ADHD is a lifetime condition, say experts, and the long-term effects of meds are uncertain

December 16, 2013

People who had ADHD diagnosed in childhood will probably have it into their adult years. About 11 percent of U.S. children age 3 to 17 have ADHD, according to 2011 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among such people, almost 30 percent will have symptoms that meet the full ADHD diagnosis beyond childhood, according to a 2013 study, and another third will continue to have some persisting symptoms and impairment.

“We tend to think that ADHD is a lifetime condition,” said psychiatrist J. J. Sandra Kooij of the Netherlands. “You don’t outgrow it.” ADHD adults married to spouses who share organizational duties tend to cope well, as do those who find careers that avoid the hurdles imposed by desk jobs, Kooij said.

Sometimes ADHD behavior evolves. Hyperactivity can diminish or get transformed into something more socially acceptable. A child who couldn’t sit still may turn into an adult who can’t stop clicking his pen.

Adults also have ways of hiding their impairment. The worker who couldn’t thrive as a child in school compensates and learns to hand in business reports on time. But what no one sees is that the employee was up until 5 a.m. finishing the project, said Johns Hopkins’ David Goodman.

Medications may be increased or decreased as an ADHD patient ages, said Benedetto Vitiello of the National Institute of Mental Health. Some will reach adulthood and be able to cope without drugs, thanks to skills they’ve developed.


(Oliver Munday/For The Washington Post)

Others will need to continue to take ADHD medications, and for them, “in general, we haven’t really found any adverse effect of long-term use,” Vitiello said.

The minor increases in heart rate and blood pressure associated with ADHD medicines are not clinically significant for adults unless one has a heart condition, and those patients should be followed by their doctors.

More information about ADHD in adults is available from these sources:

●National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov

●Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: www.chadd.org

●Attention Deficit Disorder Association: www.add.org

●National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org.

Suzanne Allard Levingston

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