Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder costs Americans suffering from the condition about $77 billion in lost income a year, more than the total costs of drug abuse or depression, a Harvard researcher said Thursday.
Usually considered a childhood disorder, ADHD also affects about 8 million U.S. adults and is linked to job loss, lower income, higher divorce rates and more driving accidents, said Dr. Joseph Biederman, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“It has been shocking to me when we calculate the economic impact of this condition,” said Biederman, speaking at an American Medical Association briefing in New York. “ADHD is one of the costliest medical conditions that we have.”
By comparison, the direct and indirect costs of drug abuse are estimated at $58.3 billion a year, depression about $43.7 billion, and alcohol abuse about $85.8 billion, he said.
About 3 to 5 percent of adults suffer from ADHD and most do not know they have it, he said.
“Unless someone asks the key questions to make a diagnosis, diagnosis is impossible,” he said.
Researchers’ figures were based on the lower incomes reported by ADHD sufferers compared with the general population and estimating the number of Americans with the disorder.
Sufferers likely to make less money
High school graduates with ADHD had household incomes about $10,800 lower than those without the disorder, he said. For college graduates, household incomes were about $4,300 lower.
ADHD sufferers were less likely to finish high school or go to college and less likely to have a full-time job, he said.
The results were based on a spring 2003 survey of 500 adults with ADHD.
“The symptoms of ADHD are very visible to employers,” Biederman said. “Many of these adults report, for example, that they are the last ones to be considered for promotions.”
Symptoms were often the same as in children, such as difficulty following through on a task and being easily distracted, Biederman said.
Properly treated, adult ADHD sufferers can complete degrees, get jobs and secure their financial future, he said.
As many as 60 percent of children with ADHD still struggle with some symptoms in adulthood, said Rafael Klorman, a professor and director of clinical training at the University of Rochester.
Adults not treated as children and are more likely to suffer from additional disorders such as anxiety and depression than the general population, he said.
Although research on adult ADHD is at an early stage, the same medications used for children appear to be successful on adults, Klorman said.