The analysis published today did not look for a host of other issues associated with adult ADHD, such as job retention, performance, and long-term relationship status, Barbaresi said. That’s still to be analyzed. Other forthcoming studies might parse out the difference in adult outcomes in kids who had been treated for ADHD, vs. those who hadn’t.
Adult treatment of ADHD can be effective, Barbaresi said, but it’s more complicated than treating a child. Most children, he said, gradually stop taking stimulant medication.
“If an adult comes to a physician at age 30 having had childhood ADHD, wondering whether or not it’s still an issue because they’re facing, it’s much more challenging because they likely have other issues by then as well, other mental health problems or substance abuse issues,” Barbaresi said. “A doctor would be reluctant to prescribe stimulant medication to someone who has another mental health problem.”
And while stimulant medications can be timed so that a child can function during a school day, there are limitations for adults, Blum said. The medication starts working shortly after taking it, and then wears off. 24-hour meds are less effective.
“We need to start building a treatment model that treats it as a chronic illness like diabetes, and work from the beginning to keep kids in treatment,” Barbaresi said. “I hope this will be a wake-up call about the need to rethink this condition and to stop the sensationalist perspectives of focusing on the evils of stimulant medications.”
Although other studies have shown that the job performance and relationships of adults can be affected by ADHD, this is the first study that has drawn from a large base of children, representing the entire range of severity of the disorder -- not just those referred to psychiatric centers by the severity of their condition.
“This study shows that previous studies weren’t that biased by the fact that the the subjects came from these other settings, and that (any degree of) ADHD is a risk for significant negative health outcomes,” Blum said. “It affects employment outcomes, relationships...It affects every aspect of an individual’s life.”