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Understanding ADHD: How it Impacts the Brain and Daily Life

We are living in an era where our happiness is highly influenced by our mental state. Having a sane mind is considered to be the magic potion for living a happy and peaceful life.

However, the mind is easily influenced and affected by our emotions, our environment, and our lifestyle. Stress, anger, and frustration are everyday emotions. But they are harmless as long as everything is balanced.

The balance often gets lost when that behavior turns extreme and out of control. If you are experiencing some unusual signs in your behavior, such as a lack of focus, impulsivity, frequent emotional breakdowns, or a low frustration tolerance, it could be a sign of a mental disorder called ADHD.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD is a psychiatric disorder, and about 25% of adults with ADHD have been incarcerated at some point. It disrupts a person’s ability to manage their own emotion, regularize their mood, pay constant attention to details, and follow particular directions. Unfortunately, it’s a chronic brain condition and can only be made better with time and by doing some daily hygiene checks.

Being ADHD symptomatic is like living life as a neurodivergent person in a world built for neurotypicals. Neurotypicals are the people who align with the cognitive standards and norms of our society, such as understanding common body language, being able to follow a specific routine, and fitting into systems, such as our education system.

Neurodivergent people, on the other hand, don’t align with these standards and norms, and they struggle because of this in their everyday lives. A lot of the misconceptions around ADHD come from the term itself: attention deficit. According to a recent study done in the UK, attention deficit behaviors are the most commonly criticized behaviors of people with ADHD, One of the most misunderstood things about people with ADHD is that they can’t focus on anything or can’t focus on something for too long. But this is not necessarily the case. Instead of being called attention deficit, it should be called attention redirected.

Another word in this term – disorder. A disorder is a condition that disturbs the normal functioning of the body or mind. But what is normal functioning? People with ADHD are considered to have a disorder because they don’t match the expectations and standards of our society. But I believe instead of considering neurodivergent as a disorder, we need to question whether the norms in place are benefiting all of us.

Understanding ADHD

Types of ADHD

ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all condition. It presents in different ways, and understanding the various types is crucial for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment. There are 3 types of predominant presentation of ADHD:

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation: This type is characterized by predominant difficulties in sustaining attention. People with inattentive ADHD may struggle to complete tasks, organize their activities, and often appear forgetful or absent-minded. Inattention in ADHD refers to difficulties in focusing on tasks, following instructions, and organizing activities. Individuals with ADHD may often make careless mistakes in school or work, have trouble sustaining attention during tasks, and frequently forget important details.
  • Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive presentation: This type primarily involves hyperactivity and impulsivity without significant inattention. Individuals with this type may seem constantly moving, blurting out answers, and having difficulty waiting their turn. Hyperactivity manifests as restlessness, excessive talking, and the inability to sit still. Impulsivity, on the other hand, involves acting without thinking, interrupting others, and making hasty decisions. Both hyperactivity and impulsivity can lead to challenges in social and academic settings.
  • Combination presentation: This is the most common type of ADHD, where individuals exhibit symptoms of both inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Individuals with combined type ADHD exhibit difficulties in attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity to varying degrees. This type often requires a comprehensive approach to treatment.

How the physical structure of an ADHD brain is different from a normal brain?

According to a study done 15 years ago, that followed kids with ADHD for a decade who never took the medication and matched the diagnostic criteria

There are visible differences in the frontal lobe and cerebellum of a person’s brain suffering from ADHD from that with a normal brain.

The frontal lobe is responsible for executive functioning, where you can prioritize which item you should focus on first, what’s the most important thing to be done today, and how you should get that done before you move to other priorities.

The cerebellum is where the coordination of the brain happens. As kids with ADHD grow older, this part of the brain starts looking like a replica of a normal child’s brain and the hyperactivity symptoms seem to diminish. Whereas the frontal lobe still seems to be smaller than that of a normal child.

Understanding the neurobiology of ADHD

Understanding the neurobiology of ADHD is essential to grasp how this disorder impacts the brain and behavior. It involves various brain structures, neurotransmitters, and genetic factors.

1. Brain Structures and Functions: The prefrontal cortex, a region at the front of the brain, plays a central role in executive functions, including attention, planning, decision-making, and impulse control.

The basal ganglia, responsible for regulating movement and reward, is also implicated in ADHD. The anterior cingulate cortex is involved in error detection and monitoring, which can be impaired in individuals with ADHD.

2. Neurotransmitters Involved: Dopamine and norepinephrine are two key neurotransmitters associated with ADHD. These chemicals help transmit signals in the brain and are crucial for attention, focus, and impulse control. Dysregulation in the release and reuptake of these neurotransmitters can contribute to the symptoms of ADHD.

3. Genetics and Hereditary Factors: Research suggests a strong genetic component in ADHD. If a family member has ADHD, there’s a higher likelihood of others in the family having it as well. Specific genes related to dopamine receptors and transporters have been linked to ADHD susceptibility.

4. Brain Imaging Studies: Neuroimaging studies, such as functional MRI (fMRI) and PET scans, have shown differences in brain structure and activity in individuals with ADHD compared to those without. These studies highlight alterations in the size and connectivity of brain regions involved in attention and impulse control.

5. Environmental Factors: Prenatal exposure to tobacco, alcohol, or certain toxins, as well as premature birth, are some of the environmental factors that can increase the risk of ADHD.

How do drugs treat the imbalances in the brain?

Our brains are filled with neurotransmitters and speaking, these are brain chemicals that transfer messages from one part of the brain to another. The three big neurotransmitters are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. When you have ADHD, you use dopamine and norepinephrine faster in your brain than that of an average person.

When you don’t have enough of that, you become inattentive, more impulsive, or more hyperactive. The centers of the brain that are smaller of these patients diagnosed with ADHD seem to be quite rich in dopamine and norepinephrine, hence we have a neuroanatomical reason so that we are sure that the chemicals are released in equal amounts in our brain.

It is humanly not possible to take these chemicals and put them in your brain because there is something in our body called the blood-brain barrier. This functions to protect the brain, the spinal cord, and the neurotransmitters that move back and forth in that space. Medications are given in a way that tricks the brain into allowing dopamine and norepinephrine to hang around in the brain longer and look more typical.

Most medications are short-acting and create a similar type of chemical response, like dopamine and norepinephrine. They last anywhere from four hours to about 10 hours, and once the medicine is out of the system, you’re right back to where you were at baseline. So there is nothing permanent about this. This is a treatment, not a cure.

How does dopamine affect learning and motivation in ADHD brains?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by neurons to send signals to other neurons that play a large role in motivation and behavior. It’s often referred to as the “pleasure chemical”. Dopamine doesn’t create pleasure, What it does do, is reinforce it. Dopamine is released in the brain during pleasurable situations.

Dopamine helps with learning and memory as well as a lot of other brain functions. Cognitive and emotion regulation, movement sensory processing, pain processing, and even sleep. Typically, brains start to learn which behaviors lead to rewards. And can begin to release dopamine even in anticipation of that reward.

Solid levels of dopamine in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex help in improved memory, attention, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions. But in ADHD, we don’t have normal levels of dopamine in the brain. As a result, the core aspects of our reward system work differently. This is also why treating ADHD typically involves boosting dopamine levels through stimulant medication. Exercise and getting enough sleep, all of which help balance our dopamine levels can help us manage our ADHD. Too little or too much of anything is harmful; you need to balance the chemical cocktails in your brain.

How does ADHD affect the daily life of the person?

As ADHD is a chronic condition, the person suffering from this is bound to see changes in every part of their life. If you are wondering how you can know if you are suffering from ADHD, we have listed some common ADHD symptoms that can help you get the right information at the right point in time.

Here are twelve major changes that a person suffering from ADHD can see in their lives:

  1. Compulsive eating: One of the major obsessions people usually have is eating good food. But for people with ADHD, it’s their way to boost their dopamine levels and this chain leads to compulsion. Making food a priority helps to have a good feeling frequently which leads to physical problems like obesity, high cholesterol, etc.
  2. Overhead Anxiety: The feeling of not being able to figure out stuff and acts as a barrier to living the life you desire.
  3. Substance misuse: Whenever we are having a lot of stress, the first thing we often do to eliminate the same is take a dose of addictive substances like alcohol, smoking, and drugs, For people with ADHD, this becomes a way to escape the world around them and hence, misuse of such substances is dangerous.
  4. Sleep problems: ADHD can cause major sleeping problems like restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, and constant snoring.
  5. Struggling to meet deadlines: Not just in your work, deadlines have a lot more importance in day-to-day tasks and can lead to difficulty in keeping up with strong bonds and relationships.
  6. Financial issues: Spending impulsively to hit that dopamine and being unable to concentrate and work hard are two factors contributing to a lack of money.
  7. Relationship problems: Being able to communicate your feelings with your partner is one of the prime factors for sharing a healthy bond and often ADHD symptoms act as a strong hindrance in your
  8. Emotional Outbreak: It’s difficult to manage your emotions and keep them neutral If you or anyone in your known is going through ADHD, you must have observed a difference in how they respond to things being too angry or being too silent at times. This happens because of all the factors mentioned above, you find it difficult to keep all of it with you and hence, you outburst in front of people you trust the most.

How do comorbid conditions deteriorate the mental health of a person with ADHD?

ADHD often coexists with other mental health and developmental conditions, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Understanding these comorbidities is crucial for comprehensive care.

1. Compulsive Eating:

  • People with ADHD may use food to boost dopamine levels. This can lead to compulsive eating, resulting in physical health issues like obesity and high cholesterol.

2. Overhead Anxiety:

  • ADHD can contribute to a sense of being overwhelmed and hinder problem-solving abilities. This anxiety becomes a barrier to living the desired life.

3. Substance Misuse:

  • High-stress levels may drive individuals with ADHD to misuse addictive substances like alcohol, smoking, and drugs. Substance misuse becomes a way to escape from the challenges of the surrounding world.

4. Sleep Problems:

  • ADHD is associated with sleep issues such as restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, and constant snoring.

5. Struggling to Meet Deadlines:

  • Difficulty in meeting deadlines extends beyond work tasks and can affect day-to-day activities and relationships.

6. Financial Issues:

  • Impulsive spending to seek dopamine boosts, coupled with difficulty concentrating and working hard, contributes to financial problems.

7. Emotional Outbursts:

  • Managing emotions becomes challenging for individuals with ADHD. Emotional outbreaks, ranging from intense anger to silence, may occur due to the cumulative impact of ADHD-related factors.

Individuals with ADHD often experience comorbid conditions that can complicate their diagnosis and treatment. Addressing these comorbidities through comprehensive assessment and tailored interventions is essential to improve overall well-being and quality of life.

Individuals who have grown beyond ADHD

ADHD is a chronic condition but it doesn’t mean that you will stop living your life or will compromise on any sense of availability to you. ADHD does not define a person’s potential or success. Many well-known personalities can surpass the symptoms and achieve what they always wanted. Here are the top 3 such personalities who have done this and we are sure you can too:

  1. Michael Phelps: The Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who holds the record for the most Olympic gold medals, has openly discussed his ADHD He channeled his energy into swimming and became a global sports icon.
  2. Simone Biles: Simone Biles, a renowned gymnast, and multiple-time Olympic gold medalist, has incredible dedication and focus have made her a role model for many.
  3. Richard Branson: Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, has turned his hyperactivity and entrepreneurial spirit into a successful business empire.

Common Questions about ADHD

1. What are the noticeable symptoms of ADHD in children?

ADHD symptoms can become noticeable since childhood. Excessive fidgeting, difficulty sitting still, impulsivity, forgetfulness, and frequent tantrums can be some of the most noticeable ADHD symptoms in children. They may struggle academically due to inattention and difficulties with organization. They may have trouble completing assignments, following instructions, and maintaining focus in the classroom

2. How can ADHD impact my relationships and career?

ADHD can affect relationships with family, friends, and partners. Communication strategies and relationship counseling can help individuals with ADHD and their loved ones navigate these challenges. Adolescents and adults with ADHD may choose academic or career paths that align with their strengths and interests. They may excel in creative fields or professions that allow for flexibility.

3. How to treat ADHD effectively?

The first step to treating ADHD effectively is diagnosing the condition using the right methods and procedures. ADHD diagnosis DSM-V is one of the most prominent methods to test ADHD in children and adults. It sets criteria with a fixed number of symptoms for people below and above the age of 17.

One should first get diagnosed by a trustworthy psychiatrist and only then start taking medicines as this can have side effects as well. This is a very sensitive issue and should be given prime importance.

Although ADHD medications are usually only available over the counter, still you should take care that they take the pills only after a prescription. Even people who have a prior prescription should not continue the pills for long without revisiting their doctor.

The most common medication for ADHD are stimulants which are prescribed in combination. The most common drugs are:

  • Amphetamine
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Pro central, Zenzedi
  • Methylphenidate

These help to calm down your senses and put you in a relaxed state as they increase the level of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine in your body which ultimately helps you to focus. The dosage starts very gradually and is increased every 7 days until it reaches a suitable amount. Some of these drugs may be habit-forming as well. In severe cases, it leads to highly life-threatening drug abuse. You can read about adult ADHD treatments in detail and ensure you are taking action as soon as possible.

Conclusion

Mental health care should always be our top priority. But if you have ADHD, you need to be extra careful. There are different treatments for ADHD, and they’re not all the same. You need to select a treatment that is based on your symptoms, medical condition, and doctor’s advice.

Our community of Medical and Clinical experts is just a call away to help you tackle ADHD and improve your mental health using various personalized treatment and therapeutic approaches.

References:

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4784-attention-deficithyperactivity-disorder-adhd https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-brain-vs-normal-brain https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ss/slideshow-adhd-life https://www.goldenstepsaba.com/resources/adhd-statistics https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd-neurology

https://chadd.org/about-adhd/the-science-of-adhd/ https://www.verywellmind.com/the-adhd-brain-4129396

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