In the popular media, ADHD is sometimes portrayed as a minor condition or not a disorder at all. In fact, it is easy to find web sites claiming that ADHD is an invention of the medical profession and that the symptoms used to diagnose the disorder are simply normal behaviors that have been “medicalized”. These claims are wrong. They miss the main point of any psychiatric diagnostic process which is to identify people who experience distress or disability due to a set of well-defined symptoms. So, does ADHD cause serious distress and disability? It is a serious psychiatric condition? To illustrate the strong evidence base for the “Yes” answer to that question, my colleagues and I constructed this infographic for our “Primer” about ADHD, http://rdcu.be/gYyV. It describes the many ways in which the symptoms of ADHD impact and impair the lives of children, adolescents and adults with the disorder. We divided these ‘impacts’ into four categories: other disorders (both psychiatric and medical), psychological dysfunction, academic and occupational failure, social disability and risky behaviors. Let’s start with other health problems. We know from many studies that have followed ADHD children into adolescence and adulthood that having the disorder puts patients at risk for several psychiatric disorders, addictions, criminality, learning disabilities and speech/language disorders. ADHD even increases the risk for non-psychiatric disease such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Perhaps most worrisome is that people with ADHD have a small increased risk for premature death. This increased risk is due in part to their having other psychiatric and medical conditions and also to their risky behaviors which, as research documents, lead to accidents and traumatic brain injuries. In the category of ‘psychological dysfunction’ we highlighted emotional dysregulation, which makes ADHD people quick to anger or to fail to tame extreme emotions. Other serious psychological issues are low self-esteem and increased thoughts of suicide, which lead to more suicide attempts than for people without ADHD. This increased risk for suicide is small, but it is real. A more prevalent impact of ADHD is the broad category of social disability, which includes marital discord, poor parenting, legal problems, arrests and incarceration. This typical starts in youth with poor social adjustment and conflict with parents, siblings and friends. Another common impact of ADHD is on academic and vocational pursuits. ADHD youth are at risk for underachievement in school, repeating grades and dropping out. As adults, they are more likely to unemployed or underemployed, which leads to them having lower incomes than expected for their level of achievement in school. So, don’t believe anyone who claims that ADHD is not a disorder or is only a mild one. To be sure, there is a wide range of impairment among people with ADHD but, in the absence of treatment, they are at risk for adverse outcomes. Fortunately, the medications that treat ADHD have been documented to reduce this risk, which is why they are typically the first line treatment for most people with ADHD.
Faraone, S. V. et al. (2015) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder Nat. Rev. Dis. Primers doi:10.1038/nrdp.2015.20 ; http://rdcu.be/gYyV