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For many, the underlying assumption about Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder is that ADD prevents people from paying attention because their minds are constantly racing. In other words, their brains are moving so fast, the world is a blur, and paying attention is almost impossible.
However, as we learn more about ADHD/ADD, it turns out that maybe the opposite is true. Yes, the mind of someone with Attention Deficit Disorder can, and does race, but the racing may, in fact, be a symptom of the disorder, and not one of the causal factors.
As a result of numerous studies, scientists have linked ADD/ADHD to the neurotransmitter/neurohormone, Dopamine. Among many functions, Dopamine regulates how a person interacts with their environment: attention, motivation, and self-control. It is believed that people with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder have lower levels of Dopamine in their brains, and as a result, their brains require higher than average stimulation in order to engage their surroundings.
This theory explains why people with ADHD are uninterested in "boring" activities, and, instead, are constantly searching for something exciting/stimulating. Such behavior is a way of self-medicating. They are attempting to jump start their brains, and they do so by engaging in behaviors that offer quick rewards: talking on the phone, playing video games, smoking, drinking coffee, driving too fast, putting important tasks off to the last minute, etc.
All of these activities stimulate the brain raising Dopamine levels. Unfortunately, the "high" one gets is short lived ,therefore, a person with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder is forever searching for more stimulation. This is the "hyperactivity" most people associate with ADHD.
So, what does this have to do with not being able to pay attention? Well, it should be obvious. If the brain of someone with ADD/ADHD is in a constant search for stimulation just to be able to function at a "normal" level, all un-stimulating activities such as, conversations, lectures in school, paying bills, doing homework, and/or chores are relegated to the back burner. Some with ADHD even describe these activities as "painful."
People with Attention Deficit Disorder want to pay attention, but unless the activity is interesting or exciting, it requires a great deal of effort, which, ironically, makes concentrating all the more difficult. This is why medications are a very important part of ADHD/ADD treatment. It is believed that stimulants mimic Dopamine in the brain, and because of this they reduce the desire to seek out stimulation elsewhere. Once a person is stabilized, it becomes less of a struggle for them to participate in the daily routine of life or, as a person with ADHD might say, "The boring stuff."
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|