Does ADHD Need Treating Into Adulthood?


Up until recently, the focus of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) treatment has been on dealing with the symptoms in children. However, the first large follow up study of children with ADHD, led by William Barbaresi of Boston Children’s Hospital, has now indicated that the symptoms prevail long into adulthood. They are also, more often than not, paired with other psychological disorders in adults.

Out of all the participants in the study, only 37.5% of them were no longer showing the worst of symptoms. This suggests that treatment for ADHD needs to be modified in order to treat adults as well as children suffering from the disorder. It also needs to treat ADHD in the long term, as to reduce the amount of adults still suffering from symptoms.

As ADHD affects 7% of children, it is important that we focus on developing more effective forms of treatment. Most children are referred to pediatric psychiatric treatment facilities, especially in the case of boys. However, it is clear from Barbaresi et al’s study that this is not a very effective approach.

Here are their results, as published on Medical News Today:

“At follow-up, the researchers found:

  • 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.”

Barbaresi suggests that a good way to tackle this issue is to treat ADHD in the same way we would diabetes. “The system of care has to be designed for the long haul”. In fact, he believes that these results actually underestimate the outcomes of ADHD. The participants in their study were from middle class society, with good access to both health care and education. In lower classes the outcomes could be far worse.

His advise to parents of children suffering from ADHD to make sure that their children have access to high quality treatment, and to keep this treatment going even into adolescence for the best chance at adulthood. It is also a good idea to monitor them for conditions that are associated with ADHD (such as depression or substance abuse).

It has also been found that the medications used in children with ADHD are effective for adults, so don’t forget to carry on with the treatment well into adulthood.


Written by: Philippa Berry

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Published on: 5th March 2013

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