For one, Balt said, the researchers used a "questionnaire-based tool," rather than a full evaluation, to measure young adults' mental health. And the fact that most adults said to have ADHD also had other psychiatric conditions "may, in fact, speak to the overlap of psychiatric symptoms," he said.
Alcohol abuse and antisocial personality disorder were the two most common psychiatric diagnoses in the group. And they "have many features in common with ADHD," Balt said.
None of that, he said, negates the importance of recognizing and addressing children's behavioral issues or problems with attention. The problem, he said, is in diagnosing those kids with a single "clinical entity."
"We should use caution in describing this constellation of behaviors as a 'disease,'" he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says doctors should do an evaluation for ADHD for any child aged 4 to 18 who has behavioral problems or is falling behind at school. But that should also include a thorough assessment for learning disabilities, emotional issues or physical conditions that could be causing their symptoms -- such as sleep apnea.
Barbaresi's advice to parents: "Don't accept a cursory evaluation and a prescription."
And will getting ADHD treatment cut a child's risk of adulthood symptoms, or other mental health issues? No one knows for sure.
Barbaresi said, however, that other studies of this same group have found that kids treated with stimulant medication tended to fare better in certain regards up to age 19. They had fewer academic problems and better reading skills, for instance.
But the effects of childhood ADHD treatment on adults' outcomes were not analyzed in the current study, Balt said. "If treatment worked," he said, "one would expect their rates of other disorders to be the same as the non-ADHD [participants']."
Learn more about ADHD from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
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