8 Myths About ADHD

8 Myths About ADHD

There are plenty of inaccuracies and misunderstandings about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) floating around. Here, we tackle eight of the most common misconceptions and provide some real answers from three ADHD treatment professionals.

Myth #1: ADHD only affects children.

Truth: While it’s true that most cases of ADHD appear to manifest in childhood, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says that ADHD is also prevalent in about four percent of the American adult population, which translates into 8 million adults.1 Surprisingly, fewer than 20 percent of those adults have actually been diagnosed or treated.2

Many adults don’t realize they have ADHD because they weren’t diagnosed in childhood and don’t understand what the symptoms entail. “Often, the symptoms of ADHD don’t cause challenges until college, adulthood, or even in menopause in women,” says Lynn Miner-Rosen, MEd, BCC, CDCS, a board-certified ADHD coach in Boca Raton, Florida. Symptoms, such as not paying bills on time, being chronically late to work and appointments, forgetting important dates, and not meeting deadlines, may become so debilitating that the adult finally seeks treatment.

Myth #2: Children diagnosed with ADHD will outgrow it as adults.

Truth: Although some children do outgrow their ADHD, the ADAA says that around 60 percent do not.3 “Some children learn coping mechanisms that allow them to function well in the world as adults and their symptoms become either well-managed or less obvious,” says Sarah Shore, MS, a life coach for adolescents and adults with ADHD in Philadelphia. However, she says, “in many cases, adults struggle just as much as children as they try to achieve success in the world.”

60% of children don't outgrow ADHD

Myth #3: Taking ADHD medication makes a person more likely to abuse drugs.

Truth: “Actually, it’s almost the opposite,” says Judy Brenis, an ADHD and life coach in La Selva Beach, California. “People that don’t address their ADHD are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs because it gives them some relief from the constant barrage of thoughts or hyperactivity. For those people that take medication, it can go a long way in preventing abusing drugs or alcohol.”

Miner-Rosen and Shore concur. “My clients who take medication for their ADHD symptoms do not want to take the medication and are not using or abusing drugs,” says Miner-Rosen. “They take medication because it makes a big difference in the quality of their life and the time they spend on work and other daily tasks. Their doctors have clearly explained to them the possible side effects of using or abusing recreational drugs and alcohol while taking the ADHD medication.”

While most ADHD medications are stimulants, which can certainly be addictive, “most people with ADHD genuinely benefit from stimulant medication to help with focus and concentration,” Shore says. “For many people, the benefits far outweigh the risks.” These types of medications are also strictly monitored,” she says.

Myth #4: If you aren’t hyperactive, you don’t have ADHD.

Truth: When many of us hear the term ADHD, we picture a disruptive child who can’t sit still, but there are actually three types, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5), the gold standard for diagnosing mental health disorders: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive and combined (a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive).4 Inattentive is the type that is most often overlooked precisely because it usually does not have the hyperactive component. Rather, the person has trouble with mental tasks, such as listening to others, being able to concentrate on work, organization, deadlines, and difficulty in paying attention to details. Distractibility, a lack of following through, forgetfulness, losing things and avoiding tasks that take significant mental effort are also components of this type of ADHD.

Myth #5: ADHD affects boys more than girls.

Truth: The reality is that ADHD affects both genders equally, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that boys are diagnosed with ADHD nearly three times more often than girls.5 This is because boys are more likely to exhibit the hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD, which manifests itself in physical behavior, whereas girls are likelier to have inattentive ADHD. Kids with the inattentive type may slide through the cracks because their struggles are more internal than external and are not as obvious to their teachers and parents. ADHD in girls “often goes undiagnosed until they are 12 or older,” Miner-Rosen says.

“A lot of girls aren’t diagnosed because they’re more dreamy. They’re just sitting there in class, not causing problems, but they’re not paying attention,” says Brenis. “They’re not able to focus; they’re in their own little world. That is just as much ADHD as the typical boy that people think of that’s hyperactive.”

Myth #6: Untreated ADHD isn’t a big deal.

Truth: While this can be true for people who have learned to cope or who don’t have debilitating symptoms, it’s certainly not true for everyone. “ADHD affects everyone differently,” says Miner-Rosen. “Some have more severe and challenging symptoms than others. The challenges of untreated ADHD can derail a gifted student from passing classes or cause problems at work or in relationships.”

“People with untreated ADHD are the ones that have trouble reaching their potential,” Brenis says. “When parents don’t want to have their child diagnosed, I feel like that’s a disservice because once somebody is aware that their brain works differently, they can be extremely successful. If it’s not diagnosed and they don’t know why in the world they’re all over the place, then it can prevent them for being as successful as they would be otherwise.”

Another factor to consider: ADHD often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, says Miner-Rosen. Like the chicken and the egg, it’s unclear which one comes first or if one may develop because of the other, but what is clear is that the disorders can feed off of each other. For instance, a person may slide into depression because of poor grades due to an inability to focus and retain information that are a result of ADHD. Getting treatment for any co-occurring disorders can also improve ADHD symptoms.

Myth #7: People with ADHD are lazy, stupid or selfish.

Truth: ADHD is believed to be a neurobiological, and often genetic, disorder that begins early in the brain’s development, says the ADAA.6 In other words, you’re born with it. People with ADHD “are usually incredibly creative, honest, engaging, very intelligent and entrepreneurial,” says Miner-Rosen. “Their impulsivity, procrastination, memory issues or reluctance to take on tasks they don’t enjoy is not their fault, and they don’t do it on purpose. They don’t want to be on medication and don’t want people to know that they are struggling with ADHD. It’s an invisible disability.”

Myth #8: People with ADHD can’t be successful.

Truth: Many famous and successful people have ADHD, including actor Will Smith, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw, political commentator James Carville and Kinkos founder Paul Orfalea.7 “People with ADHD are actually usually extremely intelligent, very creative and think outside of the box,” says Brenis. “It amazes me how some of my clients, because they don’t think ahead and they just push forward and want to go for it, are usually very successful.”

“The neurology of people with ADHD is different than that of folks without,” Shore says. “We live in a world that values qualities and behaviors that are more difficult for people with ADHD, such as timeliness, orderliness, organization and attention to detail. It’s important for people with ADHD to play to their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses through self-reflection and the development of helpful and effective safeguards.” She recommends using timers, reminders, visual cues, creating positive habits and getting the help of family and friends to work around weak areas.

“As a career development coach, I have seen that people with ADHD can be and do anything they set their minds to,” says Miner-Rosen. “As long as they have a passion and a desire to reach that goal, they can. When people have support from loved ones and find tools that work for them, they can be exceedingly productive and successful, “she says.


1. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd
2. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd
3. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd
4. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
5. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
6. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd
7. http://www.parenting.com/gallery/famous-people-with-add-or-adhd?page=0

Written by Sarah E. Ludwig