Eli5- Whats the science behind ADHD?

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Why is my brain so scattered and unable to focus on simple tasks? When I take my medications, I feel a lot better, but I’m so curious why this happens in the first place. Am I missing something in my brain? Are neurotransmitters not working? plz.

In: Biology

5 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The brain is a delicate balance of forces. If your brain is too consistent and repetitive, your creativity is low and you don’t contribute very much to the tribe. In prehistoric times, that could get you killed, or at the very least not selected as a mate.

If your brain is more variable, you have bigger creative sparks and you can invent new things. That’s generally useful, but finding a mate generally involved learning to control impulses and self-censor your most outrageous ideas.

Today, we have drugs, which can make learning this sort of control easier, but it’s still far from easy. We have an education system that’s less likely consider you “possessed by the devil” and stone you to death, but that’s another dimension where “easier” ≠ “easy”.

Everybody has characteristics, like being tall or left-handed, which bring their own challenges and advantages. Everybody’s learning to exploit their advantages and control their challenges. Hopefully mental challenges are being managed more humanely, though your mileage may vary.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Unlike many other psychiatric medications, the way ADHD medications treat the condition is believed to be understood.

People with ADHD have been shown to have decreased activity in the prefrontcal cortex and this structure is understood to play an important role in decision making by integrating information from other regions. Because of this, ADHD is now sometimes referred to as Executive Function Disorder.

The stimulants you take as medication will increase activity everywhere in your brain. This leads to increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is known to be hypoactive in people with ADHD.

Because stimulants raise the activity levels in your prefrontal cortex to that close to a neurotypical brain it will function similar to a neurotypical brain.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is associated with motivation and reward. It makes you happy. Various things can cause your brain to release dopamine. Completing a difficult task, being rewarded/praised, even eating.

The brain needs dopamine to function effectively, but people with ADHD produce less. This means they are very hungry for dopamine similar to food. They are starving and fatigued from a lack of the dopamine so have trouble focusing on things that people would normally find rewarding because other people get the adequate amount of dopamine.

Now, if something is able to break through and excite them enough, it’s like they get a big feast after being starved. And they want more and more. So they will be able to focus very intensively on something, but otherwise, they are usually just trying to find something more interesting to think about and so their brain just goes everywhere.

ADHD meds stimulate the brain so that it is not always super hungry for stimulation and you are able to prioritize tasks you might not have motivation otherwise to do.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Testing to see if it lets me post cause I wrote a massive response and maybe hit the cancel button? Wow, what the heck, here we go but more succinct:

ADHD meds are a shotgun approach. They release dopamine (makes you feel what you are doing should be repeated, like studying) and norepinephrine (what you are doing is important). People with ADHD have less dopamine in the prefrontal cortex (the NET re-uptake will actually work for dopamine there, but then you won’t feel good without dopamine everywhere else).

But here is a hot take you won’t get in a sub like this: The overall effect is to try and modulate glutamate, the main excitatory amino acid that causes neuro-transmission. You will probably find that your ADHD meds will work a lot better if you supplement magnesium because it will block the glutamate channel when it is ready to close so no more calcium keeps sending signals.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Like all other psychiatric conditions, we don’t really know and there isn’t much beyond the subjective responses of people. This is why there is no test besides interviewing, questionnaires and psychological testing. The mind is a black box.

We know what drugs like amphetamines do on a biological level because we’ve stuck probes in mice. That doesn’t tell us at all how they affect the mind, which as I said before is a black box. What we do know is mostly based on examining people’s experiences. Stimulant drugs help some people manage their thoughts and executive functions better, and the potential for improvement is greater where the executive function deficit is greater.

Many people add conjecture between those experiences and the drugs, many doctors and the internet is full of it. The reality is we just don’t know. Focus is much more than just dopamine, it is a multilayer system that we don’t understand. Just because a drug dumping your dopamine reserves into your brain helps some people, doesn’t provide adequate conclusion there was anything wrong regarding dopamine transmitters in the first place, we don’t know the many knock-on effects on other systems that will have, and there are over a hundred types of neurotransmitters in the brain and all are important.