Last updated:

October 23, 2023


 min read

The causes of ADHD: Genetics, Environment, or Both?

Explore the causes of ADHD: Genetics, Environment, or Both? Learn how genetic factors and environmental influences contribute to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Discover the interplay between genes and surroundings in ADHD development .

Reviewed by
Reyana D’Souza
Written by
Malvika Rathi

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common neurodevelopmental disorder marked by hyperactivity and difficulty in paying attention, which is usually recognised in childhood and can manifest in a variety of forms. There are many possible causes of ADHD but the precise cause remains a mystery. 

Although those who have ADHD are likely to have a genetic predisposition to ADHD, environmental factors can also affect how severe the condition is. Stress and conflict often make it worse. To understand the latest developments in the area on possible causes, read on!

Genetic Causes of ADHD

The available data indicates that ADHD is a hereditary condition. According to estimates, more than 70% of people with ADHD are genetically influenced but this does not mean that if the parent has ADHD, the child will have it too. 

ADHD genes can be passed on to children without being activated. A child has a greater than 50% probability of developing ADHD if one or both parents have it, and a greater than 30% likelihood if an older sibling has it. 

In case the child inherits ADHD from a parent, the parent's subtype of ADHD will not have any bearing on the child's ADHD presentation. Families with ADHD have so far yielded several gene possibilities. However, according to experts, the manifestation of ADHD symptoms is not caused by one specific gene but rather by the interaction of a number of these genes with the environment. 

Another important piece of information to note is that ADHD does not have any sex difference. Some people falsely believe that since fathers are the only ones who can have ADHD, a child cannot potentially develop it, and this statement is far from true. 

Research suggests that children with ADHD have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Additionally, brain metabolism is lower in the regions of the brain that regulate attention, social judgement, and movement. This was discovered by researchers who employed PET (positron emission tomography) scanners. It is a type of brain imaging technique that enables one to see the human brain at work. 

Environmental Factors that could contribute to ADHD

Issues with Pregnancy 

Children who were prematurely born, had low birth weights, or whose mothers experienced challenging pregnancies have an increased risk of developing ADHD. The same holds for kids whose frontal lobe of the brain, which governs impulses and emotions, has suffered a head injury. 

According to research studies, pregnant mothers who smoke or use alcohol may increase their child's risk of developing ADHD. A contributing factor could be lead, PCB, or pesticide exposure. 

It has also been discovered that some toxins may prevent proper brain growth. These researchers point out that this could lead to hyperactivity, impulsive conduct, and difficulty paying attention.

Injuries and other illnesses

Learning and attention issues might be brought on by disorders like meningitis or encephalitis. Brain impairment, such as an early brain injury, trauma, or any obstruction to normal brain development, can also cause a small number of individuals to develop ADHD symptoms. 

According to a study that was published in JAMA Pediatrics, children who have experienced traumatic head injuries, even if they were less severe, are more likely to experience ADHD for up to 10 years after the injury.

Managing Environmental Stressors 

As a neurodevelopmental disorder, ADHD is considered to have a significant genetic component and there is no way to avoid it because genetics may predispose individuals to it. However, there are a few steps expectant parents should take to make sure their baby is generally healthy:

  • Receiving adequate maternity care 
  • Reducing exposure to environmental contaminants such as lead and pesticides 
  • Pregnant women should refrain from using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco

There are also things you may do to assist manage ADHD symptoms, like: 

  • Establishing a framework and clear expectations with your kid 
  • Engaging in regular physical activity 
  • Refraining from stimulating activities, particularly before needing to sleep
  • Obtaining enough sleep 

Factors which do not cause ADHD 

The latest developments in research show that the following factors can be ruled out as causes of ADHD: 

Parenting Styles

These do not cause ADHD but there are techniques which parents and primary caregivers can deploy to assist a child with ADHD. 

Playing Video Games

There is no proof that playing video games causes or exacerbates ADHD. Additionally, some children with ADHD could be drawn to fast-paced video games. Video games can cause children with ADHD to "hyperfocus," which might result in them playing them for an excessive amount of time. Therefore, even though the games themselves do not cause ADHD, parents may need to restrict their use, especially in kids who already have the disorder.


Eating healthy is good for the brain but no particular dietary pattern has been known to cause ADHD. 

Final Word 

Although there is no cure for ADHD, there are numerous effective options to manage the condition. The purpose of treatment is to assist kids in strengthening their social bonds, excelling academically, and reducing their disruptive or dangerous behaviours. 

Medication is frequently essential and can be highly beneficial but that itself is not the solution. The best outcomes are typically achieved when medication and psychotherapy are combined. At Rocket Health, we provide online psychotherapy which is judgement-free and highly effective. Schedule a session with our mental health experts today to devise treatment plans which are individualised and highly effective.