Is ADHD Genetic? – 2020 Gene Research

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

is adhd genetic

When your child is diagnosed with ADHD, the first question crossing your mind might be, “Is ADHD genetic?[1]. Most parents of children who have been diagnosed with ADHD appear to be guilty of associating the disorder with their children’s educational activities. According to a study, ADHD tends to run in families[2] and, in some cases, the genes you inherit from your parents are considered one primary factor in the development of the disease.

ADHD cannot be prevented or cured[3]. However, early diagnosis and a good treatment plan and medication can help ADHD patients relax and deal with their symptoms.

Until now, the exact causes of ADHD are unknown, although neurobiology and genetics are considered contributing factors leading to the disease. 

Until now, the exact causes of ADHD are unknown, although neurobiology and genetics are considered contributing factors leading to the disease. 

What are the main causes of ADHD? 

Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a brain disorder with a variety of possible causes — though the medical profession currently cannot determine which one is predominant.

In recent decades, scientists have identified possible factors[4] that can lead to the onset of ADHD. Some causes for ADHD have been proposed, including brain injury, maternal smoking, and drug use, or maternal exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy, sugar, and food additives, or environmental causes.

Brain damage[5]

The first theory about ADHD states that brain injury may have resulted in the alteration of the anatomy of the brain and can cause ADHD in children. The theory is based on the results of the analysis of the brain which showed significant differences in the structure of the brain and brain activity of ADHD patients.

However, only a small percentage of children with ADHD have been subjected to a traumatic brain injury. Therefore, you cannot assume that brain injury results in ADHD in children.

Environmental toxins[6]

It was found that children exposed to environmental toxins such as lead, which is found mainly in pipes and painting, are likely to have behavioral and developmental problems. Exposure to this type of toxin is said to have been linked to violent behavior and disruptive children, and a short period of inattention. 

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a kind of industrial chemical that is highly toxic to humans and the environment. It may increase the risk of ADHD children in developing especially when children are exposed to these chemicals during childhood.

Maternal smoking[7], drug use, and maternal exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy. Children who are born to mothers who smoke or who used drugs or were exposed to environmental toxins during pregnancy are more likely to develop ADHD. Indeed, toxins are considered a cause of ADHD.

Sugar and food additives

These foods are also thought to contribute to the development of ADHD. However, a recent study[8] on the effect of sugar in children showed that sugar has no significant effects on the learning and behavior of children.

The factors listed above are only possible ADHD causes. There has been no evidence yet established in their contributions to disease.

ADHD Symptoms

Children and adults usually show some or most of the following symptoms[9] of ADHD: 

  • Short attention span, especially for non-preferred tasks
  • Hyperactivity, which can be physical, verbal, and/or emotional
  • Impulsivity, which can manifest as recklessness
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Disorganization and difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Mismanagement of time and blindness time
  • Frequent mood swings and emotional dysregulation
  • Forgetfulness and poor working memory
  • Multitasking problems and executive dysfunction
  • Inability to control anger or frustration
  • Trouble completing tasks and frequent delays
  • Distractibility
  • Difficulty awaiting turn

Is ADHD Hereditary? 

is adhd genetic

Genetic factors[10] seem to play an important role in the development of ADHD. The disorder appears to run in families, for the most part. The numbers ranged between 20 and 25 percent of cases diagnosed with ADHD. In other words, up to one-quarter of children diagnosed with ADHD have at least one close relative with the same disorder. More and more parents are discovering their own life was unmanaged ADHD after their children received the  ADHD diagnosis. Studies[11] indicate a strong genetic link, although specific genes responsible have not been conclusively identified and isolated so far.

However, ADHD in teens without parents are less likely to have it. The research[12] identified some genes as having a possible link with the development of ADHD in children, but much more research is needed before drawing a solid conclusion. Studies show more of an organic link from inherited ADHD rather than from the general environment. So if you have a close relative with ADHD and your child has similar symptoms, consider a medical diagnosis.

Is ADHD a genetic disease?

Researchers[13] from the National Institute of Mental Health’s Genetics Workgroup are working to determine which genes in particular make a person susceptible to ADHD. Scientists are investigating many different genes that may play a role in the development of ADHD, especially dopamine-related genes. They believe it probably involves at least two genes[1] because ADHD is a complex disorder

There is still much work to do on the genetics of ADHD. The discovery of genes that contribute to ADHD could make diagnosing this condition easier. It could also help people find better treatments for different symptoms of ADHD.

The available evidence[14] suggests that ADHD is genetically transmitted from parents to children. ADHD seems to be inherited at least in some families. At the least, one-third of all parents who had ADHD in their youth have children with the disease. What’s more, most identical twins share the trait of ADHD.

Adhd Genetic Testing

Genetic studies aim to determine specific ways that a patient will respond to treatment, which may vary depending on, for example, how a patient metabolizes[15] a specific ADHD medication. Medical intervention protocols are often based on the  “average” responses, but there are many individual variations in how the therapies affect patients.

Now, thanks to advances in genetics, there are new ways that people with ADHD can cope with the treatment and potentially avoid the inconvenience, disappointment, costs, and side effects associated with trying several treatment options. By performing genetic tests on patients with ADHD, the hope is that the experts will be able to better predict how individual patients will respond to a particular intervention. Avoiding arbitrary choices and taking the guesswork out of treating ADHD should theoretically allow patients to determine the optimal treatment strategy much faster than what was possible.

What are the ADHD genetic risk factors?

Like many disorders or conditions, ADHD can have a strong genetic component. For this reason, many scientists focus their research on the exact genes that carry attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

The discovery of first common genetic risk factors

is adhd genetic

There are numerous genetic variations associated with this condition have an important role in biological processes related to the brain. The next step is to work out the precise role of those genes in ADHD to help us inform for better treatment support for those suffering from the condition.

Research based at the MRC Neuropsychiatric Genetics Center and Genomics at Cardiff University have identified 12 genomic regions where people with ADHD differed compared to individuals not affected. According to Dr. Joanna Martin many of these areas are near or genes with a known relationship of the biological processes involved in the healthy development of the brain.

The researchers also found that appears diagnosed with ADHD to share much of the same genetic background as the features of ADHD, such as inattention and restlessness that can be measured in the general population. Life Course Epidemiology Consortium (EAGLE) and researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) that work with early genetic, compared the genetic risk for ADHD diagnosed with genetic markers associated with traits and found a strong correlation between the two, about 97%, more than 20,000 among children with ADHD.
Although signals 12 genomes identified in this study are important, they capture only a very small amount of the risk of ADHD. Collectively, common genetic factors accounted for about 22% of the risk of ADHD. The role of genetic risk sources, for example, rare genetic changes, as well as environmental factors will also be important to test in future research studies.

Parents with ADHD

One study in 2016[16] found that nearly half of parents with ADHD also pass down ADHD to their children. Nearly 41% of mothers and 51% of fathers of children having ADHD has been diagnosed with this disorder.

Identical twins

According to an Australian study[17], twins are more likely to have ADHD than singletons. Twins share many things: level of anxiety (generalized and separation ), inability to hear, and inability to control impulses. Unfortunately, they also share the risk chance of getting ADHD. Also, a child who has an identical twin with ADHD is also at risk of developing the disease.

Siblings with ADHD

Genetic research[18] found that younger siblings of children with ADHD were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. For siblings born later, the chances of being diagnosed with ADHD were approximately 13 times higher in those who had older siblings with ADHD than those without ADHD older siblings.

Family close relative

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)[19], at least one-third of the parents who have children with ADHD are also diagnosed with ADHD. In fact, having a family member with childhood attention deficit hyperactivity makes it more likely to also have the disorder. Children and adolescents with ADHD often have parents, siblings, or close relatives with ADHD.

Variations in DNA

DNA cannot be changed, unlike potential environmental causes of ADHD. As research has researched what causes ADHD, scientists recognize the strong RPG genetics. Therefore, much of the research on ADHD is dedicated to understanding genes. In 2010, British researchers identified small pieces of DNA[20] that are duplicated or missing in the brains of children with ADHD. These affected gene segments have also been linked to autism and schizophrenia.


In conclusion, hyperactivity disorder attention deficit disorder is often found in children and adults of all ages. These disorders begin to present in the first five years of a child’s life. Children with ADHD tend to be very nervous when it comes to daily activities that can make getting an education a little difficult. There appears to be the possibility of a family genetic relationship of these disorders. Genetic studies need to be conducted on families to find out more information about specific genes associated with ADHD and the inheritance of the condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ADHD hyperactivity disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a brain disorder with a number of possible causes – although the medical community still cannot determine exactly what explains the symptoms of ADHD.

Are there different forms of ADHD?

There is only one official diagnosis, however, it includes subcategories: Primarily Hyperactive-impulsive, especially negligent, or Combined Type.

Does ADHD have different degrees of severity?

Yes. Some people who have symptoms of ADHD are affected only slightly. Others are literally homeless because they cannot keep a job,  have substance abuse or addiction problems, or have other visible signs of untreated ADHD. When diagnosed, ADHD  carries a classification of mild, moderate or severe.

Do people outgrow ADHD?

Although ADHD was once considered a childhood disorder, it is now believed that ADHD continues into adulthood for as much as 75% of children with the disease.

How Do Doctors Diagnose ADHD?

Many people argue that ADHD is overdiagnosed. Most children are naturally energetic and talkative. Just because a child has some symptoms of ADHD does not mean that he has this condition. That is why doctors use specific criteria when they diagnose children with ADHD.

How Is Child ADHD Related To Other Conditions?

ADHD is sometimes confused with other conditions, such as autism children. Autistic children and children with ADHD may have unequal motor skills, severe tantrums, and disturb others. However, children with autism may or may not exhibit hyperactive behavior.

What genes are linked to ADHD?

Scientists look for different genes that may play a role in the development of ADHD, especially dopamine-related genes.

Can ADHD be cured?

There is no cure for ADHD – it is treatable, but treatment is not a cure. Even during treatment, patients still have ADHD, and the symptoms may return if treatment is interrupted or stopped.

+ 20 sources

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  1. Maximilian Muenke. 2014. ADHD Genetic Research Study. Available from:
  2. University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children. Available from:
  3. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. 2020 [Oct.5, 2020]. School changes - Helping children with ADHD. Available from:
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  11. Ditte Demontis, Raymond K. Walters, Joanna Martin, et al. 2020. Discovery of the first genome-wide significant risk loci for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Available from:
  12. Stephen V. Faraone & Henrik Larsson. 2018 [June 11, 2018]. Genetics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  13. National Institute of Mental Health. 1997 [September 19, 1997]. Genetics and Mental Disorders: Report of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Genetics Workgroup. Available from:
  14. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. 2002 [September 19, 2002]. Genetic Analysis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Available from:
  15. Anna M. Wehry, Laura Ramsey, Shane E. Dulemba, Sarah A. Mossman, Jeffrey R. Strawn. 2018. Pharmacogenomic Testing in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: An Evidence-Based Review, 48(2), 40–49. Available from:
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  18. Meghan Miller, Erica D. Musser, Gregory S. Young, et al. 2018 [December 10, 2018]. Sibling Recurrence Risk and Cross-aggregation of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Available from:
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  20. Nigel M Williams, Irina Zaharieva, Andrew Martin, Kate Langley, Kiran Mantripragada, Ragnheidur Fossdal, et al. 2010 [Oct. 23, 2010]. Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a genome-wide analysis, 376 (9750), 1401-1408. Available from:
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