Myth #4: Modern Life Makes Us All ADHD’ish

ADHD Myth 4 Modern Life Makes Us All ADHD'ish

We hear it a lot:  Modern life makes us all ADHD’ish.  It can indeed seem that way.  But there’s a difference between ADHD and ADHD’ish.

Living in the accelerated 21st century, it’s easy to get so overwhelmed and stressed that we all might occasionally forget details, communicate poorly, snap at loved ones, and get sidetracked from what we’re supposed to be doing.

Then there are all those electronic devices taking our dopamine pathways for joy rides. Make no mistake: these devices do mess with our brains!

For people with ADHD, however, such challenges are not transitory or situational. They are persistent and pervasive. “Yes, the world really is different now compared to when most of us grew up, because there is so much more to juggle,” concedes ADHD expert Patricia Quinn, MD.

Does that mean, however, our fast-paced life causes ADHD? No, Quinn says. Too much stress can impair anyone’s brain function, but it doesn’t cause ADHD. She offers this bottom line: “When you remove stressors, people with ADHD still have ADHD. In other words, it’s not purely stress that inhibits their functioning. It’s the lack of skills required to meet challenges.”

There’s a Big Difference: ADHD vs. ’Ish

Definitely, our fast-paced world can make someone with ADHD function worse than they might have in earlier times. In fact, some experts say, that is another reason ADHD is being more widely diagnosed: because modern life is demanding more of us than ever before.

Certainly, we’re learning that good brain function is vulnerable to the constant stimulation streaming in from cell phones, TV, e-mail, cell phones, and our increasingly noise-filled environment. Some of us habituate to the stimulation as if it were a drug. We grow more easily bored and at loose ends when lacking our “fix”.

The difference is this: People with ADHD commonly possess an exaggerated tendency to seek stimulation and then suffer more from overstimulation’s impairing cognitive effects.

ADHD: Not A Modern Invention

Finally, consider these historical tidbits:

  • More than two centuries ago, a Scottish physician named Alexander Crichton wrote about what we now recognized asADHD in a medical text. See ADHD Medical History: 1798 with Dr.  Alexander Crichton
  • Widespread ADHD awareness mushroomed in the 20th century, beginning around 1902, when British physician George Still lectured to the Royal College of Physicians and wrote about components of the behavior (which he observed ran in families) in the prestigious medical journal Lancet.  See this commentary from a preeminent ADHD expert: Russell Barkley, PhD: The Relevance of the Still Lectures to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Commentary
  • Before that, the German physician Heinrich Hoffman wrote nursery rhymes in the early 1860s about “Fidgety Phil” and “Little Johnny Head- In-Air.” These stories, in the minds of many experts,  draw close parallels to ADHD.
  • Moreover, ADHD’s recorded history might span at least 2,500 years. That’s when the Greek physician-scientist Hippocrates apparently observed a condition sounding suspiciously like ADHD. He described patients who had “quickened responses to sensory experience, but also less tenaciousness because the soul moves on quickly to the next impression.” No mention of cell phones and video games as causative factors.

More ADHD Myths

Myth #3: ADHD Symptoms are Simply Human Behaviors


Your comments welcome.

—Gina Pera


6 thoughts on “Myth #4: Modern Life Makes Us All ADHD’ish”

  1. For anybody who is unsure if it’s ADHD or “ish”, I find that looking back at family members who existed before today’s current high stress atmosphere and see which ones were the “oddballs”, “loose cannons”, and “black sheep” that both confounded and entertained the rest of the family can be very, VERY telling. Chances are, the behavior wasn’t so much contraryness, but that they too were ADHD and that today’s environment has little or nothing to do with what the current generation is experiencing. I have already spotted several possible candidates, including a great-grandfather who was described as a great big kid who couldn’t sit still, always taking something apart and always doing physically risky things even after the same behavior resulted in injury. I have a great grandmother who comes across as the female version with a dash of OOD, and on and on and on.

  2. What makes me angry is when I try to explain to anyone that I have ADHD and what it affects, and they try to tell me I don’t have it. I’m just stressed like everyone else. My son and I have both been diagnosed, and I know the difference between stress and a scribble happening in my brain….or lack of impulse control….or being 3 conversations ahead but still with you on this one…or being unable to sit still and watch a movie without doing dishes and wiping counters. I am stressed. But I also have ADHD.

    1. Hi Becki,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You hit on a very important point: Having ADHD ups the ante on having stress in one’s life. So, outsiders mistake “obvious” stress for simply that, instead of ADHD compounded by stress that compounds ADHD and….on and on.

      Beyond that, I’m constantly amazed by the gall some people today have, telling you you don’t really have ADHD. What do they know?

      I encounter it all the time, and I don’t even have ADHD. I’ll make a new acquaintance, and I almost dread revealing my line of work. Because I know that, inevitably, there will be a response along the lines of, “Don’t you think that’s over-diagnosed” and “I don’t believe in drugging children.”

      Just this morning, at the gym, it was a retired pediatric physician (formerly at Stanford) who told me they didn’t have ADHD in her native Poland. It’s an American invention. I felt like saying, “Lady, you seem to have left Poland a long time ago, and it was probably post-war decimated when you did. At any rate, I’m glad you are now retired from Stanford, so at least you won’t be making ignorant decisions on children’s lives.”

      But I didn’t. 😉


  3. My first time on your website and first blog I hit was this one. This is one of the biggest things, I myself face as a Life Coach & Counsellor. Everyone coming in thinks they have ADD or ADHD because of the way we are in today’s society. Not saying some don’t but some just have a lot going on. The amount of knowledge and awareness nowadays is great compared to even 10 years ago but still work to be done in this area. Look forward to checking out your other blogs.

    1. Hi Bob,

      Welcome to the roller coaster!

      It’s such an interesting question: where does ADHD begin and “average human” inability to manage modern myriad sources of stimulation end?

      It seems a constant battle—for everyone—to keep saying “no” to unnecessary distractions.

      Personally, I don’t even have a smart phone. I don’t need it; I work at home and am at my desk most of the day. But in public, I do sometimes feel like a luddite. 🙂


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