What Happens to Symptoms of ADHD When Girls Become Women?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has long been thought to be more common among boys than among girls. However, in recent years, the symptoms of ADHD in women have become more widely recognized, and it is becoming evident that although the behaviors and challenges of women with ADHD may differ in some ways from those of men with ADHD, the symptoms can still be significant. People with ADHD often face challenges in traditional academic environments and are unable to stay on task or focus on schoolwork for continuous periods of time. They may face obstacles socially as well, related to their symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity. Overall, young girls diagnosed with ADHD can be just as affected by their symptoms as young boys.

But less is known about what happens with these symptoms as girls mature into women. To explore this avenue further, Stephen P. Hinshaw of the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley recently led a study that acted as a follow-up to a previous examination of young girls with ADHD. Hinshaw looked at several hundred young adult women between the ages of 17 and 24 years old to determine how ADHD symptoms measured 10 years prior affected the women at their present age.

Hinshaw found that the girls with ADHD symptoms in childhood had higher rates of self-injurious behaviors and suicide attempts than those without. He also noted that girls with ADHD symptoms were more likely to experience comorbid mental health issues 10 years later than those without ADHD symptoms. Some of the problems that they encountered included substance misuse, risky behavior, eating and food problems, low self-esteem, and negative self-perceptions. While there are limitations to this study, including the possibility that ADHD symptoms overlap with symptoms of other mental health conditions or life circumstances, according to Hinshaw, “The overarching conclusion is that ADHD in girls portends continuing problems, through early adulthood, that are of substantial magnitude across multiple domains of symptomatology and functional impairment.”

Hinshaw, S. P., Owens, E. B., Zalecki, C., Huggins, S. P., Montenegro-Nevado, A. J., Schrodek, E., et al. (2012). Prospective follow-up of girls with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder into early adulthood: Continuing impairment includes elevated risk for suicide attempts and self-injury. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029451

Related articles:
The 3 Steps for a Successful ADHD Marriage
Can Listening to Binaural Beats Make You Feel Better?
Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: Interview With Sandra Aamodt

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  • austin

    August 18th, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    Well, I’m just surprised that there are even any studies being done looking at ADHD in girls and women because like so many other diseases typically researchers look at how these affect men. Kind of disheartening to know that women are still suffering so much as adults with this, because ADHD, when caught early and treated by the right professional, can so easily be integrated into a normal life.

  • Fraysier

    August 18th, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    I think that the key to all of this can be found in the final sentence, “. . . hopes that these findings help young girls with ADHD and their families better understand what the future may hold and that clinicians use this information to teach these women effective and adaptive coping strategies.”

    Giving these families who are facing this the right information as well as the ability to adapt and cope can be one of the most promising things that any professional can offer to any family or patient. It is when you don’t teach them the skills to help them learn how to deal that serious issues arise. Any time that we are prepared for what may lie ahead and then what to do when we enocunter them is far better than simply turning one loose and saying good luck.

  • mooney

    August 18th, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    adhd leading to substance abuse and all the things mentioned here?that is not a direct result of adhd but rather the ill handling of the issue.if it is handled in the right manner many of these dangers can easily be prevented and so many women can have better lives.intervention at the right time is the key.

  • Dolores

    August 19th, 2012 at 4:53 AM

    Well, I wouldn’t have thought that ADHD would just go away just because someone gets older.

    I have heard that some think that this is something that you will “grow out of” after you reach adulthood, but there are a large number of adults in our country who still continue to struggle with the ramifications of ADHD well in to life.

    For women, it has to be a little more difficult because of the constant hormonal fluctuations that we experience from month to month. This has to play a role in how well they can handle the pressures associated with ADHD and how well that they are able to manage their symptoms too.

  • Gifted With ADD

    August 19th, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    I really appreciate this article. I was diagnosed with ADD 32 years ago and recently re-diagnosed with ADHD and I know that my eating issues are directly related to my trying to “fit in”.

    Thanks very much

  • martha

    August 19th, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    while symptoms affect a person whether man or woman there is just this additional burden if you are a woman and have some disorder..I dont know why that is but I have seen that happen with a friend of mine.Even within the family the level of support just isnt as much as it would be for a man.i guess the general gender bias plays against women here too.

  • Valerie

    August 20th, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    If women, like anyone else with Add or Adhd are given the right tools to manage it when they are young then there should be no increasing problems.

    The problems arise when it has gone undiagnosed or undertreated for alll of their lives and now they are expected to handle it like an adult. But if they haven’t been given any guidance as to how to manage this, then there will be consequences for them to face.


    August 20th, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Surprised that ADHD can do much more than just hurt learning abilities.I thought it was something that could be overcome over the years but really surprised to know it can remain so very dangerous even after a decade!

  • Gloria Teague

    August 20th, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    I really hate it that this entire article is setting up such gloom and doom for girls and women with ADHD! If you fail to think positive about something then assuredly negative things will come your way. And I think that this is exactly what you are settin up for women in these situations. I think that’s highly unfair and really pretty unprofessional if you ask me.

  • Deb

    August 21st, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    One thing that I would like to encourage all parents of ADHD children to do, either for their boys or for their girls, is to look for ways to treat these cases forst but without automatically turning to medications. People, these are not always the afest or even the most effective alternatives. There are other treatments and strategies that you can work with your child’s provider on developing that can have far greater long term success as well as keep them perfectly happy, healthy and well adjusted. I think that this is something that always tends to go missing when kids are put on medications just to help them make it through the school day without being a disruption. I think that we all at least owe it to our kids to look at all of the pros and cons before determining that only medications will do the trick, because in a vast majority of cases this is simply not the truth.

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