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The Areas of the Brain Affected by ADHD: What You Need to Know

The Areas of the Brain Affected by ADHD: What You Need to Know

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The Areas of the Brain Affected by ADHD: What You Need to Know
The ADHD Brain

Did you know that ADHD affects different parts of the brain? Recent research has shown that the frontal lobes, cortex, limbic system and reticular activating system are all involved in ADHD. This can have a significant impact on how people with ADHD function day-to-day.

This article will discuss the brain areas affected by ADHD and what you need to know about it!

What goes on inside an ADHD brain?

What is the difference between an ADHD brain and a non-ADHD brain? Is it true that an ADHD brain is different from a neurotypical one? According to research, the ADHD brain is always active and craves stimulation. ADHD brains have a lower dopamine level, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and behaviour. ADHD brains also have trouble filtering out distractions.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity problems. It affects children and adults, though it is most commonly diagnosed in childhood. ADHD brains are different from neurotypical brains in several ways.

So what does this all mean? People with ADHD often have difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks and controlling impulsive behaviour.

A person with ADHD is in a battle with their brain. It’s difficult to force an unengaged brain to pay attention by sheer willpower.

The ADHD brain struggles to filter out distractions

In reality, most ADHD treatment entails teaching patients how to psych themselves out to focus on lower-stimulation activities.

What is the difference between an ADHD brain and a normal brain?

A neurotypical brain has what is called a “default mode network.” This is the network that is responsible for daydreaming, ruminating and self-reflection. People with ADHD do not have this default mode network.

Instead, they have a “task-positive network.” This means that their brain is always seeking stimulation and novelty. They are constantly looking for something to do. This can be both a good and a bad thing.

The task-positive network is the reason why people with ADHD are often able to hyperfocus on tasks that they are interested in. It is also the reason why they can have difficulty paying attention to things that are not interesting to them.

What is it that makes ADHD brains different?

ADHD brains have difficulty regulating activity levels. This means that they are often more active than non-ADHD brains. ADHD brains also have trouble filtering out distractions. This can make it difficult for people with ADHD to focus on one task.

Research has shown that when compared with their non-ADHD peers, adults with ADHD may be:

  • Three times more likely to be unemployed than the average person
  • Twice as likely to have difficulties keeping friends
  • Forty-seven per cent more likely to have trouble managing their finances
  • Four times more likely to have contracted a sexually transmitted infection


Dr Russell Barkley, in his book ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says, released two papers from the University of Massachusetts (the UMASS study) and The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee (the Milwaukee study), both of which were designed to look at secondary effects associated with ADHD.

Secondary endpoints included educational and occupational functioning; drug use and anti-social behaviour; health, lifestyle, money management, and driving; sex, dating, marriage, parenting, and psychosocial adjustment of children; and neurological function. According to the study, adults with ADHD were more likely to use certain illicit drugs, engage in anti-social behaviour, have financial problems, and engage in risky sexual behaviour.

Areas of the Brain Affected by ADHD

The areas of the brain affected by ADHD are the frontal lobes, cortex, limbic system and reticular activating system. These areas are responsible for attention, impulsivity, activity levels and emotions.

The areas of the brain affected by ADHD

The Frontal Lobes

The frontal lobes are located in the front of the brain behind the forehead. This area is crucial for concentration, making good judgments, learning, and memory recall.

The frontal lobes are responsible for executive functioning skills such as planning, organisation and time management. ADHD can make it difficult for people to use these skills effectively.

The frontal lobe aids in focusing attention on a task and its completion. Furthermore, typical frontal lobes involve appropriate action and emotional impulse control under specific conditions. Research and imagery have shown that slow brain wave activity across the frontal lobes correlates with ADHD symptoms and diagnosis.

The Cortex

The cortex, or the inhibitory mechanisms, is comparable to the body’s impulse control centre. A properly functioning cortex results in a “reining in” of hyperactivity and/or angry outbursts, for example. In individuals with ADHD, the cortical inhibitory mechanisms are ineffective, resulting in decreased or no impulse control under certain circumstances.

The cortex also plays a role in short-term memory, affecting ADHD. It is believed that ADHD may be caused by a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters in the cortex.

The Limbic System

The limbic system is found deep in the brain’s core, beneath the cortex, and comprises the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus. The limbic system serves as the brain’s “watchman,” alerting us to potentially dangerous or frightening events.

Energy levels, normal emotional changes, as well as sleep patterns and stress management are all regulated by the limbic system. ADHD can disrupt these functions, causing people to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

People with ADHD may not be able to effectively process information about possible dangers if their limbic system is not working properly, resulting in impulsive or dangerous behaviour. Those with malfunctioning limbic systems may be prone to emotional outbursts or be hypersensitive to their environment.

The Reticular Activating System

The reticular activating system (RAS) is a group of interconnected nuclei in the brainstem. The RAS plays a role in alertness and wakefulness. The RAS controls a person’s ability to pay attention to stimuli and filter out distractions.

ADHD can cause problems with the RAS, resulting in difficulty paying attention and focusing on tasks. The RAS may also be responsible for ADHD symptoms such as hyperactivity and impulsivity.

How do people with ADHD think?

Someone with ADHD, for example, reads a book and concludes that their attention was elsewhere. They have not paid attention to what they were reading and have no recollection of what occurred when they read it. They try once more to concentrate but are distracted by their thoughts about pushing too hard to focus, in which case they find it difficult to comprehend much of what they’ve read.

ADHD can be more than just frustrating; it can be extremely disabling. It’s not simply a matter of being easily distracted. ADHD can make it difficult to follow through on tasks, stick to a schedule, or meet deadlines. It can cause problems at work, at home, and in relationships.

What goes on inside the ADHD brain?

Thoughts originate in various brain regions, but people with ADHD have difficulties organising and focusing on their thoughts. ADHD disrupts a person’s capacity to manage their ideas and actions. It’s not that people with ADHD don’t want to focus or follow through on tasks; they have difficulty doing so because of how ADHD affects their brain.

There is no cure for ADHD/ADD, but there is hope. Medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments can assist people with ADHD live more productive lives. With treatment, people with ADHD can learn to focus on their thoughts and control their actions. They can lead productive, successful lives despite ADHD.

Do ADHD brains work faster?

It depends on the situation. In general, individuals with ADHD aren’t big consumers of information. Their brains aren’t built that way, so they can’t be expected to do so.

People with ADHD frequently rush through the details when preparing something. They may not have the patience to sit down and go through all the specifics. Instead, they’re more likely to get the idea of something and move on as soon as possible instead of spending time going through everything thoroughly.

It isn’t that people with ADHD think faster or slower as a rule. It’s more that in some cases, their style of thinking in generalities and skipping over details is better suited than others.

Adults with ADHD had higher levels of original creative thinking on verbal challenges and greater real-world creative accomplishment than those without ADHD, according to a 2011 research by Holly A. White et al., which investigated creativity in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Another study comparing creative styles with the FourSight Thinking Profile (Puccio, 2002) discovered that those with ADHD had a greater preference for idea generation. In contrast, non-ADHD individuals strongly preferred problem resolution and idea development.

Why are stimulants effective in treating ADHD?

ADHD treatment has changed considerably over time, although stimulant drugs have been one of the most frequently prescribed therapies for many years. Stimulants boost levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to help people be more vigilant and focused.

Stimulants are often used to treat ADHD, which may appear counterintuitive. You might believe someone with ADHD (particularly a child) would benefit from a sedative to calm them down. However, people with ADHD have significantly lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.

How stimulants help ADHD

Stimulants improve attention and concentration by increasing fast brain wave activity in these areas, which is linked to ADHD symptoms. It makes sense that ADHD medication aims to increase these neurotransmitters for someone with the condition to pay better attention and focus.

Amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, lisdexamfetamine, and methylphenidate are all stimulant medications used to treat ADHD and have been proven effective.

Stimulants are hazardous if misused, but prescription stimulants are highly regulated and are intended to be used therapeutically. When taken as prescribed, ADHD medications can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

While the long-term effects of ADHD medications are not fully known, research suggests that they are safe and effective when used as prescribed. While ADHD medications can be very effective, they are not without side effects. The most common side effects of stimulants include:

  • loss of appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • weight loss
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • irritability


Stimulant medications can also cause heart problems in some people with ADHD. Patients taking ADHD medications should be monitored closely by a doctor to ensure they are tolerating the medication well.

Atomoxetine is a non-stimulant ADHD medication that can help patients with the disorder, but it might also have negative effects. These are some of the side effects that atomoxetine can cause:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • trouble sleeping
  • decreased appetite
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • constipation
  • tiredness
  • mood swings


Atomoxetine can also cause more serious side effects, such as liver damage, increased blood pressure, and suicidal thoughts or behaviours. These side effects are rare but can be very serious. As with any medication, a doctor should closely monitor patients while taking atomoxetine to ensure they are tolerating it well.

There are many ADHD medications available, and each patient should work with their doctor to find the best option. Stimulants are generally the first-line treatment for ADHD. Still, non-stimulant medications like atomoxetine can be effective for some people who cannot tolerate or do not respond to stimulants. ADHD medications can effectively manage symptoms, but they are not without risks.

Can exercise improve ADHD symptoms?

Exercise is often recommended as a way to improve ADHD symptoms, and there is some evidence to support this. Exercise has been shown to enhance learning on three levels: It optimises your mindset by improving alertness, attention, and motivation.

Exercising helps nerve cells bind together, which is the cellular basis for learning. It also stimulates the growth of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain concerned with memory and learning.

Exercise and ADHD - can exercise improve ADHD symptoms?

The brain can be shaped by input in the same way a muscle may be trained by lifting barbells. The more you use it, the better it gets. The ADHD brain, contrary to popular belief, is not hardwired but rather is continually rewiring itself.

While there is no cure for ADHD, symptoms can be effectively managed with medication, therapy, and other interventions. If you or someone you know has ADHD, it is important to seek professional help.

In the UK, your GP cannot diagnose ADHD but can refer you to a specialist for an assessment. You can request an ADHD assessment through the NHS or choose to pay a private provider. The most important thing is to seek professional help if you think you or someone you love has ADHD.

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