Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that is widely misunderstood. There are many ADHD myths that stem from unawareness and misinformation. People with ADHD are often portrayed as lazy, drug-seeking, undisciplined, and the list of ADHD myths goes on. But why is ADHD viewed negatively by so many?
ADHD is not easily identifiable or diagnosed. It can also be misdiagnosed as other mental health conditions, making it difficult to understand what ADHD is really like. Here at Ahead, we’re dedicated to sharing the truth about ADHD experiences and advocating for those who feel misunderstood. In this article, we address:
- The top 10 misconceptions about ADHD
- The truth about ADHD
- Having open conversations to dispel ADHD myths
By opening up the conversation to address social stigma, we can help people with ADHD feel more confident and comfortable with their differences. Use this article to help you set the record straight for some of the top ADHD myths and misconceptions, and inspire others to embrace neurodiversity.
Myth #1: "ADHD is not real."
ADHD is a real condition and it affects almost every aspect of a person’s life. ADHD has been defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968.
Another ADHD myth that fuels the idea that “ADHD is not real” is that the inventor of ADHD declared ADHD a fake condition on his deathbed. Let's examine this false claim. In 2009, Leon Eisenberg, a notable child psychiatrist, was interviewed seven months before he passed away. This interview was published in a German magazine called “Der Spiegel” and sparked a lot of controversy over what he said about ADHD.
In the interview, Eisenberg shared his concerns of overdiagnosis and increasing prescription use for ADHD in children. His statements have been mistranslated and misquoted for years as him saying “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease.” This statement led people to think that ADHD was a fake condition.
But the German to English translation of Eisenberg’s statement wasn’t perfect. When he said this, he was referring to the overdiagnosis of ADHD in children, not the actual condition.
Additionally, Eisenberg was a child psychiatrist who contributed a lot of his life’s work to child psychiatry, including autism and ADHD, but he did not “invent” ADHD. Medical conditions occur in nature. Research on ADHD dates back to the early 1900s, and ADHD has existed longer than we know.
Reinforcing the idea that a mental health condition is “fake” can be harmful to those who have ADHD as it promotes negative stigma and discourages them from seeking proper treatment. The bottom line is that ADHD is real. Whether you understand ADHD or not, it’s important to be kind and respectful of others’ experiences.
Myth #2: "ADHD medications are unsafe and highly addictive."
One of the most common ADHD myths is that stimulant medications are unsafe.
It’s important to understand that medications for any health condition diagnosis come with different side effects, risks, and proper adherence instructions. To avoid potential adverse reactions and risks, it's important to receive a proper evaluation from a licensed provider and to take medications only as directed. When people with ADHD take medication responsibly under the care of a physician, ADHD medications can provide a great amount of help managing symptoms day-to-day.
However, ADHD medication can be dangerous to those who don’t have ADHD or misuse medications. For people who don't have ADHD, stimulant medication can disrupt brain communication, cause mood swings and loss of sleep, increase your blood pressure and much more. That’s why ADHD medication requires a prescription and is considered a controlled substance by the DEA. Even for people who have ADHD, medication is not the only answer to managing symptoms.
At Ahead, we believe in empowering patients with diverse options for treatment, both medication and non-medication routes. Our board-certified psychiatric providers and primary care providers do a thorough evaluation with each patient before a diagnosis and starting a treatment plan, and have regular follow-up visits to make sure any medications prescribed are a good fit. Our providers work with each patient to personalize their care, whether it be fine-tuning medication or exploring non-medication options.
Myth #3: "ADHD is not hard to diagnose."
Diagnosing ADHD goes beyond a simple test or questionnaire because ADHD is difficult to diagnose. Unlike physical health conditions like diabetes, ADHD can’t be detected with a simple blood test or scan. An ADHD diagnosis requires a detailed assessment with an experienced mental health provider who understands the complexities of the condition.
Another complication with an ADHD diagnosis is that ADHD symptoms often overlap with other conditions, like depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, and more. This makes it difficult for many to address the root of their symptoms when dealing with co-occurring mental health conditions. A truly experienced mental health provider can identify these co-occurring conditions and help patients create a treatment plan that works for them.
At Ahead, every patient is thoroughly assessed by our providers. Once you’ve completed your complete ADHD evaluation, your provider will give you a diagnosis if appropriate, and ask you to provide any additional information they may need, such as medical clearance or prior medical records. If appropriate, your provider will develop a treatment plan that may include therapy and/or medication. Whether you choose to see a primary care provider or a psychiatric mental health provider for an ADHD diagnosis, it’s important to find someone who understands the complexities of ADHD and helps you rule out other conditions.
Myth #4: “Online ADHD care is just Big Pharma and pill pushers.”
It’s true that prescription medications have a significant role in the mental health industry with more people seeking mental health care than ever before. But online ADHD care is more than prescribing medication. Online ADHD care makes quality ADHD treatment accessible for patients who have limited access to care. This includes marginalized communities, people in rural areas with limited access to pharmacies or mental health facilities, and more. For some people, the tasks of scheduling an appointment, traveling to an in-person office, driving to the pharmacy, and social stigma are barriers that make seeking mental healthcare feel impossible.
Modern patients want mental health care experiences that are convenient, personalized, and simple. Online ADHD treatment helps streamline an otherwise complex process for patients to get the help they need. There is so much social stigma around mental health care, and providing mental health care online can help reduce the stigma by simplifying the path to treatment.
For patients who are prescribed ADHD medication, mail-order prescriptions can help improve medication adherence and ease access to care. However, they are not right for everyone. Whether online or in-person, mental health care should provide diverse treatment paths, including psychotherapy, psychosocial treatments, holistic wellness practices, and more.
At Ahead, every patient completes a thorough evaluation with a licensed provider before receiving any diagnosis or treatment options. Ahead is not a pharmacy and our focus isn’t selling drugs but making mental healthcare more accessible to all.
Myth #5: “ADHD is caused by poor parenting and lack of discipline.”
Dismissing ADHD symptoms as a lack of discipline or poor parenting is an ADHD myth that can be harmful to both the parents and the child with ADHD. There is nothing a parent can do that can cause ADHD in their child. If someone has ADHD, that means they are born with neurological differences in their brain. The condition is not a result of bad parenting. This misconception about parents of children with ADHD reinforces negative feelings of shame and stigma that can lead a concerned parent to avoid seeking treatment for their child who is struggling.
Parents of children with ADHD also need support and understanding so they can provide support for their children. Recent studies suggest that there are many genetic components to ADHD, like many mental health diagnoses. This means that ADHD traits can be passed from parent to child. When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, there’s a strong chance that one of their parents may have ADHD as well.
A parent with ADHD might feel ashamed that they might have passed this condition down to their child, but it’s important to understand that genetics is not voluntary. We can’t pick and choose our genetic predispositions. Many adults with ADHD also go undiagnosed, making it difficult to know whether their child would have ADHD or not.
Poor parenting and lack of discipline don’t cause ADHD, but they can affect how a child with ADHD copes with their symptoms. Children with ADHD need their parents’ support and guidance to help them manage their symptoms. It’s important to be kind to both parents and children with ADHD, rather than blaming the condition on a lack of discipline.
Myth #6: “People who have ADHD are just lazy.”
ADHD is a difference in neurological wiring in the brain. It’s a chronic mental and behavioral condition. But being neurodivergent is not the same as lacking intelligence or diligence. It can be difficult for people with ADHD to stay focused on tasks that are not interesting or challenging. Distractions can easily interrupt their productivity and make it difficult to get things done. However, this does not mean that people with ADHD choose to put off tasks or procrastinate.
The inability to focus, impulsive behaviors, and restlessness associated with ADHD are not voluntary. People with ADHD do not consciously choose to exhibit disruptive behaviors, interrupt conversations, or act restless. Rather, these behaviors result from unique wiring in the brain.
There are many people with ADHD who go undiagnosed because of their academic success during childhood or their diligence at work, like Jessica McCabe. She was praised as an intelligent student in her early school years. But as she got older, school and work environments did not accommodate her ADHD brain well, leading to hardships. She spent years thinking she wasn’t good enough. In reality, her brain was wired differently and the structure of society could not support these differences.
Despite the difficulty of managing symptoms, many people with ADHD are resilient and driven to thrive in high-stress environments, like medical school. Dr. Sasha Hamdani is a board-certified ADHD psychiatrist who has ADHD herself, and she speaks out about her ADHD experiences during her time in medical school. She learned to manage her symptoms with a proper diagnosis and treatment, and encourages others with ADHD to seek help for their symptoms instead of assuming they are “lazy.”
Myth #7: “ADHD just means you're hyperactive and impulsive.”
Contrary to popular belief, ADHD symptoms aren’t limited to hyperactivity and impulsivity. There are three presentations of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined type. Inattentive ADHD is commonly overlooked, undiagnosed, or even misdiagnosed as another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. This occurs often in women with ADHD.
ADHD isn’t limited to young boys fidgeting and being hyperactive. ADHD can also present in a quiet woman who is calm but inattentive to details. While hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is more well known, inattentive ADHD affects more people than you might think.
There are also many other symptoms of ADHD other than being hyperactive and impulsive. People with ADHD can experience time blindness, hyperfocus, rejection sensitive dysphoria, working memory deficit, fatigue and more. There is so much more to ADHD than hyperactivity and impulsivity. It’s important to take the time to understand the diverse presentations of this complex condition.
Myth #8: “People who get treated for ADHD just want to abuse drugs.”
This ADHD myth is harmful to people with ADHD who struggle to access medication because of social stigma and misconceptions about ADHD medication. While there may be people who wrongfully take ADHD medication without a prescription, that doesn’t mean that the people with ADHD who are prescribed medication should bear the heavy weight of stigma and misunderstanding.
Studies show that medications work very well for managing many mental health conditions. There is a potential for abuse and addiction with any stimulant medication, especially if a person has a history of substance abuse. But more importantly, there is no evidence that medications used to treat ADHD lead to drug abuse. Recent research shows that individuals with ADHD had a lower incidence of substance use disorder if they were medically treated than if they were not treated.
ADHD medication is not for everyone. Only a licensed provider can assess people with ADHD to determine their need for medication.
Myth #9: “ADHD didn't exist when I was growing up.”
This is another myth of ADHD that is misleading. Before ADHD was identified as a medical condition in the DSM, ADHD symptoms had been described in literature for centuries. ADHD is a condition that has always been around, but the definition, name, and defining symptoms have evolved over time as ADHD research continued to develop.
In the past, there was limited research on ADHD. The public’s knowledge of ADHD was limited to the stereotype of a young boy who is hyperactive and impulsive. ADHD has existed longer than we know. As new research emerges, we’re able to recognize more subtle or complex symptoms of ADHD that didn’t seem like they existed before.
Myth #10: “Kids with ADHD eventually outgrow their symptoms.”
This ADHD myth is untrue because ADHD is a lifelong condition. Many ADHDers adapt into adulthood and naturally learn healthier lifestyle habits, routines, and productivity strategies that work for their needs. But they still have ADHD. It’s not a condition that simply goes away. It’s not “curable” but it is treatable. That’s why starting treatment early, whether medication or non-medication, can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms better.
Children with ADHD can grow into adults who continue to struggle the longer their symptoms go unaddressed. It’s also common for untreated ADHD to co-occur with other mental health conditions, making it more difficult for adults with ADHD to find the right treatment for their symptoms.
Another interesting point is that there is growing evidence to suggest that ADHD can emerge for the first time during adulthood. Adult ADHD is more complex than a straightforward continuation of the childhood disorder. It’s time that we normalize adult ADHD and understand how ADHD can evolve over time or develop well after adolescent years.
Having open conversations to dispel ADHD myths
While the list of ADHD myths seems endless, you can help establish more awareness about ADHD by having open and honest conversations with others. It can be disheartening and sometimes even triggering to constantly hear or see judgmental comments about ADHD that are misleading. Our first instinct might be to blast others for their ignorance or make them feel bad about themselves. Engaging in heated arguments with others may result in more negative views about ADHD, but opening up a civil conversation about ADHD myths can be a good step in the right direction.
Sharing your personal experience with ADHD may not change society’s perception of the condition, but it helps expose the people around you to the reality of living with ADHD. What do you wish more people would understand about ADHD and neurodiversity? Your story matters, and it can help the neurodiverse community address social stigma on a more personal level.
Start by opening up to the people close to you. It’s important to gain a sense of community and support from people you trust. It can be difficult to start a conversation about ADHD or mental health with others, but we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you talk about mental health in your relationships.
If you’re not comfortable opening up to a loved one yet, share your story with a licensed health care provider who understands instead. A provider can help you make sense of your condition and gain more confidence to talk about it. Start opening up about your ADHD experiences to help you build a strong support system – because no one should deal with the social stigma around mental health alone.
The truth about ADHD
These 10 ADHD facts and myths are just the tip of the iceberg when addressing the reality of the condition. ADHD is a complex mental health condition that goes beyond a simple checklist of symptoms or traits. It’s a condition that can affect daily functioning, relationships, work life, personal life and more.
Reinforcing ADHD stereotypes that are untrue or misleading can be harmful to those who struggle with social stigma, shame and judgment from others. Neurodiversity should be recognized and respected, not shamed and judged.
At Ahead, our licensed providers welcome neurodiversity and are experienced in helping patients navigate complex mental health conditions like ADHD, anxiety, depression and more. When you feel ready to share your story, we’re here for you. Let’s embrace our differences and have meaningful conversations to address the myths of ADHD that prevent people from prioritizing their mental health.