ADHD reaches beyond childhood
March 4th, 2013
01:47 PM ET

ADHD reaches beyond childhood

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is often considered something children outgrow. But researchers say the disorder can carry over into adulthood.

A new study published in this week's Pediatrics journal finds that about a third of those diagnosed as children continue to have ADHD as adults, and more than half of those adults have another psychiatric disorder as well.

Suicide rates were nearly five times higher in adults who had childhood ADHD compared to those who did not, according to the study. Researchers aren't exactly sure why; they speculate that problems associated with childhood ADHD, such as lower academic achievement and social isolation, make people more prone to life issues as adults.

The study looked at roughly 230 people born between 1976 and 1982 who were diagnosed with ADHD as children. The group was followed until they were about 30 years old.

Researchers think the higher rates of suicide and psychiatric illness in those with childhood ADHD are tied to depression and impulsive behavior.

Living with ADHD can be challenging. The disorder often makes it more difficult for school children to pay attention in class. They may be more fidgety, hyperactive, and often act before they think things through, experts say. Their grades can suffer, and they tend to have trouble getting along with their peers.

As they grow up, people with ADHD are may be underemployed and are more inclined to have problems and accidents on the job, says Dr. Russell Barkley, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Relationship and marital issues are not uncommon and they more likely to have substance abuse issues and higher arrest rates than those who do not have ADHD as a child, says Barkley. All of these troubles over time can lead to depression.

"We have known that ADHD predisposes people to depression. And the longer (ADHD) persists, the greater the likelihood someone with ADHD could develop depression or an anxiety disorder," says Barkley. "But what triggers these [suicide] attempts is more the impulsivity of ADHD."

However, when experts were asked if these same numbers would hold true for children who have been diagnosed more recently, they said probably not. Depression and anxiety are still risk factors, and suicide is still possible, but experts say children today probably have a lower risk because we have better, longer acting medications; better treatments and counseling and more services are being offered in schools.

Previous research has shown that it's vitally important to continue ADHD treatment into adolescence and adulthood, says Barkley. Many of the problems seen later in life start in the teen years. Proper interventions during this critical time can help alter the course for these individuals, giving them better tools to handle life's challenges.

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