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ADHD: Nature or Nurture?

nature vs nurture
Ahh, the ever-popular debate about whether or not ADHD is a result of genetics, or environmental influences, or “bad parenting.” It’s a topic people have gone around and around about for decades, and will probably continue to be that way for a few decades to come.

My hope today is that I can shed just a little light on the subject so people can have intelligent conversations about this. Awareness usually equates to knowledge and progress.

So here it is. The truth of the matter is… ADHD can be caused by nature or nurture.


The National Center for Biotechnology Information (the NCBI) is a national organization that conducts studies and other forms of research to “uncover new knowledge.” It’s one of the go-to places for the most up-to-date information on scientific evidence.

A few years ago, the NCBI conducted a study on how genetics influence the prevalence of ADHD. Their results “consistently indicated the strong genetic influence on ADHD with estimated heritability ranging from 75% to 91%.”

That suggests that ADHD is highly inheritable!

Their study also pointed toward certain sets of genes being different in people with ADHD than they were in people without ADHD, but those tests will have to be repeated many, many times over to be proven for certain.

The NCBI has also completed several studies on whether or not environmental factors can influence the presence of ADHD. One of those studies made the final conclusion of, “Although a substantial fraction of the aetiology of ADHD is due to genes, the studies reviewed in this article show that many environmental risk factors and potential gene-environment interactions also increase the risk for the disorder.”

So what are the environmental risk factors that can lead to ADHD?

According to the NCBI, things like “food additives/diet, lead contamination, cigarette and alcohol exposure, maternal smoking during pregnancy, and low birth weight” can all affect whether or not someone develops ADHD. The point was even made that some children might be more likely to be affected by those environmental factors than others.

In other words, some kids might have a genetic predisposition to developing the type of ADHD that caused by environmental factors. One child could be exposed to lead contamination and food additives and never develop ADHD, but another child (who was genetically more predisposed to develop ADHD) could be exposed to those same negative factors and end up with ADHD. It can be dependent on genetics or environmental factors or both.

It all depends on the person.

The fact that ADHD can be caused by certain environmental factors is why so many doctors are pushing right now to try to clearly identify the sources of it by initiating more studies on the subject. With more frequent studies, a broader range of test subjects, and more consistent controls, we could have more unwavering information about this.

The more we know, the more we can raise awareness and learn how to prevent it.

So the next time you meet a child or teen who has ADHD, keep in mind that you really don’t know anything about that family’s story. The child could have inherited ADHD, they could have developed it due to environmental factors, or it could have been a mixture of both.

You don’t know (and the parent probably doesn’t even know) and it DOES NOT MATTER.

The only thing that matters is being kind to that parent and asking how you can help them get through their day. A person is still a person, no matter what “differences” they come with.

Treat them as such.

ADHD: Nature or Nurture?

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2016). ADHD: Nature or Nurture?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Mar 2016
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