Hallowell's Cough Drop
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention (difficulties sustaining attention, being easily distracted, and struggling with organization and time management), hyperactivity (excessive motor activity, restlessness, and an inability to remain seated), and impulsivity (acting without forethought, interrupting others, and engaging in risky behaviors). Dr. Edward Hallowell, co-author of Driven to Distraction, emphasizes the importance of recognizing the heterogeneity of ADHD, highlighting that the disorder can present differently among individuals (2011). During a lecture given at The Child Mind Institute, Hallowell labeled brains with ADHD "Ferrari engine[s] with bicycle breaks... [they] can't stop", and also suggested ADHD is not solely a childhood condition, but can often persist into late adulthood, albeit with changing symptom profiles.
The exact cause of ADHD remains elusive, but research suggests a multifactorial etiology involving genetic predisposition, neurobiological strands, and environmental factors. One capstone study by Hauser et. al. (1993) found a >0.70 correlation between ADHD and a generalized resistance to thyroid hormone (GRTH), which served as a catalyst for an abundance of research into ADHD's physiological associations ending in heritability estimates of 70-90%. Neurobiologically, alterations in neurotransmitter systems (particularly dopamine and norepinephrine) play a prominent role in ADHD pathophysiology, including the "dysregulation of catecholamines that may alter neuroendocrine function and lead to growth delays" (Spencer, Biederman, & Wilens, 1998). Environmental factors, such as prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, or drugs, premature birth, low birth weight, and early exposure to lead, have been implicated as potential risk factors. However, psychosocial factors like adverse childhood experiences, parenting styles, and family dynamics have also contributed to the development and course of ADHD.
ADHD is a chronic condition that requires a multimodal treatment approach with a comprehensive management strategy, including psychoeducation, behavioral interventions, and pharmacotherapy. Psychoeducation plays a crucial role in empowering individuals with ADHD and their families; it enhances understanding of the disorder, promotes awareness of strengths and challenges, and fosters effective coping mechanisms. Dr. Hallowell's anecdote in Driven to Distraction, initially presented to him in the words of a patient he was treating, summarizes some of the features of the disorder that the internet has come to the general consensus are quite universal:
"Someone left (a cough drop) on the dashboard of our car. The other day I saw the cough drop and thought, I’ll have to throw that away. When I arrived at my first stop, I forgot to take the cough drop to a trash can. When I got back into the car, I saw it and thought, I’ll throw it away at the gas station. The gas station came and went and I hadn’t thrown the cough drop away. Well, the whole day went like that, the cough drop still sitting on the dashboard. When I got home, I thought, I’ll take it inside with me and throw it out. In the time it took me to open the car door, I forgot about the cough drop. It was there to greet me when I got into the car the next morning, Jeff was with me. I looked at the cough drop and burst into tears. Jeff asked me why I was crying, and I told him it was because of the cough drop. He thought I was losing my mind. ‘But you don’t understand,’ I said, ‘my whole life is like that. I see something that I mean to do and then I don’t do it. It’s not only trivial things like the cough drop; it’s big things, too.’ That is why I cried.”
Untreated ADHD can be a crippling impairment on a suffering individual's level of functionality and satisfaction. Psychotherapy can help provide guidance on managing daily routines, improving organizational skills, and employing adaptive strategies to mitigate the impact of ADHD symptoms. Behavioral interventions focus on modifying problematic behaviors and promoting adaptive ones. Techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT), or even solution-focused brief treatment (SFBT) can help individuals with ADHD manage impulsivity, improve attention, and develop effective problem-solving abilities. Understanding the clinical features, etiology, and treatment approaches of ADHD are essential in effectively supporting individuals who suffer from the disorder and fostering their overall well-being. Ongoing research and collaborative efforts among clinicians, researchers, and families are crucial in furthering our understanding and improving the management of ADHD. If you or a loved one suffer from ADHD, schedule a free consultation with me and we can brainstorm a treatment plan that best suits your needs.
Hallowell, E. M. & Ratey, J. J. (2011). Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood. Anchor Books.
Hauser, P.; Zametkin, A.J.; Martinez, P.; Vitiello, B.; Matochik, J.A.; Mixson, A.J.; Weintraub, B.D. (1993). Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in people with generalized resistance to thyroid hormone. New England Medical Journal, Vol. 328 (14), p. 997-1001.
Spencer, T., Biederman, J., & Wilens, T. (1998). Growth deficits in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, Vol. 102(2,3), p. 501-506.