that experience.

    “Chronic unhappiness,” you fucking nailed it or maybe perpetual dissatisfaction. I guess it’s really the same thing.

  15. Thank you so much for this article!

    I have only just recently been waking up to my forgetfullness/distractedness (i thought it was normal since i didn’t know otherwise).
    When i went to my Dr they tested for Dementia i think but now having read all this stuff ADD seems much more likely.

    At school i was terrible at handing in coursework/homework but i aced at exams (even with little/no revision an hour or less b4 the exam).

    Your words about getting distracted when making a drink, remembering what you just said and not remembering dates but remembering exact points certainly sounded familiar!

    Interestingly while searching the net about ADD i found resarch suggesting that it can come with deppressive conditions as some of the other commentors mention…

  16. Garreth- Depression is definitely a common issue. I imagine some of that stems from the problems caused by ADD (Impulsivity, inability to finish tasks, never feeling satisfied etc).

    In fact, rarely do people simply have ADD by itself. Typically there is a “Co-morbid” diagnosis as well (Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder are the three most common. And of course you can have any combination of them).

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