Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Causes of ADHD

2-minute read

The exact causes of ADHD are not known, and there is no single cause.

Studies have shown that ADHD symptoms are related to biological features in the brain. It is thought that genetic and environmental factors can interact to cause changes in brain development and function.

  • Neurophysiology: It includes differences in brain anatomy, electrical activity and metabolism.
  • Genetics: Research shows that ADHD often runs in families. Researchers are currently working on identifying which genes are involved.
  • Drug use during pregnancy: Research has linked ADHD to smoking, alcohol and cocaine use during pregnancy.
  • Lead: Some studies have shown that pre-schoolers who were exposed to lead (in certain types of paint or plumbing) had a higher risk of developing ADHD.
  • Brain injury: Some children with brain injuries show behaviour that resembles ADHD; however, most children with ADHD have no history of brain injury.

Poor sleep during the night can cause trouble concentrating the following day. It is thought that one third of children with ADHD might have sleep apnoea (a blocking of the airway during sleep), but it's not clear whether sleep apnoea is a cause of ADHD. If your child often snores, this might be a symptom of sleep apnoea and may be contributing to the problem.

More information

You can also get information from:

Last reviewed: November 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Teen Health - Health Topics - ADHD - what is it?

People with ADHD have trouble concentrating, especially when working, doing school work or when there is a lot going on around them. Their behaviour may cause problems at work, school and at home. Other people may not realise that the person with ADHD is not trying to cause trouble. ADHD makes it hard work to concentrate, stay still, be quiet and lots of other things.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Young Adult Health - Health Topics - Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

People with ADHD have trouble concentrating, especially when working, doing school work or when there is a lot going on around them. Their behaviour may cause problems at work, school and at home. Other people may not realise that the person with ADHD is not trying to cause trouble. ADHD makes it hard work to concentrate, stay still, be quiet and lots of other things.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Brain Foundation | Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Description Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder (a problem related to brain development) that causes hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour, and attention problems

Read more on Brain Foundation website

ADHD symptoms and diagnosis - myDr.com.au

Children with ADHD tend to have inattention, hyperactivity and lack of self-control. Find out about the symptoms of ADHD and how it is diagnosed.

Read more on myDr website

ADHD and Sleep in Children

Important things to know about sleep in children with ADHD.

Read more on Sleep Health Foundation website

ADHD treatments - myDr.com.au

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) treatments include medicines, such as Ritalin and Concerta, and behavioural therapies.

Read more on myDr website

The Family Impact of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) | myVMC

The Family Impact of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Information on the impact of ADHD and the impact ADHD can have on a family. Read on for more info on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

FAILSAFE Diet for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) | myVMC

FAILSAFE Diet for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Information on the FAILSAFE Diet for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) written by medical professionals. Read on for more information on FAILSAFE Diet for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD; ADHD) | myVMC

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD or ADD, is characterised by hyperactivity, short attention span and difficulty with concentration.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - ADD and ADHD - what are they?

There are many different ways of describing ADD and ADHD, and often the names ADD and ADHD are used to mean the same thing. Most experts now view ADD and ADHD as part of a group of behaviour problems where children have more difficulty with concentrating on what they are doing (problems with attention) than other children of their age.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo