Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder doesn’t disappear as children grow older, according to a study that found harmful life-long effects that suggest treatment needs to continue into adulthood.
The study, reported in today’s Archives of General Psychiatry, followed 271 patients for 33 years, the longest any research has tracked the disorder, the authors wrote. Men diagnosed with ADHD as children had less education as adults, higher rates of divorce and substance abuse, and they spent more time in jail, the research found.
ADHD, which causes inattentiveness, over-activity and impulsiveness, is diagnosed in as many as 7 percent of children and 4 percent of adults, according to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry website. As people grow into adulthood, they tend to abandon treatments that helped control the disorder when they were younger, said lead study author Rachel Klein. That’s a mistake, she said.
“The results point to the importance of not restricting treatment of ADHD to childhood, and to being vigilant to the signs of serious rule breaking and drug abuse, which led to the worst adult function,” said Klein, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, in a telephone interview.
The study involved 135 white men diagnosed with ADHD around age eight and 136 men without a childhood diagnosis. Almost one in four patients among those diagnosed as children continued to show symptoms in adulthood, the report said.
About 31 percent of those with ADHD didn’t finish high school, compared with 4.4 percent in the comparison group. They made about $40,000 a year less on average in their jobs, and they were about three times more likely to have been divorced, be involved in substance abuse or to have spent time in jail, according to the study.
Adults often don’t like to admit they have ADHD, particularly in the workplace, because they believe it could affect how they are perceived at work, said Ruth Hughes, chief executive officer of Landover, Maryland-based Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, a non-profit support group, in a telephone interview.
The research “really clarifies that this is a serious disorder,” Hughes said. “ADHD does have long-term effects. It is a lifespan disorder; it doesn’t go away. ”
The men studied by Klein and her colleagues were all about 41 years old. Those in the ADHD group were all treated as children, Klein said, and joined the study after seeking treatment.
Medicines for ADHD include amphetamines like Shire Plc’s Adderall XR, as well as other drugs like Novartis AG’s Ritalin, Johnson & Johnson’s Concerta, Shire’s Vyvanse and Intuniv and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Strattera. Treatments also include parent and child education, behavior management and counseling.
Today’s study was funded by grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Whatever disadvantage the adults studied had as adults “started off as adolescents,” NYU’s Klein said. “If you can’t focus, if you can’t spend time reading, if you can’t conform to usual demands, if you can’t resist temptation and do what you feel like doing rather than what’s expected of you, which is a characteristic, you’re at a disadvantage in this world.”