Children Who Are Diagnosed With ADHD Often Carry It On Into Adulthood
March 4, 2013

Children Who Are Diagnosed With ADHD Often Carry It On Into Adulthood

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Mayo Clinic has found that children who suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to struggle with the condition into adulthood and experience a host of other psychological problems.

Most notably, the study, which was based on 20 years of data, found that a third of kids who were diagnosed with ADHD during childhood still had it as adults and were nearly five times more likely to commit suicide.

"Only 37.5 percent of the children we contacted as adults were free of these really worrisome outcomes," said lead author Dr. William Barbaresi, of Boston Children's Hospital and HMS. "That's a sobering statistic that speaks to the need to greatly improve the long-term treatment of children with ADHD and provide a mechanism for treating them as adults."

The study, which was published in the latest edition of the journal Pediatrics, is based on data collected from the Mayo Clinic on over 5,700 children born between 1976 and 1982 and still residing in Rochester, Minnesota at age five. Of those children, almost 370 were documented as having ADHD. About 230 out of the original 5,700 met the study's criteria for adult ADHD in the follow-up study taken at age 27.

"This was a unique population based study of a large group of individuals with ADHD followed from childhood to adulthood," added co-author Dr. Slavica Katusic, from the Mayo Clinic.

According to the study, 29 percent of the childhood ADHD cases continued to have ADHD as adults and 81 percent of childhood cases suffered from at least one additional psychiatric issue, such as alcohol dependence or drug abuse. Childhood ADHD patients had a 16 percent risk for drug abuse, compared to about nine percent for the general population.

"We suffer from the misconception that ADHD is just an annoying childhood disorder that's overtreated," said Barbaresi. "This couldn't 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 Harvard doctor added that the study findings may actually under-represent the bad outcomes of childhood ADHD, as the study participants were mostly middle-class and tended to have good access to health care.

"One can argue that this is potentially a best-case scenario," Barbaresi says. "Outcomes could be worse in socioeconomically challenged populations."

He said parents of children with ADHD should pursue the best treatment possible for their kids and continue the treatment as they enter adolescence. He added that children with the condition should also be assessed for associated afflictions or risk factors.

"Data indicate that the 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 noted.

For those parents looking to treat their children, it should be noted that some insurance plans categorize ADHD as a behavioral condition, resulting in limited coverage for treatment.