Myth #2: ADHD Is An Excuse for Irresponsibility

Using ADHD as an excuse


“ADHD Is An Excuse for Irresponsibility.”

Psychologist and ADHD expert J. Russell Ramsay has heard that line so many times he’s named it one of his top three myths about ADHD (the other two follow in future myth-munching posts).

As the co-director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program, he’s noticed that clients often expend much-higher-than-average time and effort trying to meet their responsibilities—typically “twice the effort for half the result.” Instead of seeking an easy way out, he argues, “They want to gain a measure of predictable cause-and-effect in their lives.”

Harold Meyer, founder of The A.D.D. Resource Center in New York City and an ADHD coach, agrees. “People with ADHD usually know what needs to be done,” he says. “Their difficulty, and continual frustration for both themselves and others, is in doing what they know or, at times, thinking before they act. Instead of Ready-Aim-Fire, it’s Ready-Fire-Aim.”

Or, as one of Meyer’s clients put it, “By the time I think about what it is I should have done, I’ve already done the first thing I thought about.”

Yes, it’s true that some adults with ADHD use the diagnosis as an excuse. Frankly, though, that mostly seems to happen when they don’t realize that treatment can largely eliminate the need for excuses of any sort. They’ve simply learned that their ADHD symptoms are not, as long thought, character flaws that they could change “if they really wanted to.” And that, no doubt, must come as a relief.


Next time, we’ll examine Myth #3:

“ADHD Symptoms Are Basic Human Behaviors.”

How about you? Have you heard this ADHD-is-an-excuse line?

Or, did you ever—gasp!— find yourself saying it?

Comments welcome! It’s easy; no annoying codes to decipher.

—Gina Pera

23 thoughts on “Myth #2: ADHD Is An Excuse for Irresponsibility”

  1. I have a good friend who has ADHD, I feel she does NOT have her illness under control. She stayed overnight with me, things were fine till she said ( I need my phone charger from my car) Ok, so she goes out my front door, LEAVES IT OPEN, LEAVES my security door wide open an leaves the dog gate OPEN! I have a Chihuahua who is NOT street wise, there is my dog in the front yard near the street. I FREAKED out and said get my dog !! I was soooooooooooooo pissed off. I explained to her that she almost got my dog killed!!! She said…..” Oh, she’s ok, she wouldn’t get hurt,” Then she says…..” Well, do you want to kill me now” ?? What kind of statement is that?

    1. Hi Gepe,

      Has she been your good friend for very long? You’ve seen no other instances of poorly managed ADHD that could affect her and others?

      ADHD can limit “insight” — that is, the ability to be objective about one’s behavior.

      ADHD can also mean getting used to making mistakes and getting angry responses. Sometimes this is because of low insight but sometimes this is because whatever treatment they are pursuing are poor. (Sometimes I feel that is the standard.)

      There’s a reason that I advise ADHD-challenged couples to work as a team on treatment goals. Give poor clinical standards and ADHD symptoms themselves, it can be a gargantuan task for the adult with ADHD to go it alone.


  2. My husband is using his ADHD as an excuse for his long-term affair. Could that really be a mitigating factor? I think it’s just an excuse.

    1. Hi there,

      I’d say it depends on the circumstances. Yes, ADHD could be a contributor to behavior such as having an affair, but a long-term affair? Hmmm. I really cannot say.

      I think most of my friends with ADHD would say, if he knows about his ADHD now and is doing his best to manage it, then continuing a long-term fair and blaming it on ADHD isn’t reasonable.


  3. You were certainly thorough in your responses to all of these comments. Hope you got another post out of them! As always, I appreciate your approach and careful attention to research as well as giving credence to personal reports from adults with ADHD. I’ve been “Pinning” your articles faithfully. Thank you for keeping your blog going.

    1. Hi Joan!

      How nice of you! You and I….we’ve been in the trenches a long time, haven’t we?

      thanks so much for “Pinning” — I haven’t ventured there yet. Too much other work.

      Hope you are well.

  4. Love this topic Myth: ADHD Is An Excuse for Irresponsibility. As an older (65yrs) adult, diagnosed in my late 40’s and having ridden the roller coaster of finding the right doctor(s) and medication(s) I have to admit I use ADHD as an excuse all the time….. and love it! In fact doing so has helped me tremendously in that rather than beating myself up internally and thinking I’m stupid because of having difficulty in doing some type of task, I remind myself … I’m having difficulty because of the ADHD. It’s the fault of the ADHD.

    Then I pull out my bag of ADHD Self Help Tools and proceed doing the difficult task as best I can knowing I’ll eventually complete it – it just may not be at the same pace or following the same steps as other people.

    So I guess you’d have to say I don’t use ADHD as an excuse to get out of doing something but rather as the reason I may be doing it differently. But no longer falling into the self-accusatory pattern that only serves to worsen dealing with ADHD.

    1. Hi Diane and thanks for your comment.

      Absolutely. ADHD can definitely provide a reason. But it’s not, as some in the public would have it, a non-existent condition that’s simply an excuse for shirking responsibilities.

      Good for you and your bag of self-help tools!

  5. This is great info. I actually wrote a post about this for my blog in the spring – I think I called it “ADD Is Not An Excuse”. I see this all the time in my own family. It makes me crazy! I just signed up for the emails.

    1. Hi Liz,

      Just in case you think I lifted that from your blog….;-) …. this is actually an excerpt from my book, published in 2008. 🙂

      Welcome to the coaster!


  6. Hi Valerie, Congratulations on finally solving the mystery as to why you weren’t “living up to your potential.”

    As far as sharing the good news with your family, maybe you just want to hold off on that for a while. Instead, shore yourself up with support from people who do understand ADHD and can cheer on your treatment progress.

    I encourage you to check out any local support groups for Adult ADHD. Online support is great, but flesh-in-blood people talking about their stories can be even more validating.

    Good luck!

  7. a proper good see of ADHD Roller Coaster: “Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?” · ADHD Myth #2: An Excuse for Irresponsibility Comfy love it

  8. Jaelle n'ha Gilla

    Gina, I’m glad you included that sentence “Yes, it’s true that some adults with ADHD use the diagnosis as an excuse”. I think actually everybody uses one or the other excuse to behave in a way they would not want to see in others. I include myself into that equation. Haven’t we all been more bitchy because we were sick that day, and rationalized later “Oh, but that was because I was sick”?
    I don’t like the generalization much that this is a “myth”. It’s not. It’s human behavior and some people use it more, some less, and some have to work harder than others if they want to avoid it. I’m not saying it is always avoidable. All I’m saying is that it is there all the time.

    I get the idea though, that ADD patients have other mechanisms of running decisions.

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