ADHD celebrate when they finally have time to themselves
late at night. This is when they feel entitled to internally driven
activities, like watching TV, engaging with social media, looking at porn, or playing computer games. With their greater
arousal, which is often experienced as a second wind, these
brain-pleasing behaviors are reinforcing. Studies show that
the blue LED light from screens further increases alertness
while suppressing the normal elevation of melatonin. With
delayed melatonin production, ADHD brains are flooded with
both internal and external stimulation into the early morning,
delaying sleep and making it difficult to be an early riser.
Neurology Explains a Lot
Understanding what ADHD brains want makes it clear that the
struggle for self-regulation is neurological, and has nothing
to do with character deficiencies. For example, it would be
easy to misinterpret the following scenario as a standoff
between two partners: Imagine that your partner asks you to
pay the electric bill, and you say to yourself, “OK, I have time
to do that today.” But when you sit down to do it, you keep
getting distracted. The ADHD brain needs higher stimulation
in order to complete this rote task with minimal payoff. Your
ADHD brain says, “That task is way too boring, and I refuse to
focus on it. Find something that interests me more, which
offers me a bigger dopamine reward, and I’ll work with you.”
It doesn’t matter that you know you should pay the bill as
promised; if your brain won’t engage, it’s an ugly standoff.
Perhaps, after a day of procrastination—when your partner
will be home in 20 minutes and the bill is still unpaid—there
may be enough of an adrenaline rush from a sense of crisis
that your brain will engage and you pay the bill.
The ADHD brain and its owner are at odds with one another.
It’s difficult to compel a disengaged brain to engage by force
of will. In fact, much of the treatment for ADHD involves learning to psych out the brain, so that it will attend to necessary,
Appreciating the tug-of-war within that pits intellect against
neurobiology increases compassion and acceptance for one’s
hidden struggle. ADHD behaviors are frequently mislabeled
and misjudged by society, and there is some comfort in knowing that there are neurological explanations for seemingly
incomprehensible behaviors. A
ELLEN B. LITTMAN, PH.D.,; is a clinical psychologist who has been involved
in the field of attentional disorders for over 27 years. She speaks about
attention disorders in the U.S. and around the world. She is co-author of
the book Understanding Girls with ADHD, and a contributing author to
the books The Hidden Side of Adult ADHD, Understanding Women with
ADHD, and Gender Issues and ADHD, among others. You can reach Ellen at
They shun busy department stores, loud concerts, big parties, and
prefer to stay where they
can control the level of stimulation. These brains
find comfort in the self-contained world of video
games. With an internal structure that offers complete control over the kind and amount of stimulation, they select games with rewards that are
strongly reinforcing to their brains. These rewards
offer pleasure within a cocoon, shielding them from
the unpredictable minefield of personal interaction.
As a result, video games have incredible addictive
potential for the inattentive ADHD brain.
Carbs, Chocolate, and the Brain’s
Food activates the dopamine reward center in all
brains. However, especially for the more impulsive
ADHD brain, it leads to a torturous daily self-regulation challenge. The low levels of dopamine interfere with focused self-regulation, increasing the likelihood that ADHD brains will be
inattentive to the factors that modulate eating behaviors. In
addition, ADHD brains exhibit decreased glucose metabolism
compared to non-ADHD brains, resulting in less energy available to the attention center in the prefrontal cortex. As a result,
ADHD brains send out distress messages demanding more
glucose, and the owners of those brains suddenly crave sugary
foods and carbohydrates, which can be quickly converted into
glucose. Glucose increases dopamine and serotonin, so brains
experience pleasure and greater calm. Many ADHDers chide
themselves for indulging in pasta and cookies, when their
brains are actually demanding those foods instead of salad.
Chocolate is appealing to ADHD brains because it increases
glucose and has the added stimulation of caffeine.
It is no wonder that those with ADHD struggle with eating
disorders. When they self-medicate with food, their brains
enjoy a surge of dopamine, an increase in glucose-based
energy that improves attention, and a serotonin-based calming
of restlessness. Particularly for the impulsive ADHD brain, this
perfect storm of rewards increases the likelihood of binge eating and bulimia.
Sleep and the Reticular Activating System
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) in the brainstem is
responsible for regulating arousal and the sleep/wake cycle.
In ADHD brains, the RAS is dysregulated; circadian cycles skew
toward higher activity levels in the evening, resulting in later
bedtimes and waking times. In fact, many individuals with
games are very
YOUR AMAZING ADHD BRAIN