The Real-World Worst-Case Scenario of Untreated ADHD

Despite the perceived over-diagnosis and over-medication of ADHD among children, not addressing attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity problems is also problematic. Kids whose symptoms interfere with their schoolwork and social lives—whether they’re diagnosed with ADHD or not—can benefit from working with a counselor or cognitive behavioral therapist to establish healthier behavior patterns. Untreated, ADHD can interfere with a student’s ability to succeed in school, driving them elsewhere to establish themselves and find ‘positive’ feedback. It also is associated with high impulsivity, a trait that increases the likeliness of both substance abuse and crime. The worst-case scenario of untreated ADHD was exhibited in a new study of Swedish prison inmates. In the study, a higher-than-average percentage of convicts met diagnostic criteria for ADHD, and while most had shown trouble since childhood, few received attention and even fewer received treatment.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • jeremy


    January 8th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    ADHD may not be immediately identified by a lot of parents because the symptoms are not too clear and there is little knowledge about it.This is a cause of concern and really needs some redressal.

  • Charlotte


    January 8th, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    ADHD is almost always going to equal bad behavior, thus poor performance in school and later in life. It needs to be something that every parent and pediatrician is on the lookout for.

  • Joe


    February 4th, 2018 at 6:41 PM

    I was an outcast my whole teen age and adult life. I was briefly treated for ADHD as a child then my mom said it’s handled and let the treatments go..well that sucked balls because I had NO friends NO fun and basically drifted though life, though jobs had ZERO direction. My life had NO meaning…I did stupid shit all the time and I never knew why..I was miserable..I have only been taking Medication for about 7months now and I still don’t know what normal is supposed to be. I feel like my medicine isn’t working right now 40mg is not seeming to take me far anylonger and I feel like if I ask my doctor for either a higher dose or a different medicine I am trying to just get higher. This could be a side effect of the medication paranoia and anxiety or just me I am not sure, but I cannot afford a head shrinker and if I feel anxious I sure as hell are not going to open up to your head doctor. There is still way too much stigma…I feel stupid for even telling my supervisor about my condition. He says he understand but his actions say I don’t give a shit it’s an excuse. I feel cornered.

  • delores


    January 8th, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    Whether a kid is given the label of ADHD or not, they have problems that need addressed obviously. What my concern is that the essence of the child is lost in the label. Joey becomes “Joey with ADHD.” It’s not helpful when they are seen as a condition first and a child second. There has to be balance.

  • Joe


    February 4th, 2018 at 6:46 PM

    When I grew up going to though school I went though the label “LD or Learning Disabled” Being labeled LD is like being a leper. You become the kid that is picked on all the time…it kills your confidence and self esteem. I hated school never knowing what sort of bs I was going to have to put with from day to day. I don’t know where all this careing bs from teachers came from but when I was growing up teachers didn’t even know I existed.

  • Britney


    January 8th, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    And the obvious question is will the inmates receive treatment from a counselor or cognitive behavioral therapist now that this has been recognized in them? I sincerely hope so. They have a lot of catching up to do for those lost years. That’s a tough break. The prison should do their utmost to help them understand and cope with their ADHD.

  • Calista


    January 8th, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    Anyone who wishes to argue about ADHD and takes the stand that it’s being over-diagnosed needs to read about this study. This is a very sad glimpse into the probable future of those children that get left behind. While ADHD was being debated back and forth, these kids were increasingly going down the wrong paths in life.

  • malcolm


    January 8th, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    What’s really tragic is that many could have probably avoided jail time had they been diagnosed and tested much sooner in life for ADHD. I would be asking questions of the Swedes about why the healthcare system failed them.

  • Leo


    January 8th, 2011 at 10:31 PM

    I wouldn’t blame only the healthcare system. There would have been several agencies involved with these inmates, especially if they had been in trouble from childhood. Social services, the courts, foster homes, juvenile detention centers, doctors, educators, their own lawyers, case workers…the list goes on. What has to be addressed is where they all made mistakes because the ball’s been dropped many times over imho and these youngsters paid the price. It happened not once nor twice but repeatedly.

  • courtney walsh

    courtney walsh

    January 9th, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    this is a big mistake that we have been committing for a long time now-that of being unaware or less aware about thugs and hence letting a preventable disorder affect so many people.
    this needs some major reforms at all levels and te best time to start is NOW!

  • CJ


    January 10th, 2011 at 5:51 AM

    everybody’s attention levels are dropping and so are the attention does it not become more and more difficult to actually identify ADHD?!

  • Olivia


    January 10th, 2011 at 6:13 AM

    Sometimes maybe we are searching for an easy answer, and for many this would be it.

  • daphne


    January 10th, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    @Leo: I agree. I’m willing to bet these were the kind of kids that were thrown on the scrapheap by educators and branded troublemakers from a young age because the teachers didn’t know anything about ADHD. It’s a changed world now but it wasn’t so long ago that ADHD was unheard of outwith professional medical circles. I can’t bring myself to fully blame teachers because they aren’t doctors but these kids’ physicians should have investigated them further for the possibility.

  • Wanderer


    January 10th, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    We know that the outcasts and misfits are the children most likely to become violent, so it only follows that we must pull them into the arms of love and/or acceptance, and find a place where they fit. If our system doesn’t have a place where a child fits, there’s something wrong with the system, not the child. – William G. DeFoore, Ph.D

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