Girls with ADHD at risk for self-injury, suicide attempts as young adults, says new research

August 14, 2012

Girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are significantly more likely to attempt suicide or injure themselves as young adults than girls who do not have ADHD, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Young women diagnosed with as girls, particularly the type with early signs of , were three to four times more likely to attempt suicide and two to three times more likely to report injuring themselves than comparable young women in a control group, according to the findings, published online in the .

"ADHD can signal future psychological problems for girls as they are entering adulthood," said the study's lead author, Stephen Hinshaw, PhD, a at the University of California, Berkeley. "Our findings reinforce the idea that ADHD in girls is particularly severe and can have serious public health implications."

The first wave of the study comprised 228 girls ages 6 to 12 in the San Francisco Bay area. A total of 53 percent were white, 27 percent were African-American, 11 percent were Latina and 9 percent were Asian-American. The girls were recruited from schools, mental health centers, and community advertisements. They went through extensive diagnostic assessments, after which 140 girls were diagnosed with ADHD, while the rest were part of a control group. Forty-seven girls were diagnosed with ADHD-inattentive, a subtype of ADHD that means the girls are less likely to act out and can sit quietly but have a hard time paying attention. Ninety three had ADHD-combined, a combination of hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive symptoms. ADHD-combined is the most common subtype of ADHD referred for treatment.

After the initial diagnostic tests, the researchers followed up at year five and at year 10 with a full day of clinical assessments of each girl. They also conducted telephone interviews or home visits if necessary. Of the original sample, 95 percent of the girls were retained at the 10-year follow-up, when the participants were between the ages of 17 and 24. They and their families were questioned about a range of life problems, including any substance use, suicide attempts, self-injury and depressive symptoms. The young women were also tested for academic achievement and neuropsychological functioning.

Of the participants diagnosed with ADHD-combined, 22 percent reported at least one suicide attempt at the 10-year follow-up, compared to 8 percent of those with ADHD-inattentive and 6 percent of the control group. Girls in the ADHD-combined group were significantly more likely to injure themselves, with 51 percent reporting actions such as scratching, cutting, burning or hitting themselves. That compared to 19 percent in the and 29 percent in the ADHD-inattentive group.

There were no significant differences in substance use across the groups; however, the girls diagnosed with ADHD as children were more likely to continue to have symptoms of ADHD, more psychiatric problems and far greater use of psychological services, the study found.

"ADHD in girls and women carries a particularly high risk of internalizing, even self-harmful behavior patterns," said Hinshaw. "We know that with ADHD-combined are more likely to be impulsive and have less control over their actions, which could help explain these distressing findings."

Explore further: Long-term study data supports association between childhood ADHD and substance abuse risk

More information: "Prospective Follow-Up of Girls With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Into Early Adulthood: Continuing Impairment Includes Elevated Risk for Suicide Attempts and Self-Injury," Stephen P. Hinshaw, PhD, Elizabeth B. Owens, PhD, and Christine Zalecki, PhD, University of California, Berkeley; Suzanne Perrigue Huggins, PhD, University of Maryland; Adriana J. Montenegro-Nevado, PhD, Palo Alto University; Emily Schrodek, PhD, and Erika N. Swanson, PhD, University of California, Berkeley; Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, online.

Related Stories

Long-term study data supports association between childhood ADHD and substance abuse risk

May 31, 2011
Analysis of data from two long-term studies of the impact of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on the development of psychiatric disorders in young adults confirms that ADHD alone significantly increases the ...

Study finds children with ADHD also at risk for writing difficulties

August 26, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have just completed a study to find out if children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also have problems with writing. It has long been known that children ...

ADHD kids need individualized treatment

November 18, 2011
New research from The Australian National University is providing strong support for individualised assessment and treatment for children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Gender differences in risk pathways for adolescent substance abuse and early adult alcoholism

June 10, 2011
Clinically ascertained reports suggest that boys and girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may differ from each other in their vulnerability to substance use problems, say the researchers of the University ...

Recommended for you

Anti-stress compound reduces obesity and diabetes

December 13, 2017
For the first time, scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich could prove that a stress protein found in muscle has a diabetes promoting effect. This finding could pave the way to a completely new treatment ...

Encouraging risk-taking in children may reduce the prevalence of childhood anxiety

December 13, 2017
A new international study suggests that parents who employ challenging parent behavioural (CPB) methods – active physical and verbal behaviours that encourage children to push their limits – are likely protecting their ...

Researchers link epigenetic aging to bipolar disorder

December 12, 2017
Bipolar disorder may involve accelerated epigenetic aging, which could explain why persons with the disorder are more likely to have - and die from - age-related diseases, according to researchers from The University of Texas ...

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jnystrom
not rated yet Aug 15, 2012
I have done a lot of homework on this topic. I found no quantitative statistics that convinced me that medication is the way to go. I feel that parents with children and persons suffering from ADHD/ADD should seek alternatives to the current medications available. I have a child with ADHD. I tried the Ritalin with little to no success. I found the drug made my child lethargic and once it wore off she would either crash or become even more hyper-active. Believe me, I tried it for a period of time to see if it would build up in her system and alleviate not only the behavior but the side effects. It did not. After doing much research I found a program that is working for my child and my family. I use Play Attention. Play Attention is a program that builds behavioral shaping. Since investing my child's mental health into this platform I have now learned that they are using this program at nuclear power plants, nascar mechanics use it. Personally, I just want my child to live a normal, lov

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.