Study links ADHD to crime

Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to commit crimes as adults, a Yale School of Public Health study found Sept. 30.

Yale School of Public Health assistant professor Jason Fletcher and University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Barbara Wolfe found that after controlling for race, education and income level, certain types of crime were linked to particular symptoms of ADHD in children ages 5 to 12. The researchers published their results online in The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics.

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Fletcher and Wolfe used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a long-term study of over 13,000 adolescents who were later surveyed as adults. Children with ADHD were twice as likely as their peers to commit robbery in adulthood and were 50 percent more likely to sell drugs.

The type of crime committed depended on whether the child was diagnosed with impulsive ADHD, inattentive ADHD or a combination of the two. Children with impulsive ADHD were more likely to commit impulsive crimes such as theft. Children with inattentive ADHD were more likely to engage in premeditated crimes, such as burglary and selling drugs. Children with both impulsive and inattentive ADHD were less likely to commit crimes compared to children with the other subtypes.

Fletcher said in an e-mail that he hoped his study will lead to further investments in children with ADHD. Crime resulting from childhood ADHD, the study found, results in societal losses of $2 to $4 billion annually. For families of children with ADHD, the illness results in $50 to $170 million in lost earnings every year.

“[The] next steps include examining whether treatments for ADHD may reduce the likelihood of adult crime [and] examining whether ADHD has effects within the family — such as whether childhood ADHD affects siblings and parents.”

Fletcher said the results of the study should not lead to police profiling of children with ADHD because unlike race or gender, ADHD is not physically observable.

The study recommended extensive school intervention programs for children with ADHD, who not only tend to perform worse in school but also leave school earlier than their peers. The programs, Fletcher and Wolfe said in the study, could be “dollars well spent in terms of crime and drug abuse averted.”

By keeping children with ADHD in school, the intervention programs could also expand the number of job opportunities the children will have, they added.

ADHD is one of the fastest-growing mental health issues facing children in the United States. Two to 10 percent of school-aged children, particularly boys, are believed to have ADHD.


  • anonymous

    “Fletcher said the results of the study should not lead to police profiling of children with ADHD because unlike race or gender, ADHD is not physically observable.”

    Diagnosed with ADHD in second grade led not my profiling from police but from the school which then placed me in special education.

    Of course years later I went to Yale and committed a laundry list of crimes…

  • PrP

    Two words in this article reveal the motivations of such studies: “further investments.”

    Too many medical researchers try to whip up fear and alarm among the public to seek cures, medications and treatment. Parents of young children are especially vulnerable to those who raise alarm.

    Most troubling is that one one author’s research frequently identifies his source of funding as coming from “17 agencies.”

    Perhaps those agencies should be listed. Before reporting on such research, journalists should also examine whether the agencies accept donations from the pharmaceutical industry.

    More troubling are the increasing numbers of non-profit agencies popping up to basically launder industry donations – and pass funds on to friendly researchers and universities.

    The end result, many people should take such reports with a grain of salt, unless the funding sources are thoroughly revealed.

    Finally, rather than stereotypically connect criminal behavior with a medical diagnosis that has no definitive test, the energy of economic or health researchers might be better spent on analyzing the social or environmental reasons behind impatience with normal childhood behavior.

  • steve

    So basically, we’re saying that impulsive kids are more likely to do impulsive things as adults? Brilliant research!

    The question as to whether “treatment” (as in drugs) has a positive effect has already been asked. There is nothing to indicate that criminal behavior is in any way affected by stimulant treatment, despite over 40 years of research. It seems very unlikely that stimulants will be found to affect this variable in the future.

    All I can say is, BIG DEAL.