These misconceptions can be a source of frustration for people dealing with the disorder. Unfortunately, they can also lead to bullying, problems in relationships, or even discrimination.
That's why it's so important to counteract ADHD myths through education. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common things that people mistakenly think about the disorder and learn the truth behind each myth.
"ADHD is just an excuse for being lazy."
One of the most common myths about ADHD is that people with the disorder are lazy. There's a misconception that ADHD causes a lack of motivation. Depending on the situation, someone who is promoting this myth might think that either ADHD isn't a real condition or that someone with ADHD uses it as an excuse to avoid doing work.
Of course, the reality is that people with ADHD have trouble completing tasks due to a number of factors, but laziness isn’t one of them. Distractibility can be a major issue since it's difficult to work on things when you can't stay focused. Disorganization is another symptom of ADHD which can make it hard to get things done.
These types of challenges with executive function may cause ADHDers to avoid certain tasks, but the cause of their avoidance isn't laziness. Instead, they might be overwhelmed or insecure about the way their ADHD symptoms get in the way of doing the things they need to do.
"ADHD only affects boys."
It's true that boys have been diagnosed with ADHD at rates far higher than girls for many years. However, that isn't because the disorder mostly affects males. The truth is that the types of symptoms each gender tends to exhibit has led to many girls and women with ADHD going undiagnosed.
ADHD symptoms involving hyperactivity are much more common in boys, while girls primarily have inattentive symptoms. Hyperactivity is more noticeable and potentially disruptive, which prompts more boys to be evaluated for an ADHD diagnosis.
Meanwhile, inattentiveness is less disruptive, and girls often mask their symptoms. Because the symptoms are less obvious, and because a quiet and non-disruptive child doesn't fit the picture many people have in their minds when it comes to ADHD, girls aren't diagnosed as frequently as boys. This is also true for adult ADHD diagnosis despite the fact that ADHD is just as prevalent in females as it is in males.
Fortunately, the tide is moving in the right direction. While the ratio of ADHD diagnosis in boys vs. girls has historically been as high as 25:1, it is now about 3:1. But there is still more work to be done until women and girls receive the same level of ADHD care as men and boys.
"Kids grow out of ADHD as they get older."
Many people strongly associate ADHD with childhood. It's true that many people are first diagnosed as children. In most cases, however, ADHD persists into adulthood. In fact, about 80% of young people with ADHD will still have the disorder as an adult.
One of the things that contributes to this myth is that adults with ADHD may not exhibit symptoms as obviously as they did as children. But that can be attributed to two factors. First, the ADHD symptoms that someone displays may shift over time. For example, hyperactivity isn't as common in adults as it is in children. Due to changes in maturity and their life circumstances, adults with ADHD are more likely to have symptoms associated with inattention, disorganization, and impulsivity.
Second, many adults have developed coping skills for their symptoms over time. They typically become better at managing or masking their symptoms, which might make it seem like their ADHD has gone away. In reality, they are just more adept at dealing with their ADHD symptoms, which makes their condition less obvious to those around them.
"I sometimes focus on things for hours at a time, so I can't have ADHD."
While it's true that ADHD often makes it hard to focus, it can also cause someone with the disorder to become fully focused on an activity that they find engaging or stimulating. A child might play video games for hours at a time without losing concentration, for example, or an adult may become engrossed in a project and lose track of time.
This phenomenon is known as hyperfocus. When an ADHD brain finds a rewarding, exciting, or satisfying activity, it latches on to help overcome its dopamine deficiency. Although it's a lesser-known symptom of ADHD, focusing intensely on something doesn’t serve as proof that someone doesn't have ADHD. In fact, it might prove the opposite.
Hyperfocusing can also be beneficial in many ways. There are many famous people with ADHD who have gone on to have very successful careers, partially due to the fact that they can focus so intently on a specific passion. Some of these notable, high-achieving individuals include athletes Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, actor Howie Mandel, musician Adam Levine, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and astronaut Scott Kelly.
"ADHD medications can lead to substance abuse problems."
The most common type of ADHD medications — stimulants — are controlled substances, which means they have the potential for addiction with improper use. In addition, some are categorized as amphetamines, a drug class that is commonly associated with addiction.
This can be scary for people considering ADHD medication, especially parents of young children with the disorder. However, ADHD medications have been proven to be safe and effective for decades. They are great at helping most people with ADHD manage their symptoms, and studies have found that taking ADHD medication does not increase the risk of substance abuse.
It's worth noting that untreated ADHD does have an increased risk of abusing alcohol or drugs. With the right treatment, such as stimulant ADHD medication, that risk is reduced. In addition, people who have concerns about taking stimulants can talk to their doctor about non-stimulant ADHD medications as an alternative.
If you have questions about ADHD diagnosis or medication, Done is here to help. Our board-certified clinicians can provide you with accurate information to dispel ADHD myths and guidance on finding the best treatment for your needs.