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  • ADHD and Motivation

    As a parent or spouse of an ADHDer, do you ever wonder why they procrastinate until the very last second, like there’s no motivation? Do you ever feel a task is like walking in chest deep water? Trudging?

    Well for the ADHDer, it may have more to do with chemicals in the brain and less to do with being “lazy”.

    Enter the neurotransmitter dopamine.

    Dopamine is the neurotransmitter linked to motivation, drive, pleasure and reward, balance, and learning [1,2] It’s the chemical released when you do something good(are praised, have sex, etc) or something your brain wants you to do more of (narcotics or drugs).
    For years, scientists have were convinced dopamine’s main role was for pleasure and reward. Then in recent research it was challenged; dopamine may be more involved with motivation, initiative, and drive than reward and pleasure.

    But what’s this mean for the ADHDer?

    It’s been found that one of the key issues for the ADHDer and they symptoms is a lack of production of dopamine. We produce less, which is why we may be impulsive, risk takers or seek highly stimulating activities. It’s why parents get frustrated and say “He can play his video games for hours and hours, but ask him to read a book for 10 minutes and he can’t!” We need stimulation/dopamine. Or if we have something we really like, we can get that dopamine hit and continue to do it.

    Back to the research:

    Dopamine has been cited in numerous mice studies correlating a lack of dopamine to the reduced desire of mice to move or even eat. In some studies mice with the inability to produce dopamine wouldn’t even drag themselves across a cage to eat [3,4].

    Consider this further evidence that dopamine supports drive and motivation:

    The neuroscience journal Neuron published a 2013 study that concluded “The widespread belief that dopamine regulates pleasure could go down in history with the latest research results on the role of this neurotransmitter. Researchers have shown that it regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere to obtain something.” [5]

    Finally, that last bit is paramount to understand so here it is again:

    Dopamine “regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere to obtain something.”

    In conclusion, when you’re frustrated with yourself, a student, or spouse who can’t start a task or focus long enough to complete it. It’s not different than getting upset with someone using a cane because they aren’t walking fast enough.

    With all that said, ADHDer’s don’t producing enough; knowing this will give the added perspective when addressing motivational issues.


    1. Beninger, R. The role of dopamine in locomotor activity and learning. Brain Research Reviews. Volume 6, Issue 2, October 1983, Pages 173–196
    2. Dr. Michael Merzenich. Interview. Neuroplasticity: Train Your Brain and Be Smarter.
    3. Zhou QY, Palmiter RD. Dopamine-deficient mice are severely hypoactive, adipsic, and aphagic. Cell. 1995 Dec 29; 83(7):1197-209.
    4. Angier, N. A Molecule of Motivation, Dopamine Excels at Its Task. NY Times. October 26, 2009
    5. Asociación RUVID. “Dopamine regulates the motivation to act, study shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 January 2013.

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