Study Identifies Lower Dopamine in ADHD Patients

There are some that have argued that ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, has been grossly over-diagnosed and excessively medicated to take the place of good old fashioned parenting. While it can be true that medication is the quick answer in too many situations, the reality is that ADHD is real and for some – a nightmare.

A new study is providing even more proof that life in general can be a bigger challenge for those with ADHD. A new brain-imaging study conducted by researchers in the United States has found definitive proof that patients suffering with ADHD have lower-than-normal levels of the proteins that regulate an individual’s experiences of motivation and reward.

These lower levels of the brain’s dopamine-regulated reward system can be responsible for the clinical symptoms of ADHD. Such symptoms can include, but are not limited to, inattention and reduced motivation. ADHD individuals are also more susceptible to drug abuse and obesity.

Currently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study took nine years to complete. One of the biggest challenge researchers involved with the study faced was finding “drug-naïve” participants – those who had not taken any medication to treat their ADHD. These participants also had to be clean in that they did not abuse drugs.

"There were several studies done before us that suggested the dopamine system may be involved. There were drug studies showing that yes, people with ADHD, once they received medication [such as] Ritalin, it helped them to relieve symptoms. But exactly which area and what happened we weren't quite clear on," said co-author Gene-Jack Wang, chair of the medical department at Upton, N.Y.'s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

According to the Center for ADHD/ADD Advocacy Canada, there are three core symptoms associated with ADHD, including an inability to regulate attention and activity and a difficulty with inhibitory behavior which results in impulsivity. This childhood neurobiological disorder can often carry on into adulthood.

The results of this study suggest that those dealing with ADHD may find certain subjects or activities as not interesting simply because they cannot process the rewards. This research does support the continued use of medications that raise dopamine and increase attention, while also recommending interventions that will enhance the saliency of school and job tasks to help create improved performance.

The study also points to reasons why individuals suffering from ADHD may be more likely to abuse drugs and become obese. Some studies have suggested patients may be unconsciously trying to raise their own dopamine levels through overeating or simply by self-medicating.

"This study has lots to do with things that humans get themselves into trouble with: gambling, addictions, shopping, bulimia, mania," said Dr. Jain, who is also president of the Canadian Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Resource Alliance.

Understanding this medical condition and how best to treat it will go a long way toward developing solutions that can work for patients. Not all ADHD patients prefer medication. Further research into this topic could help to develop treatments that do not lean on drugs, but instead the ADHD patient’s approach to the world.

Posted on December 24th, 2009
Posted in Research

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