5 Myths About ADHD
Why what you think you know may not be accurate.
Posted Jan 08, 2020
Fifty years ago, many people had never heard of ADHD. Change is hard, particularly since many people use their childhoods as a standard for what’s normal. That’s the same reason so many people resist texting, technological advances, or new research about what works best for raising children. So it should come as no surprise that many people resist the very idea of ADHD's existence. Some eagerly embrace myths about ADHD, making wild and inaccurate claims that hurt people with this very real condition.
It’s time to put these myths to bed once and for all. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Myth: ADHD isn’t real—or is at least overdiagnosed.
Evidence of ADHD exists at least as far back as the 18th century. Like much else, it’s only been in recent years that doctors have truly understood the condition. Some adults are reluctant to accept that which they can’t see or test with a single test. That doesn’t make ADHD any less real.
For children with this disorder, denying its existence is a grave disservice. Denying ADHD convinces people with ADHD that they are flawed and bad. It convinces parents that they need to more harshly punish children with ADHD for behavior they can’t control. That’s a bad outcome for everyone.
The data suggest that ADHD may actually be underdiagnosed, particularly among girls. Even when providers do properly diagnose ADHD, there's another issue: less than half of children with ADHD receive therapy. ADHD treatment works best when it combines medication and therapy. And for some kids, therapy may eventually eliminate the need for medication.
2. Myth: ADHD is a childhood disease.
Children are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than adults because symptoms of ADHD tend to first appear in childhood. Children are less adept at hiding their suffering than adults, but that doesn’t mean ADHD disappears in adulthood. Seventy percent of children diagnosed with ADHD will grow into adults with ADHD.
Some adults with ADHD did not have symptoms in childhood or were not diagnosed. So ADHD in adults may go undetected. Untreated ADHD can have catastrophic consequences for an adult’s career and relationships. In some cases, ADHD may manifest as another problem, such as depression or substance abuse. Untreated ADHD is linked to a host of negative outcomes, including various addictions.
3. Myth: All people with ADHD are hyper.
Doctors recognize two distinct conditions: attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Because more people are diagnosed with ADHD than ADD, and because some diagnostic manuals merge them into one diagnosis, ADHD has received significantly more attention.
Some people with ADD/ADHD struggle primarily with inattention, not hyperactivity. They may become hyperfocused, struggle with chronic boredom, have difficulty following a train of thought, struggle to listen to others, or find themselves distracted by mundane tasks while procrastinating the performance of more important ones. While hyperactivity is one telltale sign of ADHD, not being hyper does not mean a person lacks an attention condition.
4. Myth: ADHD medications are dangerous.
Every medication is potentially dangerous. That’s no less true for ADHD drugs, which come with some side effects. That’s why it’s so important for people taking ADHD medications to be monitored diligently by a competent psychiatrist skilled at the treatment and management of ADHD. There are several medication options, so it’s important to discuss side effects and treatment goals to find the right drug for you or your child. Moreover, because ADHD drugs can be addictive, they should never be taken without the supervision of a doctor. Self-diagnosing with ADHD and then self-medicating is extremely dangerous.
For people with ADHD, not taking medication is often more dangerous than using medication. Untreated ADHD increases the risk of a variety of problems, including substance abuse and dropping out of school. Parents concerned about giving their children medication should take heart and know that medication is not only safe but a way to reduce many of the risks associated with ADHD.
5. Myth: ADHD has to be a barrier to success.
A diagnosis of ADHD can be scary, particularly when the first treatment option doesn’t work. Parents may be concerned that in the real world, their children will struggle and flounder. It doesn’t have to be that way. ADHD is a disease, but it also comes with its own unique set of skills—high energy, creativity, a desire to try new things, and much more. People with ADHD can and do succeed at the highest levels in every profession. As adults, people with ADHD often find that the things that landed them in trouble during childhood are assets in demanding careers and thriving relationships.
ADHD: Clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. (2011). Pediatrics. doi:10.1016/j.yneu.2012.05.077
Children with ADHD. (2017, February 14). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
Myths and misunderstandings. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.chadd.org/understanding-adhd/about-adhd/myths-and-misunderstandings.aspx