ADHD: Not just for kids

October 24, 2005

More adults are being diagnosed and treated for the disorder

While adults with ADHD may have the same disorder as children with ADHD, the impact of the disorder on adult lives may be more significant. For adults with ADHD, it's not just a matter of annoying their teachers and driving their parents crazy. "ADHD is a highly disabling condition," said Dodson. Several studies have measured the impact of ADHD on the lives of adults. For these people, ADHD leads to lower socioeconomic status, more lost jobs, more divorces, and poorer driving records than for adults without ADHD. Dodson also noted that 25% to 50% of men incarcerated in America have ADHD.

When measuring the costs of ADHD, studies have uncovered some astounding statistics. Professionals with ADHD can make up to $40,000 less than their colleagues without ADHD. Considering that 4% to 8% of Americans over the age of 18 are estimated to have ADHD, that's a $67 billion loss in income due to the disorder. Healthcare costs are also higher for people with ADHD than for those without it. Undiagnosed ADHD appears to result in more inpatient costs than those for both non-ADHD and treated-ADHD patients.

Current research reveals that about one-third of adults with ADHD also have anxiety disorders. An equal number have depression. Another 10% or so have bipolar disorder. Untreated ADHD is associated with a staggering 50% rate of substance abuse in adults, according to data compiled by Timothy Wilens, M.D.

Wilens is director of substance abuse services in the pediatric and adult psychopharmacology clinics at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His research also indicates that treating adult ADHD early on, before substance abuse sets in, can help prevent the onset of substance abuse. According to Wilens, the risk for substance abuse in this population can be lowered twofold, to a rate equal to that of adults without ADHD.

Recognizing and treating ADHD

While many of us have trouble concentrating from time to time, or have periods when we can't seem to stop moving around, these symptoms do not necessarily mean we have ADHD. For adults, a diagnosis of ADHD can only be reached if there is a chronic pattern of inattention, either with or without impulsivity or hyperactivity, and if these symptoms significantly impair daily living. DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.) criteria also require that the symptoms and impairment of ADHD have been present since at least seven years of age.