The Neuroscience behind ADHD

Updated: May 1

Written By: Lauren Pearson, Founder of DiverseNeuro

Disclaimer: This is not a replacement for medical advice, we are not doctors. We created DiverseNeuro solely for educational and awareness purposes. If you require medical attention, please go to your healthcare provider or in an emergency call 911.

As we learn more about ADHD, it begs to offer the question that remains, “how does ADHD affect the Brain?”. In this article, you will learn more about the neurological side of Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder.

What is the Reticular Activating System (RAS)?

The reticular activating system is known as the complex network of neurons in the brain stem which is responsible for the connection between the cerebrum, and cerebellum. The reticular activating system works to perform crucial functions of sleep and arousal states, in addition to this RAS participates in the fight-or-flight responses. This would result in responses to sudden alerting nerves that will be abnormal. The correlation among ADHD becomes relevant when a deficiency in the RAS occurs. This can cause all factors surrounding inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity-based ADHD symptoms.

Norepinephrine and dopamine are both common associated neurotransmitters/neurochemicals when examining ADHD in the brain, especially from a neuroscience perspective.


Norepinephrine is known as an organic chemical in the catecholamine family that functions in the brain and body as a hormone and neurotransmitter. Norepinephrine (NE) is a neurochemical that is related to dopamine. Lower than normal levels of norepinephrine in ADHD brains are found to create difficulty with focusing, processing, and controlling impulsive behaviors.


Dopamine (DA) is a neurochemical that directly corresponds with our perception of pleasure and reward. Dopamine helps motivate us as the brain perceives rewards linked to our success and survival. Those with ADHD appear to have low levels of dopamine which adhere to many ADHD symptoms.

Parts of the Brain Affected

Frontal Cortex

The frontal cortex region is responsible for high-level functioning related tasks such as: regulating attention, and organization. ADHD is found in this region due to a deficiency of norepinephrine chemicals. The lack of norepinephrine neurons in the frontal cortex can cause inattention, problems with organization, and impaired cognitive inhibition.

Basal Ganglia

These circuits are known to regulate communication systems within the brain. Information from all regions of the brain is obtained with the basal ganglia. This data is shortly transferred towards various iatrical sites throughout the brain. A deficiency located in the basal ganglia can cause the information to become lost, therefore resulting in inattention or impulsivity-like behaviors.

Treatment Options for ADHD

Those diagnosed with ADHD are directed to seek high-stimulation activities to help compensate for low levels of dopamine associated with the reward circuit of the brain. ADHD patients may find themselves beginning tasks with excitement, to then only lose interest quickly.

Like most neurodevelopmental conditions a spectrum is used to better diagnose people, ADHD is no exception. So treatment providers often make therapeutic guidelines based on the premises of the severity and influences of ADHD in their lives. Most treatment options contain aspects of psychosocial techniques and therapy, not just medication. Typically behavioral therapy is used as the initial treatment protocol. “These drugs essentially serve to stimulate the production of dopamine (amphetamines) or to block its reuptake (with drugs like methylphenidate). Amphetamines increase and release proper neurotransmitters and block reuptake, while methylphenidate is more purely just a reuptake inhibitor for dopamine” (David Puder, MD, 2018).

If this fails, medication can then be used towards helping the patient minimize their key symptoms. The most common pharmacological treatments used in ADHD patients are called dopaminergic stimulants.

Although the stigma against psychiatric drugs still remains. We are determined at DiverseNeuro to change how we as a society view neurodiverse conditions.

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