ADHD is a genetic condition, study says
September 29th, 2010
06:30 PM ET

ADHD is a genetic condition, study says

A new study in the Lancet provides the first direct evidence that genetic abnormalities are responsible for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD.

Although previous research had shown that ADHD can be inherited, no specific genes have been identified before that seem to underlie this condition. But that doesn't mean that someone with these particular genetic markers will have ADHD, experts say.

"This tells us that there is a biological marker that tells us that this person is susceptible to develop this disease," said Dr. Robert Marion, chief of genetics and developmental medicine at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

Researchers led by Dr. Nigel Williams at the Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales fully analyzed data from 366 children with ADHD and 1,047 who did not have ADHD.

The Lancet study finds that children with ADHD have more large, rare copy-number variants than children without the condition. "Copy-number variants" are pieces of DNA that are either missing or extraneous in the chromosomes. Other studies have suggested that these variants may be associated with schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Specifically, this study suggests a shared biological basis between ADHD and autism because of the shared genetic characteristics found in this study. Researchers also found genetic overlaps with schizophrenia.

""Eventually we’re going to be able to do testing that will identify susceptibility to ADHD or other conditions," Marion said.

But that test won't be available any time soon, especially because there appear to be a large number of variations in DNA that predispose a person to ADHD, Marion said.

The results suggest that ADHD is "not purely a social construct," the study authors wrote. "It’s a real hard and true disorder," Marion added.

On the other hand, this doesn't rule out environmental factors, Marion said. It may be that specific environments determine whether a person with these genetic variations goes on to develop ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, or nothing at all. However, scientists do not yet know precisely what those factors are.

In the future, as more becomes known about the genetics of ADHD, interventions may be tailored toward specific children before they begin to have serious problems in school, Marion said.

The study's "results are exciting, but how these findings will be clinically translated is still speculative," writes J. Peter Burbach, of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, in a Comment in the journal. More research should be done to further examine the associations between these genes and their outcomes.

ADHD has caused a great deal of controversy as parents struggle to appropriately treat their children.

Given that there may be nearly 1 million misdiagnoses of ADHD in the United States, a better grip on the biological basis of it may help mental health professionals distinguish ADHD from other problems.

soundoff (618 Responses)
  1. EthicalAspie

    I wish that some of those who claim ADHD does not exist would spend a week living with the disorder. I was diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school, when they realized that the reason I still wasn't reading was because I physically couldn't sit still long enough to learn how. Six months later, after therapy and medication, I was reading at well above my grade level.
    I come from a family of very intelligent people, who also have a history of ADHD and autism. Learning to cope, and applying strategies has helped most of us to build successful lives and careers, but I know that if I hadn't had the kind of support I did, I would be working for minimum wage to support myself, instead of attending a top college.
    This is a real disease, with real consequences, and I have nothing but admiration for those who also have this disease and who have managed to achieve their goals.

    October 1, 2010 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Matthew J. Vargo

    To Dr. Robert Marion: Dear Sir, I, nor are others like me "diseased" as you put it. The DSM-IV states that ADHD and ADD are disorders. We are not "diseased", Sir, and I take offense to you saying so. Thank-you for reading.

    October 1, 2010 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Kasey

    ADHD is something you cant concentrate with. I know I have it.

    October 1, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. KM

    I am 50 years old and was always very intelligent, good at sports, and NERVE-WRACKING. Over time I learned to control my impulsivity but I am sure that a lot of teasing that I got in school was due to ADHD-damaged relationships. I have now taught high school for 25 years and I can pick out ADHD students in a class within a week and they are actually few. I try very hard to take them out in the hall to talk to them and give them a moment to gather control of themselves rather than send them to the office. Unfortunately, unmedicated ADHD teenagers frequently do not finish high school because their impulsivity gets them in trouble. I went to a medical conference and have read many research reports. The symptoms of ADHD is an understimulated frontal lobe, where attention span and judgment is located. The stimulant medications stimulate the frontal lobe so that they function normally. However, it is important to have the right prescription or students can indeed be 'overmedicated.' Tolerance does not build up if the medicine is only taken on school days, not weekends or holidays. I have two sons (out of 5 children) who were treated for ADHD and I made it abundantly clear to them that the medication was not 'Be Good" medicine but that the medicine helped them to gain control of themselves. One son is in college majoring in physics. The other son is in a prison/mental institution with schizo-affective disorder. There may indeed be a link between ADHD and some predisposition to mental disorders. I know a lot of people won't agree with me but you are all welcome to your opinion and God bless you.

    October 1, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jennifer

    I'm interested in what Brain Balance – http://www.brainbalancecenters.com – has to say about the issue: that all neurobehavioral disorders have in common an underlying condition called functional disconnection syndrome. Their stance is that through diet, behavior modification, brain exercises and educational techniques that help make connections, you can reduce or eliminate symptoms. While their site doesn’t really talk cause (environment, genetics, etc.) it is worth a read, particularly the “truth” section. I think it gets to the heart of what you can DO once your loved one is affected. They are brain based, not drug based so it's a much more natural approach to improving brain function.

    October 4, 2010 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. sonovagun

    It figures. A bunch of posts denying the fact that ADHD even exists because "it didn't exist 40 years ago." Yeah, you dummies, it did. You simply weren't aware of it. The kids in your classes who acted up, couldn't sit still, didn't learn because they couldn't focus? Guess what? They got kicked out. They flunked out. They quit school at 16. You dimwits think that if you weren't aware of something, it didn't happen.


    October 12, 2010 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. sarah Buchanan

    Is there any evidence linking ADHD with sperm from fathers using cocaine?

    November 14, 2010 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. sarah Buchanan

    Is there any evidence linking cocaine use by father to ADHD child....what about the affect of cocaine on sperm?

    November 14, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Alexa C

    Wow. I am a 17 year old senior in high school currently writing my senior project paper about the fact that ADHD IS a REAL disoder that affects EVERY SINGLE aspect of a persons life. I was diagnosed the summer after my sophmore year of highschool, during which I broke down in EVERY aspect of my life. My straight A's turned into Bs and Cs with the occasional A, I couldn't be around my parents without fighting with them, I lost nearly ALL of my friends, became depressed, everyday was just filled with confusion, panic, anger, frustration, guilt. I just felt stupid and like i was never going to succeed. I knew something was wrong, and i thought i had ADHD but my parents assummed I was just being a typical teenage girl going through the drama and challenges of highschool. Finally my parents were convinced that something owas wrong and after completing 7 hours of testing for learning disabilities i was diagnosed with severe ADD (along with Exectutive Functioning problems). The doctor told me that my suddcen breakdown was not uncommon in girls like me because until that point I was ble to compensate for the ADHD. I now take medication which extremely helps however each day is still a challenge. The main reason being that the only people that truely understand are those that also struggle with ADHD. My best friend (and one of my only friends after losing them all) also has ADHD; she was diagnosed around the same time. We are so close because we actually understand each other.
    Basically I just wanted to tell all the ignorant, pathetic idiots that are saying ADHD is not a real disorder and does not deserve research that they need to SHUT THE HELL UP! NONE of you have any idea what you are talking about. I am currently sitting here in tears reading your pathetic, uneducated comments. Its idiots like you that make life even more of a struggle for people like me that suffer from ADHD. I never knew how ignorant and just plain stupid people could be until i read this. ADHD is a VERY real disorder!

    November 17, 2010 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alexa C

      and please no one comment on my many gramatical errors. its midnight and i still have about 3 hours of homework adhead of me, after pulling an allnighter last night doing homework as well i really am not too concerned about my grammar right now.
      this is the life of teenager with ADHD. IT SUCKS.

      November 17, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
  10. Alexa C

    thomas j parker, you are ignorant and pathetic. you have no idea what it is like to suffer from ADHD so shut the hell up!
    my mom suffered from breast cancer and survived, as did her mother. Many close to our family and in our family have suffered from various forms of cancer and some have not been as lucky as my mom. However after seeing how ADHD as effectd my life and how much i have struggled she agrees that MORE money and effort should go toward researching learning disabilites such as ADHD.
    so shut up and stop being so ignorant.

    November 20, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. John THE doped

    ADHD is A lie.... So lets develop better meth and test it on kids. then say they are hyperactive, and later when they are dummer it is cause they have ADHD... Drug companies The FDA and etc all a joke!!!!!!!

    Please don't drug your kids!!!

    February 8, 2011 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lilly

      Adderall, Ritalin, Strattera and the other ADHD medications are NOT meth. Read my post. They are entirely different in chemical composition. At prescription doses, these medications do not cause a high.

      May 1, 2012 at 08:58 | Report abuse |
  12. Lilly

    To all of you calling Adderall and Ritalin "meth", you are simply wrong. Adderall is composed to two types of dextroamphetamine and Ritalin is composed of methylphenidate. These chemical compounds are entirely different from each other. Oh, and Cocaine is not an amphetamine AT ALL. Cocaine is a serotonin–norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitor. For those of you that are going to say "meth" is in a few of these...the prefix "meth" means one carbon atom. Many harmless substances have "meth" in their name. People need to pick up a science book every now and then. If some of you trailer dwellers were to take my 10MG adderall, you would just focus a little more intently on Jerry Springer. It does not cause a high at prescription doses. Drug abusers will abuse anything. Some people even sniff glue. The "giving kicks coke" or "meth" arguement is futile to the educated.

    May 1, 2012 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 29, 2012 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Im 16 i am on adhd but when i masterbate my sperm is mixed with urine and when im done i use the restroom and the head of my penis hurts really bad and it gets really red any suggestions?

    October 23, 2012 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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    If your child was in a seperate room and a meth lab was cooking....does that mean you are responsibly for your 10 year old son having adhd....or does it come from his father or hos fathers brother....he doesnt have to take it everyday cause his grades are up in school..
    .but my mom blames me for his adhd...and he is only on 5mg a day and doesnt like taking it....help tell me what causes hos adhd

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