Childhood ADHD May Last Into Adulthood

If a child is diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), will he or she eventually outgrow it or continue with the condition into adulthood?

A new study shows that nearly 30% will continue to struggle with ADHD, and may develop other mental health issues.

"We suffer from the misconception that ADHD is just an annoying childhood disorder thats over treated," researcher William Barbaresi, MD, of Boston Childrens Hospital, says in a prepared statement. "This couldnt be further from the truth. We need to have a chronic-disease approach to ADHD as we do for diabetes. The system of care has to be designed for the long haul."

The study included 5,700 adults. Two groups were created: one group had been diagnosed during childhood with ADHD, and the other group grew up without ADHD.

Out of 367 participants who had childhood ADHD, 232 were followed into adulthood. At age 27, nearly 30% had adult ADHD.

Researchers also found that nearly 57% of the adults with childhood ADHD had at least one other mental health issue. 35% of the adults without childhood ADHD also had one or more mental health issues.

Substance abuse or dependence (26%), antisocial personality disorder (17%), other substance abuse/dependence (16%), hypomanic episodes (15%), anxiety disorder (14%) and major depression (13%) were the most common mental health issues experienced by adults diagnosed with childhood ADHD.

The researchers noted that death from suicide was nearly five times higher in this group.

Among all 367 adults with childhood ADHD, seven (1.9%) had died, three of them from suicide. Of 4,946 people without ADHD, only 37 (0.7%) had died, five by suicide.

Ten people whod had childhood ADHD (2.7%) were in jail at the time of recruitment for the study.

This study "speaks to the need to greatly improve the long-term treatment of children with ADHD and provide a mechanism for treating them as adults," researcher Slavica Katusic, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., says in a prepared statement. 

"Stimulant medications used to treat ADHD in children are also effective in adults, although adults tend not to be treated and may not be aware they have ADHD," Barbaresi says.

While the findings are very helpful in recognizing the need for long-term treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD, its important to also remember that although nearly 30% of the childhood ADHD cases continued into adulthood, 71% did not. Also, mental health problems are not limited to adults who were diagnosed with ADHD as a child, According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a little over 26 % of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.  

No one knows for sure what causes ADHD, but current research shows that genetics play an important role. Many times symptoms can be managed by a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.

When it comes to treatment, ADHD warrants the same approach as chronic health problems such as diabetes, Barbaresi says. In those cases, "when a child is diagnosed, we immediately institute strategies aimed at keeping the child engaged in appropriate treatment for the long haul."

For many reasons, including "a huge problem with regard to health care coverage of appropriate assessment and treatment ... that's not really happening at a systematic level with ADHD," he says.

Having a child with ADHD can put a strain on the family but there are steps parents can take to help restore a sense of calmness in the home.

One of the most important steps is to have your child professionally diagnosed. There isnt a single medical or physical test for diagnosing ADD/ ADHD and thats why a doctor or health professional will need to be involved. Just because it looks like ADD/ADHD doesnt mean it is, so getting a thorough assessment and diagnosis is important. Qualified professionals trained in diagnosing ADD/ADHD can include clinical psychologists, physicians, or clinical social workers.

If your child is diagnosed with ADHD dont wait to start treatment, the earlier the better.

Even when you feel overwhelmed, you must take care of yourself, eat right and find ways to reduce stress. Seek support when you need it and take breaks " friends and family can often be a valuable resource. 

Yes, some children diagnosed with ADHD will continue to have it into adulthood and they are at a higher risk for other mental health problems, but early treatment and arming yourself with the latest information on ADHD treatment and research will help prepare you and your child for a better outcome.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics

Sources: Megan Brooks,

Michelle Healy,

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