What Happens If You Leave ADHD Untreated?

Staying as healthy as possible is a key ingredient to being able to enjoy life to the fullest, and this includes both mental/emotional and physical health. 

For someone with ADHD, symptoms can have a significant impact on many areas of life- from school or career to social life and relationships. Depression, anxiety, and other conditions affecting mental health further worsen the quality of life. What happens when you leave ADHD untreated? This article explores reasons why ADHD may be missed or untreated and the consequences of not having the symptoms under control. 

Reasons why ADHD is left untreated

There are quite a few reasons why ADHD is not treated at any age. 

  • The most obvious reason  is not seeking medical attention and evaluation. 
  • Secondly, ADHD may be left unmanaged because it is missed, and mislabeled as depression or bipolar depression instead. Various anxiety and personality disorders can also mimic ADHD. Sadly, many people may receive antidepressant, antianxiety and even antipsychotic drugs and the ADHD symptoms not only improve, but worsen. 
  • In other cases, ADHD coexists with some of these mental conditions. However, the treatment should be carefully planned for best results. According to ADHD expert Dr.Scott Shapiro, MD, many healthcare professionals treat depression and then ADHD in individuals who have both conditions. Instead, Dr. Shapiro suggests that people get depressed, frustrated, and feel lack of focus due to ADHD and when ADHD is treated first and they start to achieve goals, feel more focused and have better relationships. They become more confident and happy. 
  • In other cases, the treatment may not be optimized and adjusted to better manage the symptoms, and this can happen if the follow up appointments are missed. Some people  may not be able to tolerate the medication and discontinue the treatment on their own. Dr.Daniel Amen, for example supports the idea that ADHD is best managed  when the treatment is individualized. Based on extensive research and evaluating over 100,000 brain scans, he found 7 subtypes of ADHD and his recommendations are tailored to the symptoms of each individual. Overall, more and more brain experts believe that in addition to the standard treatment which consists of drugs and talk therapy, a holistic approach  is needed. Including diet and other lifestyle changes yield the best results.
  • The ADHD treatment should not be focused on deficits and weaknesses, but rather on strengths and talents. Many people will feel better when they are empowered and look for potential and possibilities. Look for therapists that support your strengths. 

What happens when ADHD is left untreated? 

Not all children with ADHD will experience this condition as adults. An estimated 8.4 % of American children have and  2.5% of adults are diagnosed with ADHD. This means that many can overgrow ADHD and no longer need treatment later on in life. However, some of them will continue to have difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity throughout their entire life. Some symptoms change, taking other forms and shapes in the adult years. This is why it is important to get the right diagnosis, treatment, and regular follow-ups. 

Hundreds of research studies looked at the short and long-term outcomes associated with treated versus untreated ADHD. Firstly, studies found that about 60-65% of people who get treatment have the symptoms well managed. 

  • In children and teenagers, treating ADHD leads to better self-esteem, social function and academic function. Those who have ADHD in partial or total remission are also more likely to attend college and university compared with those who do not receive treatment.  This happens  because ADHD symptoms cause difficulty learning, lack of attention, focus as well as restlessness. Children and teens also have very intense emotions and troubles with relationships, especially to make and maintain friendships. Relationships with family can also be challenging. Increased impulsivity is linked with a higher risk for injuries, including severe traumas that require visit to the  emergency room. Untreated ADHD increases the risk for depression, anxiety, mood swings, impulsive behavior and eating disorders. Teenagers with untreated ADHD are more likely to abuse substances, car accidents, engage in high risk sexual encounters and have impulsive, intense, but unpredictable romantic relationships. 
  • For older adults, treating ADHD reduces the risk of substance abuse and obesity, while improving antisocial behavior and safe driving. Talking about driving safely, it is worth mentioning that over 75% of unnatural deaths  in people with ADHD are  due to accidents. Treating ADHD significantly reduces the risk of car accidents. Adults with untreated ADHD are more likely to be impulsive and commit crimes, as well. An estimated 25%-40% of people in prison may suffer from some degree of  ADHD, according to some studies. Adults that have ADHD treated are also more likely to be employed, and be able to stay employed. It is easy to guess what happens when someone with untreated ADHD shows up for an interview- show up late, forget the CV or bring one that is not organized, give unnecessary or irrelevant answers to questions. Relationships with family and friends also dramatically improve when symptoms are well controlled. 

In conclusion, it is important to get ADHD treatment at any age and choose to live a healthy lifestyle.