When ADHD Runs In The Family

linked hands on a "family" tree

When ADHD runs in the family things are never boring.

You hear all manner of colorful conversations at family gatherings. Take this one from a few months ago between my brother and myself.

“Liz, those pills aren’t fixing anything. It’s basically a crutch.”

When he said the words to me I felt like I had dust in the throat for a second, like if I tried to respond I’d start coughing. So I reminded myself that he simply doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Lemme ask you Joe, why would someone use a brace or crutches?

“So they can do what they need to do.”

<looking at me like I’m a moron.>

Exactly. I’m not trying to fix anything with pills. The medication makes it easier for me to do what I need to do.

My whole damn family has ADHD. 

I have it.  My younger brother has it. One of my aunts and one of my uncles has it. My son has it.

Most of the family has other stuff too, anxiety, depression, OCD, mood disorders. We’re a super fun mixed bag of diagnoses.

We all have ADHD, and we disagree about what it is, what it isn’t, and even if we need to do anything about it.

Most of us also have the emotional regulation aspect of ADHD which leads to even MORE fighting.


when adhd runs in the family


The Genetics

Let’s discuss the genetics of ADHD first.

This article from ADDitude has a nice roundup of some recent information.

The article states, “Suggestive evidence for linkage on several human chromosomes. Linkage is the inheritance of 2 or more genes in the same region on a chromosome.”

ADHD is probably produced not just by one gene, but by a series of genes that are “linked.” 

ADHD is highly heritable as evidenced in my own family tree.

We should totally be in a study around here. One of the things we argue about most is what the hell ADHD is, and if it’s even a thing we need to deal with.

What is ADHD, Anyway?

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: ADHD is everywhere.

Researchers estimate that roughly 3% of adults in the United States are living with ADHD, and there are about 6.1 million children who’ve been diagnosed.

Less than 5% of the adults living with ADHD have actually been diagnosed. It’s quite difficult to find a knowledgable clinician and get an evaluation. To make matters worse, the testing can be time consuming, frustrating, and expensive.

But the barriers to testing haven’t stopped the rampant misinformation and stereotyping of the condition.

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder.

Neurobiology is the study of the anatomy, physiology and biochemistry of the nervous system.

The ADHD brain is both structurally and chemically different from the brain of a person without ADHD.

ADHD creates a barrier to self-regulation, which leads to a lack of self-trust.

ADHD impacts your emotional regulation, which changes how you show up in the world. Your relationships, your sense of self, your identity…ALL of it is impacted by ADHD. Which is why it’s so important for families to talk about it and the potential negative impact on our lives.

ADHD is not just about getting distracted or losing track of time.

ADHD is Not…

ADHD is not just what you’ve seen on TikTok. What you read and see on social are just tiny bits of human beings with brain based differences. Most of them are trying to monetize their own diagnosis.

Humans are complex, and ADHD is complex. It’s difficult to have a nuanced conversation about this condition on social media.

ADHD is not a deficit of anything. Not attention, intelligence, or motivation.

The problem is that we as humans have limited energy, and we with ADHD don’t know how to manage that energy very well. We allow it to leak out of us a little at a time, or we hyperfocus on something until we burn ourselves out.

ADHD is not a behavioral problem.

What you perceive as “bad” behavior, is usually a lack of skills in some area. Relational, problem solving, emotional regulation or the like.  If you hold that perspective, it becomes obvious that behavior is not a choice.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “behavior is communication.” With ADHD adults this is absolutely true.

You might be thinking, “What do I do if I think I have ADHD?”

What To Do About aDHD?

I think you should pursue an official diagnosis. (I know people won’t like reading that.)

Self-diagnosis is valuable for finding other people you relate to, and feeling a sense of belonging. But it doesn’t take the place of a diagnosis, and you won’t have access to support, medication, etc.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition (DSM-5)1, is used by mental health professionals to help diagnose ADHD.

Here is a snippet from the DSM:

  • Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
    • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
    • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
    • Is often easily distracted
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities

I’m aware that the DSM has issues, this is what we have to work with right now.

If you have additional questions there are a number of websites where you can get referrals to doctors, counselors and even coaches.

When ADHD runs in the family, it’s not something you can ignore.

Final Thoughts

  • ADHD is highly heritable
  • It’s normal for families with a lot of ADHD to argue 🙂
  • You cannot and should not try to change anyone’s mind
  • You should have open dialogue about ADHD
  • ADHD is a real and valid diagnosis
  • ADHD will impact your self-regulation and your sense of self
  • You should pursue a full diagnosis

Sometimes when you try to talk about these things, it feels like your own family is harder than strangers on the internet. As a result, the words don’t always come easily. I get it.

When ADHD runs in the family, it’s a complex conversation. The more info you bring to the table, the more thoughtful it can be.

If you’re looking for more support and community for ADHD women check out the ADHD Enclave

Enclave community logo

To learn more about coaching with me, see my new info page.

Works Cited
“10 Adult ADHD Symptoms: Disorganization, Recklessness, and More.” WebMD.WebMD, n.d. Web. 31 May 2015.
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” NIMH RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2015.
“Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 31 May 2015.