MONDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- If children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, continue to have the condition in adulthood, a new study suggests that they may face an array of physical and mental health issues.
The study, which spanned more than 30 years, found that people who had ADHD as teens and adults face a greater risk of stress, work problems, financial troubles, physical health issues and additional mental health issues, such as depression or antisocial personality disorder.
"When children who had ADHD in adolescence became adults with ADHD, they had a higher probability of depressive mood and anxiety, and they were much more likely to have antisocial personality disorder. They also had difficulty in terms of work and experienced a great deal of financial stress," said study author Judith Brook, a professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.
"The other thing we found was that marijuana had pervasive adverse effects and was associated with a number of other factors, such as impaired work performance," noted Brook.
The findings were released online Dec. 10 in advance of publication in the January print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The study included 551 children. Seventy-two of those children were diagnosed with ADHD in 1975 when they were between the ages of 14 and 16. The researchers followed up with the children as they grew, and the final of five outcome surveys was given at an average age of 37.
Study volunteers were asked about their overall health with questions like: "How true or false is it that you seem to get sick a little easier than other people?" They were also asked about their mental health and possible stressors, with questions such as: "How much of the time have you been very nervous?" and "Have you been in physical fights repeatedly?" or "Because of your current financial situation, is it true that you sometimes worry about losing your job?"
Compared to people without ADHD in their teens and adulthood, those with the disorder had 82 percent higher odds of having impaired physical health. They were also more than twice as likely to have another mental health problem and more than three times as likely to have antisocial personality disorder, a condition in which a person often manipulates or even violates the rights of others. This behavior is often criminal in nature, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Adults with ADHD were also 2.5 times more likely to have problems at work, and more than three times as likely to have high financial stress, the investigators found.
"Work difficulties are probably the result of impulsivity and a lack of persistence. People with ADHD get distracted," Brook explained.
As to how ADHD might affect overall physical health, she said it wasn't clear why people with ADHD might have poorer health. But, she theorized that this finding might also have to do with impulsive, distractable behavior. People may not eat the foods they should or follow-up with their doctors, she suggested.
Brook said the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the antisocial personality disorder finding, and they suspect it may have something to do with a less than ideal parent-child attachment, as well as being rejected by their peers.
So, are children with ADHD doomed to have difficult lives full of stress and struggle?
Not necessarily, said Brook. Many children and teens with ADHD will outgrow the disorder before they reach adulthood. And, today, more treatments are available to help those who continue to have ADHD than were available to the people in this study.