Long-term consequences of childhood ADHD on criminal activities

J Ment Health Policy Econ. 2009 Sep;12(3):119-38.


Background: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent mental health problems facing children. Little is known of the long-term consequences of ADHD on young adult outcomes.

Aims of the study: We examine the associations between childhood ADHD symptoms and criminal activities as a young adult.

Methods: We use a nationally representative study of US adolescents and logistic regression analysis to examine our research question. We also control for common family factors using sibling random and fixed effects and test the robustness of our results in several ways.

Results: The empirical estimates show that children who experience ADHD symptoms face a substantially increased likelihood of engaging in many types of criminal activities. An included calculation of the social costs associated with criminal activities by individuals with childhood ADHD finds the costs to be substantial.

Discussion: Our study provides the first evidence using a nationally representative dataset of the long term consequences on criminal activities of childhood ADHD. Our results are quite robust to a number of specification checks. Limitations of our study include that our measures of ADHD are retrospective, we have no information on treatment for ADHD, and it remains possible that our results are confounded by unmeasured variables.

Implications: Our results suggest that children showing ADHD symptoms should be viewed as a group at high risk of poor outcomes as young adults. As such, a good case can be made for targeting intervention programs on this group of children and conducting evaluations to learn if such interventions are effective in reducing the probability that these children commit a crime. Development of such intervention programs and evaluating them for efficiency could be dollars well spent in terms of crime and drug abuse averted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Crime / economics
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Criminals / psychology*
  • Criminals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult