Young boys who are diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) often grow up to become men who have lower educational scores, and worse social and economic outcomes, than those who are not diagnosed with the condition during childhood, according to a recent study published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

The report’s background information states that ADHD affects about 5% of the population worldwide. Therefore, the “long-term outcomes” of childhood diagnosis of ADHD is concerning.

The 33-year follow-up trial, conducted by Rachel G Klein, Ph.D., of the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and her team, involved 135 Caucasian males around the age of 41 who did not have conduct disorders (probands) and were diagnosed with ADHD when they were children (around 8 years old), as well as 136 men who did not have ADHD during childhood.

The authors said:

“On average, probands had 2 1/2 fewer years of schooling than comparison participants.. 31.1 percent did not complete high school (vs. 4.4 percent of comparison participants) and hardly any (3.7 percent) had higher degrees (whereas 29.4 percent of comparison participants did). Similarly, probands had significantly lower occupational attainment levels.

Given the probands’ worse educational and occupational attainment, their relatively poorer socioeconomic status (follow-up at average age of 41 years) is to be expected. Although significantly fewer probands than comparison participants were employed, most were holding jobs (83.7 percent). However, the disparity of $40,000 between the median annual salary of employed probands and comparisons is striking.”

Additional examination of the two groups of men revealed that the men who were diagnosed with ADHD during childhood had higher divorce rates. 9.6% of the men were currently divorced, compared to 2.9% of the those who did not have childhood ADHD. 31.1% of the participants with ADHD had been divorced at some point in their lives, while only 11. 8% of the other group had been previously divorced.

Findings also showed that rates of continuous ADHD were higher in those who had been diagnosed as children – 22.2% compared to 5.1%. The experts who conducted the study believe that the symptoms they found in the comparison individuals probably began to appear in their adult years.

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) was found in 16.3% of the men with childhood ADHD, and in 0% of the other group. Substance abuse disorders (SUDs) were present in 14.1% of the childhood ADHD group, vs. 5.1% of the comparison group.

The men diagnosed with ADHD when they were small (probands) also had considerably more ASPD and SUDs, but not mood or anxiety disorders, and a greater risk of psychiatric hospitalization and imprisonment than the other men. Respective to the comparison group, psychiatric disorders which commenced when the participants were 21 or older were not much higher in the probands.

The authors said that their findings do not apply to women and social and ethnic groups because the probands involved in the study were all Caucasian men who had average intelligence levels and were consulted at clinics because they had ADHD of the combined-type.

The experts concluded:

“The multiple disadvantages predicted by childhood ADHD well into adulthood began in adolescence, without increased onsets of new disorders after 20 years of age. Findings highlight the importance of extended monitoring and treatment of children with ADHD.”

Written by Christine Kearney