February 19, 2022

Exploring how adult ADHD affects romantic relationships

While romantic relationships can bring contentment and stability to adults with psychological disorders, conflict in such relationships adds incremental risk for developing depressive, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Moreover, persons with ADHD are more prone to such conflict than those without ADHD.

ADHD symptoms are negatively associated with satisfaction in dating relationships. One study found that female college students, blind to ADHD status, were less interested in male students with ADHD-Inattentive presentation than peers without ADHD. Another study found that college students who self-reported significant inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms also reported lower romantic relationship satisfaction than students not reporting such symptoms. A third study likewise found an inverse association between college student-reported inattentive symptoms and romantic relationship satisfaction, although it found no such association for self-reported hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.

This in turn has behavioral implications. One study found that college students with clinically elevated symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, or both, reported higher levels of hostile conflict behavior with their partners than students without clinically elevated symptoms. Another study placed young couples through conflict resolutions. Couples in which one partner had ADHD demonstrated more negative and less positive conflict resolution behavior, and reported lower relational satisfaction, than couples in which neither partner had an ADHD diagnosis.

Worse yet, ADHD is a risk factor for dating violence. Two studies found that young adult males diagnosed with ADHD as children self-reported engaging in more frequent verbal and physical intimate partner violence than did their normally developing peers. Two more studies reported that men and women diagnosed with ADHD as children were at greater risk of becoming victims of such violence.

Adults with ADHD are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. On average, they initiate sexual intercourse between one and two years earlier. They tend to have more partners and to make less frequent use of contraception than non-ADHD peers. As a result, adults with ADHD are also more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and to acquire sexually transmitted diseases.

Given these findings, it is hardly surprising that adults with ADHD report lower marital satisfaction than their normally developing peers. One study reported that 24 out of every 25 spouses of adults with ADHD felt their partner's symptoms interfered with their functioning in one or more domains, including general household organization/time management, child-rearing, and communication. Most studies have found that extramarital affairs, separation, and divorce are more frequent among couples in which one partner has ADHD.

ADHD is known to be highly heritable. That introduces further challenges. One study found that parents of children with ADHD are twice as likely to divorce by the time their child is eight years older than parents of children without ADHD. Another study found that disruptive child behavior is linked to parents arguing among themselves. This pattern was especially pronounced with parents who themselves had elevated ADHD symptoms. However, another study found that when both parents had ADHD symptoms, they were less likely to argue than when only one parent had such symptoms, or when neither did.

The authors note that there have been few longitudinal studies of the relationship to the behavior of adults with ADHD and that these are badly needed. This would help to understand how alcohol consumption relates to the development of relationship problems, for example.

Second, they point out that little is known about which subpopulations in the large population of adults with ADHD may be especially at risk for romantic relationship problems. Gender and history of maltreatment do not appear to be significant influences, but there is some evidence that alcohol and drug abuse may be a factor, as well as underachievement in adolescence. Moreover, the literature to date has focused on heterosexual Caucasian couples. There is a need for research with larger, more heterogeneous, population samples, and in particular with racial/ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ adults.

Third, they suggest a need for further research on mediators between ADHD and romantic relationship problems. There are reasons to suspect a key role for emotion dysregulation and deficits in inhibitory controls. But studies to date have relied on self-reporting, which introduces respondent bias. Future studies should obtain ratings of ADHD and relationship functioning from other informants. There is also a need for studies focusing not just on younger adults, but also on older ones. Another critical need is for clinical trials testing the effectiveness of different interventions aiming to improve romantic relationship functioning.

The authors conclude, "Given that success in romantic relationships is considered by many to be a major developmental task and that ADHD persists for many affected individuals into adulthood, research on romantic adjustment of affected adults is surprisingly limited. The majority of existent published research points, however, to a robust association between ADHD and negative outcomes such as lower satisfaction in relationships, maladaptive conflict resolution styles, higher rates of relational dissolution, and behavioral issues such as unsafe sex and IPV."

Brian T. Wymbs, Will H. Canu, Gina M. Sacchetti, Loren M. Ranson, "Adult ADHD and romantic relationships: What we know and what we can do to help", Journal of Maritaland Family Therapy(2021),https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12475.

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Cohort Study Finds Association Between Parkinson’s Disease and ADHD

Nationwide cohort study finds association between Parkinson’s disease and ADHD

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disease, characterized by the drastic reduction of dopamine transporters and the dopaminergic neurons upon which they are expressed. The resulting symptoms include bradykinesia (slowness of initiation of voluntary movements), tremors, rigidity, and postural instability.

Taiwan’s National Health Service covers about 99 percent of its 24 million inhabitants and maintains complete records in its National Health Insurance Research Database. The Longitudinal Health Insurance Database2000 (LHID 2000) is a nationally representative subset of the latter.

Using the LHID 2000, a Taiwanese research team identified 10,726 patients with Parkinson’s disease. It paired them with an identical number of randomly selected non-Parkinson’s controls, matched by age, gender, and index date (first date of diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease).

The team then looked retroactively through the database to determine which of the 21,452 individuals had previously been diagnosed with ADHD. Fourteen of the 10,726 Parkinson’s patients had been diagnosed with ADHD, versus five of the 10,726 in the control group.

Parkinson’s patients were thus 2.8 times as likely to have had a previous diagnosis of ADHD as the controls. When adjusted for age, gender, and Carlson Comorbidity Index scores, they were 3.6 times as likely to have had a previous ADHD diagnosis.

The authors cautioned that this association between prior ADHD diagnosis and subsequent Parkinson’s diagnosis is not causal.

Only one in 766 of Parkinson’s patients (a seventh of one percent) had previously been diagnosed with ADHD. So even if there were any causal relationship, it would be extremely weak.

April 6, 2022

Are there Positive Aspects to ADHD?

Are there Positive Aspects to ADHD?

What are we to make of adults who exhibit the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, but are nevertheless high-functioning and successful? A trio of British investigators has just published six case studies that explore this question.  It would have been better for them to have conducted a much larger, controlled research study but, in the absence of such data in the area, these case studies are intriguing and may help guide more informative research.

The authors recruited six successful men between the ages of 30 and 65 from a National Health Service tertiary service in London. Four were in long-term relationships, with children. All had good jobs.

In open-ended taped interviews of up to an hour in length, each was asked three questions:

1.     What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having ADHD?
2.     Please describe a time when you felt that your ADHD helped you to achieve something?
3.     What aspects of your ADHD would you miss if it went away?

Hyper-focus in ADHD is generally considered a deficit, inset-shifting, and task-switching. But the authors report that participants associated it with productivity. One said, “I think the energy that the ADHD brain seems to have....it’s unfocused, quite scattered, chaotic and a bit random...but give that brain something that you can tune into, and it’s your interest, then all that random stuff just goes boom... I get this incredible intense concentration and that’s great for work.”
Participants also saw advantages in divergent thinking, with one stating, “I’m an artist.... a creative type... a Bohemian.... you are most likely to be a creative person if you are a divergent thinker....and not convergent... I am very creative and that’s through and through... I’m a fine art graduate, a musician, a published poet, an entrepreneur, a performer.”

All the participants reported being seen as nonconformists. Depending on a viewpoint, that can be seen as either detrimental or advantageous.
Impulsivity is a core symptom of ADHD. Participants however related it to bravery, and more specifically adventurousness, spontaneity, and thrill-seeking. One said, “thrill-seeking is an ADHD thing... I can list in my life have done white water rafting, bungee jumping, hand-glider pilot … I have done a lot in my life and achieved a lot and experienced a lot... Furthermore, I would see a lot of that as being quite positive, and a lot of that is ADHD drive.”
Another common theme was high energy and “spirit.” One participant said, “I’ve got all this energy.... a lot of energy... whatever it's to do with... nature/nurture/spiritual stuff.”

These testimonials are useful as a check on the usual narrative of impairment. ADHD does not predestine all it afflicts to an unfulfilling life. Many, often assisted by medication, still lead exciting, successful, rewarding lives.   Yet, we must be cautious in concluding that these individuals were successful because of their ADHD.  It is possible, even likely, that they had other strengths such as high intelligence that compensated for their ADHD symptoms.  We can not know from this report if their lives had been even more fulfilling or successful in the absence of ADHD.   See, for example, my blog about highly intelligent people with ADHD:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141126141502-65669938-smart-people-can-have-adhd-too/.

While the authors concede that “generalizing the findings of this study is not easy to do,” they inexplicably “also argue that the positive aspects we found are relevant to other adults with ADHD regardless of sample size, age, gender or ethnicity.”   It is not possible to draw such a definitive conclusion without a much larger sample.
On a hopeful note, they conclude, “This is a study that reaches out to people with lived experience of ADHD: service users, patients, family members, carers, partners, to say that not all symptoms of ADHD are maleficent. Recovery, high functionality, and flourishing with ADHD are possible. Too often people with lived experience hear about ADHD deficits, functional impairments, and associations with substance misuse, criminality, or other disadvantages on almost every level of life (school, work, relationships). … This study affirms the positive human qualities, assets, and attributes in ADHD that can promote and sustain high functioning and flourishing.” I fully endorse the idea that those with ADHD can have wonderful lives, especially if they receive appropriate treatment, both medical and psychological.

April 4, 2022

Advanced Economy Outlier: Even in China’s largest cities, ADHD is seldom treated with pharmaceuticals

Advanced Economy Outlier: Even in China’s largest cities, ADHD is seldom treated with pharmaceuticals

China is the outstanding economic growth story of the early twenty-first century. According to the World Bank, China has “experienced the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history – and has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty.”

That expansion has been accompanied by major investments in medical research, and medical treatment capability, especially in the major urban centers that have spearheaded the boom. Life expectancy has risen from 71 in 2000 to 77 in 2019, nearing the U.S. level of 79.

Yet when it comes to pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, China is an outlier, as revealed by a new study exploring the data in the two main medical insurance programs for its urban population.

The Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance(UEBMI) covers both employers and employees in public and private workplaces, while the Urban Residents Basic Medical Insurance (BMI) covers the unemployed. As of 2014, these programs cover over 97% of urban residents. The China Health Insurance Research Association (CHIRA) database is a random sampling database from the UEBMI and UBMI databases.

The study population consisted of residents of the 63 cities in the CHIRA database from 2013 through 2017. Prescription prevalence was calculated by dividing the total number of patients prescribed ADHD medications in the CH IRA database by the urban population of the included cities, which was two hundred million as of 2017.

Other studies have found the prevalence of ADHD among Chinese children and adolescents to be about 6.5%, comparable to North American and European countries. Yet, the prescription prevalence of ADHD medications was 0.036% among those aged 0–14 years in 2017 in China. In other words, only about one in every two hundred youths with ADHD were being prescribed pharmaceutical treatments.

For further context, among other economically prosperous countries in Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe, the lowest prescription prevalence of ADHD medications is 0.27% in France, which is still over seven times higher than the Chinese level.

Among Chinese urban dwellers from 15 through 64 years of age, ADHD prescription prevalence in 2017 dropped by a further order of magnitude (over tenfold) to 0.003%, and among those 65 and older, to a scant 0.001%.

The Chinese study team suggested several likely contributing factors:

  • Lack of training in ADHD treatment among clinical practitioners;
  • Government fears of addiction have led to strict control of stimulant medications;
  • Discontinuation of methylphenidate production by Chinese pharmaceutical enterprises in 2009 meant having to purchase more expensive imported ADHD medications;
  • Widespread parental belief that ADHD is just “bad behavior,” not a disease requiring medication;
  • Parental reliance on alternative treatments, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) 

April 2, 2022