Some environmental factors contribute to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as childhood stroke and brain injuries. However, genetics is the likely cause in most people.

ADHD is one of the most common mental health conditions doctors diagnose in children. It can be a lifelong condition, though symptoms may present differently in adulthood. Research suggests people tend to be born with ADHD rather than developing it spontaneously.

This article will discuss which environmental factors could be responsible for ADHD and whether a person can avoid or overcome them.

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Photo editing by Lauren Azor; MoMo Productions/Getty Images

Sometimes people think eating too much sugar, watching too much television, or a person’s socioeconomic environment causes ADHD. This is false. None of these factors result in a person developing ADHD.

However, researchers are looking into environmental factors that may be risk factors for ADHD in some people.

They may include:

  • consuming alcohol or tobacco while pregnant
  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • exposure to lead (either during pregnancy or at a young age)
  • brain injury

Although the following environmental factors do not cause ADHD, they may influence the severity of symptoms.

Psychosocial factors

Some psychosocial factors may cause a person to develop ADHD-related health conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. Or they may increase the severity of a person’s symptoms.

Psychosocial factors that could increase the severity of ADHD include:

  • maternal depression
  • a disordered household environment
  • unsupportive parents or primary caregivers
  • poverty

Research is still ongoing to determine exactly how psychosocial factors affect ADHD symptoms.

However, it is important to note that these factors may not have a permanent effect on a person with ADHD.

Other environmental factors

Sometimes the amount of sleep a person has and the activities they do during the day can help alleviate some ADHD symptoms.

A 2017 prospective study found that when children slept for at least 10 hours a day, and participated in activities that stimulated their thinking, they had fewer ADHD symptoms.

Meanwhile, the time they spent watching TV and the amount of physical activity they completed had no impact on ADHD symptoms.

However, some of these findings conflict with evidence that suggests watching too much television and not exercising enough makes ADHD symptoms worse. Therefore, more studies are necessary to support these findings.

Although ADHD is a biological condition, managing environmental stressors could decrease the severity of symptoms.

Parents of children with ADHD should take care to minimize children’s exposure to family conflict, even when their child’s symptoms make parenting a challenge. Family conflict creates stress that could contribute to a child experiencing antisocial behavior symptoms as well as ADHD.

Learn more about childhood behavioral disorders here.

Other tips for parents include:

  • creating routines
  • managing distractions, such as the television
  • limiting choices to avoid overwhelming the child
  • creating a positive environment
  • promoting healthy food choices
  • encouraging physical exercise

Diagnosing ADHD is difficult and requires several tests.

ADHD shares a lot of similar symptoms with conditions that disrupt a person’s sleep or mood. For that reason, some people may receive a diagnosis of these conditions first, before ADHD.

To receive an ADHD diagnosis, a person must meet certain criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

Due to the nature of ADHD, a person must have six or more symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity if they are 16 years old, or five or more if they are 17 years old or an adult. They must also have these symptoms for at least 6 months.

Inattention symptoms include:

  • making careless mistakes
  • not holding attention
  • failing to complete homework or other duties
  • avoiding tasks that require mental effort for a long period
  • losing things
  • becoming easily distracted
  • being generally forgetful during daily activities

Hyperactivity symptoms include:

  • fidgeting or tapping hands and feet
  • getting up often when sitting down
  • leaving situations unexpectedly
  • not playing quietly
  • always on the go
  • talking excessively
  • blurting out answers before a person has finished the question
  • trouble waiting
  • interrupting

If someone thinks they or their child has ADHD, they should get in touch with their doctor, who can arrange testing.

There is no cure for ADHD, but people can receive psychological treatment and medication to help them manage their symptoms.

Parents of children with ADHD who are aged 6 years or younger may receive training in behavior management before a doctor prescribes medication. Parents of older children may get training and medication for their child at the same time.

When a doctor diagnoses an adult with ADHD, they may prescribe therapy and medication.

Some people may initially respond better than others to ADHD treatment, and it could take a while for someone to find what works for them. Nevertheless, they should not give up hope, and should speak with their doctor if their current treatment plan is not working.

Learn more about untreated ADHD in adults here.

Children or adults with ADHD can live a successful life if they are aware of their symptoms and know how to manage them.

Symptoms of ADHD may present differently in adulthood. For example, hyperactivity may appear to be extreme restlessness. They may also notice their high energy levels irritate other people.

Learn more about adult ADHD here.

Some environmental factors that cause ADHD include brain injuries and exposure to lead.

Other factors, such as lack of sleep, increase the severity of ADHD symptoms.

ADHD is a biological condition, meaning structural or chemical changes in the brain are likely to cause the symptoms. A person can manage their symptoms with a combination of therapy and medication.