Study: ADHD Lasts Into Adulthood And Can Be Coupled With Psychiatric Disorders

“Don’t worry; he’ll grow out of it!”

If you are a parent, then you might remember your parent(s) or grandparent(s) offering you a comforting bit of wisdom when your child was repeating a negative behavior: “Don’t worry; he’ll grow out of it!” Sometimes the it was a simple thing like trying to ride the dog or dangling from a tree limb or refusing to eat his vegetables. For the most part these words of comfort turned out to be true, but occasionally childhood disorders, with resultant behavior patterns, don’t go away with maturation.

New study finds children with ADHD can face a lifetime of mental health issues

On March 4, 2013, the results of a new study were published on-line in the journal Pediatrics: Mortality, ADHD, and Psychosocial Adversity in Adults with Childhood ADHD, A Prospective Study.  The study was authored by William J. Barbaresi, MD of the Division of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Robert C. Colligan, PhD, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, and Health Sciences Research, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; Amy L. Weaver, MS, Jill M. Killian, BS and Slavica K. Katusic, MD of Health Sciences Research, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; and Robert G. Voight, MD of the Department of Pediatrics, Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

The study’s methods

  • This was a population-based study following children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • The children were followed to adulthood
  • The children were born from 1976 through 1982 and lived in Rochester, MN
  • The children were still in Rochester at age 5; their families allowed access to their medical records
  • Total number of children was 5,718, with 367 diagnosed with ADHD
  • 232 of the 367 participated in the follow-up study, with 3/4 receiving treatment for ADHD as children. 

Researchers’ findings

According to the press release, the following are the researchers’ findings:

  • 29 percent of the children with ADHD still had ADHD as adults (ascertained through structured neuropsychiatric interviews). 
  • 57 percent of children with ADHD had at least one other psychiatric disorder as adults, as compared with 35 percent of controls. The most common were substance abuse/dependence, antisocial personality disorder, hypomanic episodes, generalized anxiety and major depression
  • Of the children who still had ADHD as adults, 81 percent had at least one other psychiatric disorder, as compared with 47 percent of those who no longer had ADHD and 35 percent of controls. 
  • 7 of the 367 children with ADHD (1.9 percent) had died at the time of study recruitment, 3 of them from suicide. Of the 4,946 children without ADHD whose outcomes could be ascertained, only 37 children had died, 5 by suicide. 
  • 10 children with ADHD (2.7 percent) were incarcerated at the time of recruitment for the study.

CBS Morning News interviews lead researcher William J. Barbaresi, MD

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Going forward…

Here at Cottonwood Tucson we often work with adolescent girls (ages 13-17) and adult patients who have or have had ADHD and present with co-occurring substance abuse, major depression, or anxiety disorders. Again according to the press release, Dr. Barbaresi offers sobering insight regarding this study:

‘”We suffer from the misconception that ADHD is just an annoying childhood disorder that’s overtreated,” says 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.”

Barbaresi thinks the study findings may actually underestimate the bad outcomes of childhood ADHD. The study population in Rochester, Minn., was relatively heterogeneous and largely middle class, and the children tended to have good education and 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 advises parents of children with ADHD to ensure that their children are in high-quality treatment—and remain in treatment as they enter adolescence. Children should also be assessed for learning disabilities and monitored for conditions associated with ADHD, including substance use, depression and anxiety.’

 As always, we appreciate your comments.

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