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Dr. Mate's theory of ADHD being caused by early adversity

Dr. Mate's theory of ADHD being caused by early adversity2010-02-18T18:12:20+00:00

The Forums Forums What is it? Other Dr. Mate's theory of ADHD being caused by early adversity

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  • #88238

    Post count: 14413

    Hello all,

    I found this link to Dr.Gabor Mate’s interview which touches upon his new book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”.

    It is his latest work delving into the causes and treatment of addictive behaviour. In the interview he discusses “treating” addiction, which like ADHD, develops from the same core issue -“early adversity”. He talks about ADHD at the end of the article.


    He mentions that treatment of ADHD may involve molding new neural pathways from new experiences/habits in life.

    I was a sad child, watching my parents fight and plan for divorce. I ended up living with my violent mother. I can recall trying to daydream about being someone else to remove myself from my reality.

    I am eager to get feedback on what others feel about his opinion on ADHD being caused by “early adversity” in childhood, as it seemed to ring a bell with my early youth.

    In case anyone is interested, Dr. Mate will be speaking at a George Brown /CAMH conference on March 4. Link provided below.



    Post count: 44

    Hmm…I’m a bit skeptical, based on my own recollections, but mainly because I think that this would be an extremely hard-to-test-and-falsify theory – what “counts” as “early adversity”?. He gives the example of Nazi occupation – if his theory is correct, the adversity doesn’t have to be quite that extreme, so where is the line drawn?

    As far as I know, my early years were good – intact family, parents who loved/love me, brother born when I was two who apparently I got along really well with. Obviously I can’t remember, but “knowing” my mom in later years, I have to assume that she was pretty great back then too. Had a Nanny who I vaguely remember, who also seemed pretty awesome. I was a bit “different” in school right off-the-bat, and had some struggles with making friends, but I think that was partly the undiagnosed ADHD and partly my own personality (I am sensitive, perfectionistic and passionate about my “causes”) – once I became more self-aware in my teens and reined in some of the “craziness”, I did much better with my peers.

    I am 100% in favour of treating oneself and others with compassion. And I do believe that the social, institutional, and environmental causes/contributions to various diseases and conditions really need to be talked about a lot more, and a ton of work needs to be done there (I think it’s not happening to a large extent because making significant changes in those areas is so bloody difficult – too many entrenched interests – but I digress…).


    Rick Green – Founder of TotallyADD
    Post count: 473

    Is Gabor Mate still peddling that theory?

    Wow, I thought that had been discredited again and again.

    If Nazi occupation causes ADHD why didn’t the rates go to 100% for kids born between 1939 and 1945?

    Why aren’t the rates at 100% for kids in Third World slums?

    Sorry, no sale. There’s a thousand ways to shoot the theory apart. I had to listen to them from a number of Doctors when we made the documentary.

    While it’s a cool sounding theory, especially with the new understanding of Brain Plasticity, it doesn’t explain why people the ADHD rates of people who have been through trauma is the same as everyone else.

    Or why ADHD kids are more active even before they are born.

    I understand Mate had horrible childhood trauma. But there’s no study I know of that has shown ADHD people have a huge rate of childhood trauma.

    All of the studies I’ve seen, books I’ve read, and experts I spoke to show that there are two ways to get this:

    First – you are born with it, it’s genetic, and they’ve actually identified seven of the genes. You’ll see it in your family tree.

    Second – A brain injury can create symptoms that fit ADHD. (Is this what Mate is talking about? If so, it’s a small fraction of ADHD people.)

    But the first way, genetic, is far and away the most common. Over three quarters. The fact that most Adults realize they are ADHD when one of their kids is diagnosed gives one a sense of how it’s inherited. I can look back through my family tree, and forward to my kids and see it.

    If you use the figure of 5 to 7% of kids having this in North America, the rate among siblings is much higher. In other words, if one of your siblings has ADHD, you have a much higher odds of having it than 5 to 7 percent. And amongst twins, who have nearly identical genetics, it’s over 90%.

    The fact is, ADHD is hugely genetic. Why it happens in families where the kids have no real trauma (I personally had an ideal childhood in Don Mills, a community designed to be safe and nurturing.)

    Bad parenting, childhood trauma, too much sugar… there’s no statistical evidence of any of that.

    Mind you, a family with ADHD is already going to have more chaos than average.

    But I’ll tell you, every expert we spoke to who knows Gabor Mate’s theory has simply rolled their eyes and said something to the effect of, “Nope.” Too bad, if it were that simple we could eliminate it by protecting kids from trauma.


    Post count: 53

    Well, I thought that Dr. Mate theory is interesting; however, I really didn’t feel that he created a solution itt is just basically a theory. When I was diagnosed with add a long with my children, it was explained to us that ADD doesn’t change who we are it supports our brain. So, I believe that at the end of the day everyone has symptoms that resemble ADD not all of them have it. It could be the survival skills they need while growing up in a dysfunctional family…and aren’t we all raised in some sort of dysfunction whether we were directly involved or we indirectly some how experienced it. How we dealt with it is totally individual. We are multifaced human beings and there is no possible way that our care givers (parents etc) could have taped into every emotion that we had or need resolve with.

    Trauma in a young person life is very difficult and changes who they are to grow up to be. ADD is a genetic disorder…to me (again to me only), I know how I internally struggled with it…no one knew but me how I felt. I looked under control on the outside but on the inside I was fighting with everything. I know that my girls were feling that way as well. Medication is for my brain and if my brain could talk it would say “thank you for giving me peace.” I’m still the same person I was but now I’m organized, focused, and attentive. I’m able to understand the dysfunction I grew up with much better and I’m not playing such a victim role. I’m not perfect and I do have bouts of instibility but doesn’t everyone…am I nuts or is every one happy happy all the time. I don’t believe so. I’m grateful for the medication and now I have to combine behavioural thearpy with it so that I can be the best person that “I WANT” to be not what any one, society, or media dictates me to be. I’m working on myself, and I have to allow my children to recognize what they need to be the adults they want to be…not what I want or anyone else…just what they want.

    When I listened to dr. Mates i realized that my thoughts and feels are being devalued and that I’m not being heard…once again let’s not deal with the issue. If ADD was cancer would we make the same excuses…I have ADD, my children have ADD, my 1st cousin has ADD, her son has ADD, my nephew has ADD, my other cousin has ADD…I did not go through any tramatic birth nor did any of my relatives. I came from a dysfunctional family my children did not…so how does that work now Dr. Mates.

    Enough skeptics, enough wanting to change who we are, enough fighting your brain…please be excepting of ourselves and work towards being the best person you can be for yourself and only yourself…have faith in yourself. If medication is what you need to control ADD, depression, or cancer then take it because it helps you be the best YOU. Take care of yourself as well…eat well, exercise, coaching, counselling what ever works but please stop beating yourself up because you have ADD.

    This is so hard for me to hear and it has me wanting to not be part of forums, organizations etc…I want to look at ADD as a gift and the goodness of what I can create for myself and those around me not the evil that was created on me. I’m for the medication and my good health.

    I have add and I’m loving it.

    These are my views without judgement



    Post count: 14413

    In a lot of ways, ADHD is the early adversity. Hypothesis based on causal relationships need to be carefully examined. Is the adversity caused by the condition or the other way around? This can be argued both ways if one ignores other data, e.g. genetic research.

    I do have to agree with Rick. More likely that ADHD, an inherited condition, affecting one or both parents, could cause stress and adversity. The demands of parenting an ADHD child could be too great, the resources not available, and they might make bad choices. The inherent genetics come before the learned behaviour, though they both play off each other. Nature before nurture.


    Rick Green – Founder of TotallyADD
    Post count: 473

    From what I’ve read and heard about the high rates of ADHD people in the rescue/emergency fields, I think part of it is we flourish under adversity. From the simple stuff, like leaving things to the last minute so the adrenaline is rushing, to the taking part in risky sports, or having affairs, gambling, and so on.

    We tend to be really good in emergencies. The theory is that our brains are kind of asleep. Our filters are not working well. So the 10,000 bits of information per second that your senses are sending to your brain aren’t being filtered out as well as they should be. But it seems when we’re under stress, all the chemicals fire off and we come to a level of calmness and clarity and focus that other people would consider normal. Meanwhile, under the same stress, the vast majority, the people with a normal level of dopamine, adrenaline etc.. now have too much and they can’t cope.

    So maybe what Mate is pointing to is the fact that we actually feel better under stress or adversity. So rather than routine jobs that requires detail or long term planning, like say farming, we’re drawn to stuff that’s gonna give us the brain juice to wake us up.


    Post count: 14413

    Mmm. Brain juice! Sadly, I’ve yet to find a job that gives me enough of that.


    Post count: 173

    Sounds to me like the same old “blame the parents” crap. Does he also say that Autism is caused by “Refrigerator Mothers”? *rolleyes*

    ETA: Ok, having read the interview, I think he is genuinely concerned about society, but is mixing ideology with his science:

    “Well, if people’s behaviors and dysfunctions are regulated, controlled and determined by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies, we don’t have to look at the kind of support that we give to pregnant women, we don’t have to look at the kind of non-support that we give to families, so that, you know, most children in North America now have to be away from their parents from an early age on because of economic considerations. And especially in the States, because of the welfare laws, women are forced to go find low-paying jobs far away from home, often single women, and not see their kids for most of the day. Under those conditions, kids’ brains don’t develop the way they need to.

    And so, if it’s all caused by genetics, we don’t have to look at those social policies; we don’t have to look at our politics that disadvantage certain minority groups, so cause them more stress, cause them more pain, in other words, more predisposition for addictions; we don’t have to look at economic inequalities. If it’s all genes, it’s all—we’re all innocent, and society doesn’t have to take a hard look at its own attitudes and policies.”

    The quote here reminds me of an essay I once read by Stephen Jay Gould on William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor in the “Scope’s Monkey Trial” (A trial that prosecuted an American teacher for teaching the theory of evolution to his students). Gould points out that until the trial, Bryan had been considered a progressive, and that most of his biographers consider his role in the trial to be an aberration. Gould on the other hand, sees Bryan’s role in the trial as consistent with his work on Social Justice. He says Bryan saw evolution being misapplied in the social realm and being used as an excuse for social inequities and it was this that he actually opposed.

    I think Dr. Mate concern that society looks for ways to get itself off the hook for social injustice is valid. (If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. – Charles Darwin) I do not think that this ideological stance should be used an excuse to ignore the science, which points to a genetic basis for ADHD.


    Post count: 51

    It sounds like he’s confusing RAD with ADHD. Children with RAD look like ADHD but with treatment can outgrow it.


    Post count: 14413

    Any adversity I had growing up was probably self-induced. I have the greatest parents in the world, still happily married after 47+ years. I was an only child and can only remember being deliriously happy for the first 14-15 years of my life before hormones and motor vehicles took control. I don’t blame anybody else for the way my brain works. On the contrary, I’d like to know who to thank, because I like it!

    I do know now that my father is ADD. Whether my “problems” were taught or genetically passed to me is for someone else to determine. Does it really matter anyway? One thing I’ve heard is that if a father is away a lot, a son’s ADD can be worse. That was the case for me from about age 6-15 when my father was on the road about three nights a week.

    Which led me to another memory–the way I used to tinker with things when I was growing up. Or sometimes I’d try to build things with disastrous results, like the time I watched the soap-box derby on TV and decided I was capable of building a downhill racer out of scrap lumber and parts from dead lawnmowers. Mine probably weighed more than I did and had inadequate steering and brakes. I didn’t think to test it before putting it on a steep road. Like me, it moved really FAST. Like me, it was very hard to guide and stop.

    Well, it did suddenly stop.

    I don’t remember much about the treehouse I built. Or how I got down from up there.

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