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What Happens to ADHD Kids as Adults?

Actors Rick Green and Patrick McKenna (Bill and Harold of The Red Green Show) in Ontario both experience ADHD, but manage it through Canadian research suggestions.

Actors Rick Green and Patrick McKenna (Bill and Harold of The Red Green Show) in Ontario both experience ADHD, but manage it through Canadian research suggestions.

Minimal Brain Dysfunction?

After World War II, a set of conditions seen in childhood came to be known as Minimal Brain Dysfunction, which caused children and their families to feel that these kids had severe brain damage or mental retardation.

Bullies at school used this to their advantage when the word was leaked on the playground.

Today we call this set of conditions "Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity" or ADD and ADHD according to the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5.

Childhood Neurological Diseases and Conditions

The official syndrome named "Attention Deficit and Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity" appeared in the 1980s with related psychiatric testing and observational checklists for families and teachers to go with them a few years later.

I saw this all first hand in practice in clinical psychology in Ohio, the first US State to award SSDI payments to these children, sometime between 1983 and 1988.

Scientists also discovered that many of these diagnosed children exhibited high IQ scores. Thus, these youth were offered "Talented and Gifted" (TAG) classes, for which they were also bullied and teased by peers.

The other kids labeled them "weird" for being smart and for needing ADD-related drugs and/or treatment. Sometimes this bullying lasted through adulthood.

Lots of people have ADD or ADHD whether they are aware of it or not.

Lots of people have ADD or ADHD whether they are aware of it or not.

In Ohio suburbs, teachers were unwisely given the ability to diagnose youngsters with ADD/ADHD in conjunction with contracts between schools and local psychological practices. After medications were distributed, these teachers were given the authority to change dosages and even to "prescribe" such ineffective adjunct treatments as "no physical activity at all, because it makes ADD worse." This added another level of problems for several years in the 1990s.

The years 1983–2003 in the nine Central Ohio counties were back-breaking for mental health workers regarding not only ADD/ADHD, but also Autism Spectrum Disorders, Personality Disorders (our psychiatrists' consensus was that they were untreatable), and Alzheimer's Disease.

Ten years later, in 2013, we had the results of a 30-year longitudinal study that followed youngsters with ADD/ADHD through their 29th birthdays. The results of the study are useful and fascinating.

The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota is home to a long history of relevant and useful medical research, assessment, and treatment. ADD/ADHD is included among these.

Mortality, ADHD, and Psychosocial Adversity in Adults With Childhood ADHD: A Prospective Study

Authors: William J. Barbaresi, MD; Robert C. Colligan, Ph.D.; Amy L. Weaver, MS; Robert G. Voigt, MD; Jill M. Killian, BS; and Slavica K. Katusic, MD.

Journal: Pediatrics peds.2012-2354; Published online March 4, 2013 (10.1542/peds.2012-2354)

  • The lead author, Dr. William Barbaresi from Boston Children's Hospital, began this research at the much respected Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
  • The associated group of researchers followed 5,718 children who were born in the Rochester metro area between 1976 and 1982.
  • Of those children, 367 were diagnosed with ADHD as children and researchers received access to their medical records for long-term study.
  • Of the 367 youngsters diagnosed with ADHD, 232 or 63.2% further agreed to be part of the study as adults.
  • The researchers found that 68 of the 232, or 29.3%, of adults still experienced symptoms of ADHD.

Quick Summary Points

The results and implications of this study may change when new editions of the diagnostic manual, DSM-5, are released in publication for use by mental health practitioners. The findings are discussed under the umbrella of DSM-IV.

Overall Findings

  1. Findings pertain to children born in and around Rochester Minnesota who volunteered for further examination as adults.
  2. About 29% or a bit less than 1/3 of all children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may also have the condition as adults, at least as late as age 29 years.
  3. These adults that continue to experience ADHD have a higher risk than do adults that never experienced ADHD as children, for having severe mental disorders (SMDs). There may be some connection between the presence of childhood-to-adulthood ADHD and the experience of SMDs.
  4. These childhood-to-adulthood ADHD adults are more likely to commit suicide than individuals that did not experience ADHD as children. Something may be different about their neurology.
  5. Further, researchers concluded that 57% of childhood-to-adult ADHD patients suffered at least one psychiatric condition as adults. The most common psychiatric conditions observed in this group were 1) alcohol or substance abuse and 2) anxiety and depression. This reflects a higher risk for SMDs than found among 35% of people in a control group (no childhood ADHD). The risk of experiencing SMDs among childhood-to-adult ADHD persons is 1.63, or a 63% higher risk for developing SMDs than for individuals that did not have ADHD as children.

Quoted Study Conclusions

Childhood ADHD is a chronic health problem, with significant risk for mortality (death), persistence of ADHD, and long-term morbidity (physical and/or mental illness) in adulthood.

Mayo HQ in Rochester, Minnesota.

Mayo HQ in Rochester, Minnesota.

Implications of ADHD

  1. ADHD can persist in at least 1/3 of diagnosed children after they reach adulthood and
  2. 63% or more of that group will likely suffer from severe mental disorders.
  3. So, childhood ADHD may be a red flag that calls for continued follow-up across the lifespan of children that experience the disorder.

Definition of Adult ADHD

Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): "a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Adult ADHD can lead to unstable relationships, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other problems." - Mayo Clinic

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 08, 2013:

mary615 - Your daughter sounds a wonderful person and I hope she stays well overall. Alcohol can be a problem for so many people, and I'll keep her in my good thoughts.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 08, 2013:

This Hub is particularly interesting for me. One of my four daughters was diagnosed back in the 70's with ADHD. She is now 45 years old. She is extremely intelligent, has a warm, bubbly personality, but it is difficult for her to remain focused on any one thing. She was never placed on medication, maybe she should have been.

You mentioned alcoholism. She does drink (I think) too much. I worry about that.

Voted UP and shared.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 07, 2013:

Everybody- Thanks for your comments! I am concerned with ADHD more than ever, because a man I know has changed a lot since he was diagnosed and prescribed medication for ADHD. He seems low-level angry and aggressive all the time now, rather than having a fit of temper only occasionally. It's kind of startling.

Also, I just read in my most recent APA Monitor that ADHD is related neurologically to autism spectrum disorder (I think a lot of the public knew that already), but also bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. I hope we can cure them all soon.

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on May 07, 2013:

ADHD is definitely a long term concern. Hopefully there will be more help for adults.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on May 06, 2013:

Well, this is very disturbing news here! I remember back when my children were in school during those years, and it "seemed" as though they wanted almost all of the children to be put on that medication just so they would not have to deal with them, as I know not EVERY child should be put on that medication . . . just made me wonder about it then and now, if those who really are not ADD and are put on medication for ADD, what happens! My children were not put on it!

Thanks for the interesting article here . . . an eye-opener.

Voted up +++ and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on May 06, 2013:

What amazes me is how people coped with these symptoms long before anyone recognized the condition. Before anyone recognized depression or bipolar or any of the conditions we are learning so much about today. God bless them. How they suffered on their own. Thanks for the good information.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 06, 2013:

Hi there, bPop! Hope you are well. I saw "ADD and Loving It!" on PBS and it was really eye opening, but interesting. Patrick McKenna's wife talked about his ADD and how symptoms used to drive the whole family whacky. The home must have been a madhouse for years, since he's so funny to begin with, and then events like a flying furry over losing his keys topped it off on occasion.

breakfastpop on May 06, 2013:

Clearly, we need to focus in on this problem and address it long term and in depth. op and interesting and useful too.