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What is ADHD & Dopamine Link?

What is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and what is the link with the neurotransmitter dopamine? How do our mobile phones impact in a negative way?


What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder seen with issues around focus, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It has also be known as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). It is characterised by issues in controlling attention and impulsivity to the point where it impacts someone's life. The manual 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)' is used for diagnosis.


One of the first signs may be when a child has difficulty focusing on one task and shifts between multiple projects with an inability to sit still for long. Young boys can often be seen as being inattentive, while young girls can be overlooked and seen as being overly emotional, having anxiety, or lacking in effort.


Adults can present differently in comparison, where the ability to sit still may actually now be present, but the mind can flit between many thoughts and ideas at a rapid pace. Dysfunctional strategies like alcohol, drugs, food etc may be used as compensatory mechanisms to help with problems associated with the confusing emotions.


What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that serves as a chemical messenger and either upregulates or downregulates our emotional responses, our motivation, and our feelings of rewards and pleasure. It keeps us alert, focused, motivated and happy.


The biochemical pathway for dopamine can 'run fast' or 'run slow' according to enzymes that break down the neurotransmitter. Dopamine also works in conjunction with other neurotransmitters and not in isolation.


Negative feelings associated with the 'spikes' and then the 'crashes' of dopamine can be seen when:

  • Phone scrolling is not enjoyable but you feel compelled to do it

  • You feel down and unmotivated

  • You struggle to enjoy life's simple pleasures e.g. nature on a walk

  • You consume a lot of caffeine or sugar

  • Life has lost its spark


Our phones are the modern-day hypodermic needle delivering dopamine 24/7
Cartoon graphic of someone with ADHD showing confusing thoughts, lack or direction and overwhelm.
The mind of someone with ADHD can appear to be overwhelmed

What is ADHD and the Dopamine Link?

It appears that in ADHD there are lower levels of the neurotransmitter Dopamine.

Issues associated with this are:


Reward System Dysregulation

Where the 'long-term' value is difficult for people with ADHD to embrace. This is in contrast to instant gratification where you 'want the fix.' You may begin projects, or jobs with 'gusto' but lose interest when the rewards aren't there. The brain has an altered reward system so it struggles to stay motivated when there isn't an immediate reward.


Attention Regulation Difficulties

The neurotransmitter, Dopamine, plays a key role in attention and our ability to focus. When there is less dopamine, the brain struggles to prioritise, which can lead to concentration difficulties when sustained attention is required. Other more competing stimuli intrude and take precedence, which makes the required task seem uninspiring and difficult to complete. Projects therefore become difficult to start and end.


Impulsivity

Low dopamine levels can likely lead to a compensatory effect where reward stimulation is sought to counteract the deficit. This can lead to the all familiar 'doom scrolling' on social media, impulsive spending, high-risk activity seeking, high-sugar food consumption etc that all stem from a lack of neurotransmitter balance.


What contributes to ADHD?

  1. Dopamine - levels of dopamine, as well as dopamine receptors, and the breakdown pathways of dopamine (needing COMT), may all be involved.

  2. Environment - exposure to lead and pesticides

  3. Genetics - studies show ADHD is strongly inherited


As discussed, dopamine is broken down by an enzyme called COMT (catechol-o-methyltransferase), that requires good methylation from good nutrition.

Variants of COMT can result in how quickly or slowly dopamine is broken down.


Too fast, leads to feelings of:

  • Being unmotivated

  • Reduced alertness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Lack of motivation

  • Poor coordination

  • Movement difficulties

  • Inability to feel pleasure

As an aside, some serious implications involved with a lack of dopamine include, Parkinson's Disease, and depression.


Too slow, leads to feelings associated with:

  • Dopamine build up like anxiety, poor sleep, super stressed, irritability.

  • High levels of dopamine can make people feel very euphoric momentarily.

  • Addictive drugs can increase dopamine and be a reason why individuals begin experimenting witthem. Other addictions can also be used in a similar sense.


What can be done to help those with ADHD symptoms?

Focus on activities that promote a steady, sustained increase in dopamine levels.

  • Good nutrition to drive biochemical pathways for balanced neurotransmitters

  • Moderate exercise

  • Sunlight exposure

  • Listening to relaxing music

  • Cold showers

  • Getting enough sleep with a good sleep routine

  • Consuming tyrosine-rich foods. Tyrosine is the precursor to dopamine. Foods include: bananas, almonds, avocadoes, eggs, beans, fish, chicken etc

  • Spend time in nature

  • Explore hobbies and interests

  • Surround yourself with great people


Establish boundaries on quick dopamine fixes

  • Limit time spent on social media 'doom scrolling'

  • Reduce caffeine

  • Set spending limits on binges

  • Have a 'no phone' rule during mealtimes and designated work times


What are the differences between ADHD and Autism?

There are striking differences between ADHD and Autism signs, though they can co-exist in an individual.

ADHD

Autism

Need work flexibility

Need work routine and structure

Impulsive

Doesn't like change

Easily bored

Easily overstimulated

Craves social interactions

Finds social interactions uncomfortable

Has poor time management

Sets schedules with good time management

Delves into a lot of different interests

Has a strong passion for certain interests

Table highlighting the differences between ADHD and Autism


If you would like to discuss your concerns, and put plans in place to support balancing your neurotransmitters, then please don't hesitate to make a booking with me.



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