How Does ADHD Affect the Brain: Chemistry, Physiology, and More

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
January 12, 2024

Ever get unsolicited advice like “just be calm” or “be more attentive”? Even getting accused of being “just lazy” while feeling trapped, knowing your condition is not your fault?

Good news; you're right. It's not your fault, buddy. Brain is a bad guy here.

Let me spill the beans on how ADHD affects the brain and messes with the mind's focus, impulse control, and memory.

[ADHD Brain Differences] What's up with ADHD Brain?

In a nutshell, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder; so it is not a chicken-and-egg problem. It is likely caused by differences in your brain that affect mental skills like impulsivity, attention, memory, and emotional control. (1)

ADHD, as a troublemaker, affects the frontal lobes, cortex, limbic system, and reticular activating system in our head, along with hormone imbalances. 

In trivial terms, ADHD = low dopamine and sluggish mental activity. Double trouble 😬

Why is this happening? Well, the exact cause isn't clear. Yet, scientists can tell us the main activities in the attention-deficit hyperactivity brain.

[ADHD Brain Chemistry] Different kinds of chemistry

We all have a network of messengers in our brain, aka neurotransmitters. They let neurons, small bricks of the nervous system, talk to each other. And there are these two main mood messengers: dopamine and noradrenaline.  

Here's where it gets wonky in ADHD-prone minds. The dopamine system doesn't quite play by the rules (2). It's because there's not enough of this dopamine-y stuff, or it's just getting wasted.
So the formula is simple: low dopamine = poor connection between cells, thus less motivation and energy. Basically, you're driving a car with no gas, no fuel tanks, or an icky engine.
Well, let's just say the ADHD brain throws tantrums when it's time to finish a project with a looming deadline.

[ADHD Brain Layout] Different brain design 

Imagine you have a “brake system” in your head called the cortex. Part of your brain tells you when to slow down when you are too hyper or suddenly getting pissed off. So, when the cortex is doing its job well, you are in charge of controlling your impulses.
But with ADHD, these brakes aren't working properly. That's why you can't sometimes curb your whims.
Here is another brain area with a tricky function - the “frontal lobe.” Located just behind the forehead, it is responsible for concentration, learning, and remembering things. 

Spoiler: it also works just differently for ADHDers. Probably that’s why you often forget things, like your phone or keys. Like all the time.
Way back in the skull, there's another tiny but vital thing called RAS (reticular activating system). It's like your body's internal alarm clock, telling you when it's time to wake up and when it's time to sleep. Also, it's the one who calls out, "Focus, buddy!".
If it slows down, you earn some sleep-related troubles and are prone to lose your focus in 2 sec when literally trying to concentrate on a serious mission that you can't mess up.

[Numo: ADHD App] Go Beyond Limits with Numo App ADHD Helper

So, you may ask, “Am I doomed to be less functional than normies”? Hm. Don't make snap judgments yet. 

Even though ADHD affects some brain areas, you can still do great things. For instance, many creative people have ADHD and thrive in their daily grinds and careers.
Continuous research into neurobiological factors gives us hope for addressing ADHD's challenges in the future. Until then, through support and strategies, every ADHDer can manage their unique brain wiring way better.
Friends and family, armed with self-care techniques, are definitely a big help. But the real game-changer is Numo: Cringe-free ADHD app.
You can use it as a one-stop shop for everything to cope with ADHD. Let’s see what we have:

  • Smart tools for planning and organizing, so bye-bye to the daily grind of chaos
  • Static noise generator provides a calm background to help clear your mental noise
  • Daily short reads packed with strategies and coping tactics for ADHD relationships

Exciting, yeah?

Embark on a journey to overcome physical setbacks that hold you back!

[Sources] Sources

1. The Lancet Psychiatry. Subcortical brain volume differences in participants with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults: a cross-sectional mega-analysis.
2. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment Journal. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome.

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