Harms of Untreated ADHD

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Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a highly prevalent disorder with approximately 6.1 million children having been diagnosed according to a 2016 CDC survey. This figure does not consider adults and those who are undiagnosed. Many parents are hesitant to seek medication management for their children as most ADHD treatments include stimulant medication. Parents have valid concerns and should be educated and informed about any medication they are giving their children.

Did You Know?

Did you know that research shows that children with ADHD especially combined type meaning they have difficulty with inattention and have hyperactivity, have smaller volumes in several brain structures? Cerebral volumes, cerebellar volumes, caudate and hippocampal volumes among others are less than control groups according to several studies. However, brain images of children who are diagnosed with ADHD and who are on medication, resemble those of the healthy controls. For children with ADHD, early medication management, specifically by age 9, can help normalize the growth and development of these different structures.

Additionally, many children with untreated ADHD have difficulty in school and many social areas. School becomes difficult, performance declines, grades drop. They often are looked at as if they are less intelligent because they struggle with their schoolwork. They are stigmatized and labeled as the “bad kid” as their hyperactivity and impulsivity become hard to manage. With increased pressure by family or social circles to perform better, and being stigmatized and judged by their peers, anxiety and depression often develop leading to even more struggles. As they grow into adolescence and adulthood, new pressures and expectations are set upon them with college and work, often they reach to substances to self-medicate which for many, can lead to addiction. According to Sherman (2002), “half of all adults with untreated ADHD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives”. Children, teens and adults who receive treatment for their ADHD symptoms are much less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those who are untreated. Seeking treatment for ADHD can also help reduce the risk of further complications and symptoms of depression and anxiety which are common among those with untreated ADHD.

Those with ADHD also have a propensity to experience a cluster of symptoms knows as rejection sensitivity dysphoria (RSD). Although both treated and untreated individuals with ADHD can and many times do experience these symptoms, many of the medications used to treat hyperactivity in ADHD help manage the symptoms of rejection sensitivity dysphoria. An article by Psychology Today describes the characteristics well.

People with RSD have such a strong emotional reaction to negative judgments, exclusion, or criticism from others that it sends them into a mental tailspin, leading to rumination and the pit-of-the-stomach malaise that won’t let them move forward with their day. They feel like failures, disproportionate to what has actually occurred. They may feel rage and want to lash out. They often exaggerate how people are against them, or how much people dislike them, or they carry long-term shame.

Or they may overcompensate and bend over backward in a desperate attempt to keep themselves in others’ good graces. Other people may see those with RSD as overly perfectionistic, over-sensitive, or overly reactive to even the mildest types of criticism.” (Bonior, 2019).

Unlike some other psychiatric diagnoses where the recommended first line treatment is therapy, with ADHD, the recommended first line treatment is medication management. Stimulant medication, which is predominately used for ADHD, has an efficacy rate of 70%-80% which is much higher than most medications on the market today. If you or your family struggle with symptoms of ADHD, don’t wait, have an evaluation completed for proper diagnosis and to initiate treatment.



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