Childhood ADHD Linked to Criminal Behavior in Adults

More study needed to see if medical treatment cuts rates of illegal activities, researchers say

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MONDAY, Oct. 19, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely than other children to engage in criminal activity when they grow older, a U.S. study has found.

The study included more than 10,000 adolescents who were later surveyed in adulthood. It found that youngsters with ADHD were twice as likely to commit theft later in life and were 50 percent more likely to sell drugs.

The findings, believed to be the first evidence of a link between ADHD and criminal activity, were published online Sept. 30 in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics.

"While much research has shown links between ADHD and short-term educational outcomes, this research suggests significant longer-term consequences in other domains, such as criminal activities," study lead author Jason M. Fletcher, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health, said in a university news release.

"We also found important differences in the association between adult crime and the type of childhood ADHD symptoms -- whether hyperactive or inattentive or both," he said.

Crimes where ADHD is a factor may cost the nation $2 billion to $4 billion a year, estimates have indicated.

Fletcher and colleagues plan to investigate whether drug treatments may reduce the illegal activities associated with ADHD in adulthood. The researchers also plan to study the associations between childhood ADHD symptoms and later employment and earnings.

ADHD, which affects between 2 percent to 10 percent of U.S. schoolchildren, is far more common in males than females. It's also more prevalent in people who have close relatives with the condition, suggesting a genetic origin, the study authors noted in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about ADHD.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Oct. 19, 2009

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