Does Heritability for ADHD Decrease in Adulthood?

The heritability of any illness describes the genetic and environmental risk factors of that illness. Heritability for mental health issues can include family history, parental illness, exposure to maltreatment, and other factors that could increase vulnerability. Research on attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) has shown high levels of heritability in children. Children who have significant attention and hyperactivity issues often have a parent or sibling with ADHD. According to parent and teacher reports, the factors that put children at risk for ADHD are relatively similar across gender, race, age, and culture. But less is known about heritability of symptoms for adults with ADHD. It is estimated that over half of children who have ADHD will continue to have symptoms that persist into adulthood. This can present challenges for these adults across numerous domains, including careers, families, and interpersonal relationships. Therefore, Henrik Larsson of the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden wanted to get a clearer picture of how heritability fluctuates from childhood to adulthood for people with ADHD.

Using a sample of 15,198 adult female and male twins with ADHD, Larsson evaluated self-reports detailing symptomology and genetic and environmental risk factors. He found that although symptoms appeared to decrease from childhood to adulthood for many of the participants, the symptoms were still present. Larsson found no differences between males and females with respect to heritability, but he did find that heritability decreased significantly in adulthood. Specifically, the levels of heritability that put the participants at risk were quite high in childhood, but much lower in adulthood. Larsson believes that several things might contribute to these discrepancies. First, when twins and siblings enter adulthood, they rarely share the same environment that they did as children. In childhood they are in the same home and witnessing the same things. In adulthood they may live apart and may be exposed to entirely different environmental experiences. “Another possible explanation for the observed discrepancy is that self-ratings for adult ADHD symptoms may have lower reliability compared to informant reports,” said Larsson. Therefore, the adults in this study may be minimizing symptom manifestation which could affect heritability. Overall, these findings show that even though there are still broad heritability factors for adults with ADHD, ratings of these factors may be distorted. Future work might consider using rater evaluations as a way to clarify these results.

Larsson, H., et al. (2013). Genetic and environmental influences on adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms: A large Swedish population-based study of twins. Psychological Medicine 43.1: 197-207. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Whitney


    March 22nd, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    hmmm this is curious because I guess that I always thought that if there was an issue with this running in the family then it would have just as great a chance of occurring in adulthood as it does when you are a child

  • James


    March 23rd, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Maybe it is not that the risks of developing it decrese but simply that as adults we are able to better manage the difficulties that are often associated with ADHD. Although I have never heard of an adult coming up with the beginning signs of ADHD I am sure that if they are having problems they are better able to put them into words as an adult versus when they were a child, and this could help a clinician give one a more complete diagnosis. I guess it wouldn’t be odd that the heritability would decrese though, because I have heard of many things that may have affected you as a child that you can simply grow out of as an adult.

  • Darlene


    March 24th, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    have learning disab have learning disabilities on both sides and I have it and I passed on to my 2 children and just last week diagnose with the dysLexie . At my age 55 so I have ADD .dyslexia and and ia learing disability. So I hope I can read and see and understand it better.

  • Darlene


    March 24th, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    Where do you go for help.



    March 25th, 2013 at 7:52 AM

    See if your area has chapters of CHADD and NAMI.

  • Sandra


    March 25th, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    I was hoping to see that symptoms really decrease into adulthood. And there is still hope that that may be the case. You see, in every activity we humans tend to get used to it over time and are better able to manage a difficulty as time passes. Maybe the same theory holds good for ADHD? After all, the learning period is over and adulthood doesn’t have a developing mind. So maybe the symptoms do decrease. However a more precise result from a study would give us a much clearer picture.

  • Darlene


    March 25th, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    just like to share I was in the hospital 2 weeks ago thy said I had a Minnie stock when they put me in The MRI they found a 3mm Aneurysms. I just half to keep watch on it.
    just like to ask am I to old to get help with. Dyslexia and Add. what does chatt do. I;m not a good reader or speller math no way. very very unorganized person. I KNOW THERES HELP FOR ME OUT THERE BUT JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE TO GO. with no insures no one will see me any way. Some times I just fill all alone.
    thank you

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