What is Happening in the ADHD Brain?
Brain research on ADHD is an ongoing and constantly evolving field. This blog post has been researched and written in 2020, I will update as I learn more. Right now, research tells us that complications and deficiencies in certain neurotransmitters are a key element to understanding ADHD and in fact underlie many disorders including ADHD, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and certain mood disorders. (Silver 2020) In this blog post we will explore three neurotransmitters that are a part of ADHD research: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The important piece to remember is that neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that communicate within the brain and to the rest of the body via our central nervous systems. When things go awry with the levels of these messengers, you start to see the impact via symptoms in areas such as attention, mood, memory, organization, and sleep.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is attached to the brain’s reward and pleasure centre. Dopamine impacts mood, motivation, attention, and movement. Research used to indicate that low levels of dopamine was a significant factor in ADHD, but we have since learned that it is more complicated. What newer research seems to indicate is that people with ADHD seem to actually have an overly efficient system to remove dopamine.This means that dopamine is being removed too quickly and as a result, even though the ADHD brain has normal amounts of dopamine, it is being removed before it can exert it’s full impact on mood and attention.
Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter that impacts the ADHD brain. Norepinephrine can act as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. This means that norepinephrine can act as a neurotransmitter communicating within the brain and the central nervous system, sending messages via the spinal cord. But, norepinephrine can also act as a hormone sending messages to the body via the bloodstream. Norepinephrine acts as a stress hormone and is a part of the flight or fight response.
Research shows us that the ADHD brain tends to have low levels of norepinephrine. Additionally, norepinephrine is synthesized by dopamine, which means that the ADHD impact on dopamine also impacts norepinephrine. Low norepinephrine is known to impact many parts of the brain and body, in particular mood and attention.
Serotonin is another neurotransmitter implicated by research to impact ADHD. Serotonin has an impact on mood, social behavior, sleep, and memory. Low levels of serotonin may impair these important functions.
In conclusion, brain research has uncovered changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. These three neurotransmitters impact functions including, mood, motivation, movement, attention, social behaviour, sleep and memory. These varying levels of neurotransmitters tend to differ between the different subtypes of ADHD. All areas of the brain are impacted by these neurotransmitters, but the frontal cortex which is responsible for attention, executive functioning, and organization is particularly impacted.
What does this mean for someone with ADHD? Well, as I always say, knowledge is power. There are pharmacological, natural, and behavioural interventions that we can put into place that can have an impact on these neurotransmitters. Certain ADHD medications specifically increase dopamine for example. Making lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise also impact the levels of neurotransmitters in our brain. Following a coaching program that helps to shape our environment to better fit the unique ADHD brain is another piece.
For more brain info check out these articles!
The ADHD brain – ADDitude Magazine – Includes a video
Neurotransmitter Changes with ADHD
Strengths Based ADHD and Behaviour Coaching
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