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Our Brain is Hardwired for Abuse; Extra Challenging for Those with ADHD

Did you know our brain is hardwired for abuse? I was thinking it might be a stretch, but after a quick internet search with guys sharing how they use brain research on intermittent reinforcement to manipulate women, I decided it wasn’t at all.  This can be especially troubling with those having ADHD, as the inherent impulsivity can easily create addictive patterns that lead to abuse very, very quickly.

A basic study in psychology involves the rat and pellet of food.  The rat is given a pellet of food each time it pulls the lever, and soon the rat becomes bored and stops pulling the lever.  However, when researchers change it so that a pellet appears randomly, the rat continues pulling the lever in hope of food repetitively.  The rat, in essence, becomes addicted to the possibility of food not the food itself.

Now look at human behavior and abuse.  Imagine that a male or female gives you attention consistently and appropriately.  This is considered loving behavior, and it should follow that we appreciate this behavior.  Adversely, if a person gives you love one minute, and withdrawals the next, the behavior you receive from them is inconsistent and most would argue unhealthy and abusive.

Luckily, the brain has a mechanism for this, and we are able to rationally understand that this random behavior is not good or life-sustaining for us.  It needs stability and continual love to feel safe and secure, so when it senses this type of behavior a red flag appears and they move on to more appropriate, sustaining treatment from others.  Unfortunately, if you have ADHD, those brain mechanisms might be over taken by your impulsivity and addictive tendencies.

If you are impulsive as many with ADHD are, this can lead to abusive relationships quickly, as your brain does not have time to put out it’s ‘warning’ signal and tell you to stay away from this person.  Instead, the brain moves at warp speed to get another pellet, so instead of the brain taking time to get to know the person, evaluate the situation, and get insight from others, it jumps in searching for the next pellet that it craves so badly.

When I really understood this an immediate relief was felt through my body, as now I had an explanation for this seemingly crazy behavior that continued to elude me.  Simply knowing it is a big part of the recovery process.  I have found some other things particularly helpful in keeping me away from these addictive types of relationships and cycles of abuse:

  • Find a good counselor.  A good counselor can keep your behavior in check, allow you to rationally see people for what they are, and give you a red flag you might not accept from others when you are entering an abusive relationship.
  • Friends and Family.  These people seem to know you best.  If they are aware of your tendency to do this as well, you can ask them to gently let you know if you are moving in this direction with a person.  They can help you with strategies for removing your mind from these addictions.
  • Online support.  The internet has given us the wonderful opportunity to meet others from around the world, and share similar experiences.  Take advantage of this, and find strategies and support from others going through the same thing.
  • Stay away from impulsive behaviors that lead you to the development of these types of relationships, whether it be online dating, texting, facebooking, calling, or e-mailing.  We are in the age of speed, and this does nothing but continually challenge those with ADHD to learn strategies for rising above impulses in order to make decisions with the long term in mind.

If you recognize this in yourself, than it is critical you take steps necessary to make sure you have someone looking out for your safety and security, and help you defeat the repetitive patterns that lead you to becoming addicted to the abuse.  When you really come to terms with it, and actively work on your addiction to abuse, you can break the pattern to set your life on a journey of love, commitment, and fulfillment with consistency.  The key is to identify the pattern and then set off on an excursion to defeat it.

Does this ring true with any of you?  Do you find yourself becoming addicted to abusive behaviors?  What helps you combat this natural tendency?

Our Brain is Hardwired for Abuse; Extra Challenging for Those with ADHD

Kathryn Goetzke

I own a company called the Mood-factory (, a company that creates products based on how sensory experiences effect moods. I also run a nonprofit for depressio, iFred (, we are working to change the brand of depression. And yes, I have ADHD, along with PTSD, major depressive disorder, and a host of other challenges, opportunities, and gifts.

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APA Reference
Goetzke, K. (2010). Our Brain is Hardwired for Abuse; Extra Challenging for Those with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Aug 2010
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