Boys with ADHD may be more likely to grow up into men who fare worse economically and socially than their peers who never had the disorder, new research finds. The study suggests struggles that come with childhood ADHD may last well into adult years.
"A lot of them do fine, but there is a small proportion that is in a great deal of difficulty," study author Dr. Rachel Klein, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, told Reuters. "They go to jail, they get hospitalized."
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood, affecting up to 5 percent of school-aged children. The disorder causes problems with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity or a combination of those factors that fall outside the normal range for a child's age and development.
To find out how children with ADHD turned out as adults, researchers studied 135 white men in their early 40s who were diagnosed with ADHD when they were 8, and compared them to a group of a 136 men without childhood ADHD.
The researchers found that 31 percent of adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD as kids did not finish high school, while only 4 percent of their never-diagnosed counterparts lacked a diploma. Hardly any of those in the ADHD group had higher education while nearly 30 percent of those in the comparison group had a higher degree. On average, people who had been diagnosed with ADHD as children had 2.5 fewer years of education than their counterparts.
A "striking" discrepancy was also seen on the occupational and economic fronts, with those in the ADHD group being less likely to have a job than their never-diagnosed counterparts. Participants in the ADHD group also took home a median salary $40,000 less than that of their comparisons. However, mearly 84 percent of study participants who had been diagnosed with ADHD held jobs.
Men who were diagnosed with childhood ADHD also had more divorces (31 percent in ADHD group vs. 12 percent in comparison group) and were more likely to face mental health woes. More than 22 percent of those diagnosed with children still had ADHD as adults, compared with 5 percent of the other group. Antisocial personality disorder was present in 16 percent of the ADHD group compared with 0 percent of the comparison group, and substance abuse disorders were nearly three times more common in the ADHD group (14 percent versus 5 percent).
"Most of them are married, most of them are employed," Klein noted to Reuters. "I think that is a silver lining."
Their results were published online Oct. 15 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
The findings "highlight the importance of extended monitoring and treatment of children with ADHD," the researchers conclude. The researchers note the study can't be generalized to women and all ethnic and social groups because only white men of average intelligence were included.
"I think that what happens is that kids are diagnosed and treated while in childhood, while their parents have responsibility for it," Dr. Steven Safren, director of behavioral medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told HealthDay. "Unfortunately, there's not a lot of focus on treatments for adults with ADHD."