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Adult ADHD: A ‘real’ condition that may be inherited

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Mention the words Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and people typically think of a condition that only affects children. But, while by definition ADHD does always begin in childhood,1 it can continue to affect any age group, including adults.2 It’s now believed that at least 50 per cent of people who have ADHD as a child will go on to experience symptoms in later life.3

The good news is that research into adult ADHD has come into its own recently,2 with more and more work being done to uncover the causes – and one of those is now thought to be a person’s genetics, which means that ADHD may be inherited.4 Experts estimate that 50 per cent of children born to a parent who has ADHD are more likely to have the condition,5 and similarly when a child is diagnosed, there’s a 40 per cent chance that one of their parents has also got ADHD, even if it’s not yet been recognised.5 Genetics are also thought to be more heavily involved in adult ADHD compared to childhood ADHD,6 with the likelihood of having ADHD if a sibling does being much higher when it’s diagnosed as an adult rather than as a child. 6

But, while there may be a variety of likely causes that contribute to adult ADHD,4 it’s important to realise that it’s not the result of either bad parenting or a lack of discipline in the first few years of life.7,8 

What’s worrying is that it seems that less than one-quarter of adults with ADHD have actually been diagnosed5 – which is cause for concern because adults living with ADHD are likely to have experienced a significant amount of disruption to their lives as a result of their symptoms, whether they’ve realised it or not.2

An adult living with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate or absorb new information and can also be easily distracted, restless and even impulsive.1 In reality, research has shown that adults with ADHD are as much as four times more likely to be fired from their jobs4 and twice as likely to get divorced.4 They’re also at a greater risk of being involved in a serious car accident,4 save just $2 for every $10 that someone without ADHD saves,4 and are as much as six times more likely to experience depression.4 

Improving the symptoms of ADHD in adults can significantly improve a person’s quality of life,5 and luckily adult ADHD can be successfully treated and managed,9 with medication being well recognised as an important treatment strategy.4 The most common medications used to treat ADHD affect the balance of the brain chemicals that have been shown to play a role in the condition.4 By doing this, they encourage alert, focused attention while helping to shut out unwanted stimuli or responses at the same time.4 

Together with medication, other techniques can help people manage and understand their ADHD. This includes participating in certain types of therapy and taking steps to improve organisational and ‘time management’ skills.4

Adult ADHDFor more information on ADHD in adulthood, and some useful tools and animations, see Adult ADHD.


  1. Waitekus AB, Chang KM. Opportunities and Challenges in the Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Market. Spectrum, Therapy Markets and Emerging Technologies. Decision Resources; 14 November 2005.
  2. Greydanus DE, Pratt HD, Patel DR. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder across the lifespan: The child, adolescent, and adult. Disease-a-Month. 2007; 53(2): 70-131.
  3. Biederman J. Neurobiological overview of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007; 17(Suppl 4).
  4. Barkley RA. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults: The Latest Assessment and Treatment Strategies. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; 2009.
  5. Feifel D. Commentary: Why diagnose and treat ADHD in Adults? Postgraduate Medicine. 2008; 120(3): 13-5.
  6. Mak S. The role of genetic factors in adult ADHD. Press Conference at the 22nd Congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology [media release]. European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. 15 September 2009 [cited 23 October 2009]. Available from URL: pub_releases/ 2009-09/ econ-tro090809.php
  7. Scott R. New brain research from the University of Melbourne shows links to stress in ADHD children [media release]. University of Melbourne. 4 December 2007 [cited 23 October 2009]. Available from URL: view.php?articleID=4834
  8. Barkley RA. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents. New York: Guildford Publications; 2000.
  9. Biederman J, Mick E, Surman C, Doyle R, Hammerness P, Harpold T, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of OROS methylphenidate in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry. 2006; 59(9): 829-35.

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Posted On: 27 October, 2009
Modified On: 28 August, 2014


Created by: myVMC