Is There a Link Between ADHD and Criminal Behavior?

Attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) manifests with symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. In the criminal population, impulsive behavior is a common thread. However, few studies have sought to determine whether ADHD increases the likelihood that a person will engage in criminal behavior. The effects of ADHD are broad, varied, and long term. To accurately predict how ADHD will influence future behavior, one must look at other environmental and familial factors. To this end, Jean-Baptiste Pingault of the Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment at the University of Montreal and Sainte-Justine Hospital in Canada recently led a longitudinal study involving more than 2,700 individuals.

The participants were first evaluated for ADHD, physical aggression, inattention, and family adversity when they were 6 years old. They were reassessed annually for seven years. When they were 25, criminal records and teacher and parent reports were examined in order to find any association between the measured risk factors and criminal behavior. Pingault discovered that in certain analyses, childhood ADHD was linked to criminal behavior. But in the most sensitive analysis, the association was weak at best. However, childhood physical aggression was directly predictive of later criminal behavior.

The findings revealed that while less than 10% of the total sample exhibited physical aggression in childhood, this small group represented 30% of the criminal activity in adolescence and young adulthood. Further, these same participants were responsible for almost half of the criminal charges on record and nearly 60% of all the violent criminal charges. Family adversity also increased the risk for criminal behavior in the aggressive participants. Pingault believes these results show that not all children with ADHD are at risk of engaging in criminal behavior. But children with aggressive traits, and especially those with ADHD and family adversity, are more vulnerable to criminal activities. Therefore, efforts to reduce crime may not be most effective if focused solely on children and young people with ADHD. “Crime prevention should instead target children with the highest levels of childhood physical aggression and family adversity,” said Pingault.

Pingault, J-B., Côté, S.M., Lacourse, E., Galéra, C., Vitaro, F., et al. (2013). Childhood hyperactivity, physical aggression and criminality: A 19-year prospective population-based study. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62594. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062594

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Stu

    May 6th, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Question is – are they prone to doing this because of the ADHD? Or are they prone to doing this because the others are treating them like this? Sometimes how others treat you can lead to how you behave or recact!

  • cason

    May 6th, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is ADHD and criminal activity that are linked, but I will give you that there are definitely traits that you find within ADHD that could end up being a strong indicator of whether someone will start exhibiting criminal behavior later in life. And I have to give some merit to the fact that so many of these things are cyclical, almost as if one begats the other. There are so many small things that begin in childhood, such as aggression, that can really start a pattern of behavior for the rest of one’s life, so that is hard to escape from.

  • rachel

    May 6th, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    those with adhd are at a risk of violence,not perpetrators themselves.have seen so many fall victims to violence from focus on a vulnerable group is good in order to prevent violence but the focus itself should be right for that to work.and adhd individuals are not the right group to focus on.

  • Ellice K

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    Impulsivity is just one factor.I know a lot of non-ADHD people whose impulsivity is as much as that of a raging bull.Lets not get criminal and violent behavior confused with a disorder,would be dangerous to have such a wrong idea in mind!

  • carrie mc

    May 8th, 2013 at 4:02 AM

    ha!! next thing you know this will become the next criminal defense du jour!!

  • Julian Pursell

    May 13th, 2013 at 6:41 AM


    I saw a full study paper recently, it looks like a large proportion of ‘ADHD crime’ is actually crimes for using illegal drugs which are known to be medicinally useful to people with ADHD. Likewise, some of the acquisitive or violent crime may well have been related to methods of obtaining illegal medicines (stealing to pay for drugs, or if the patient sells drugs to afford self-medication, then violence may be involved due to way that business works, in which case a reputation for being violent and impulsive can be an advantage).

    End the criminalisation of the use of certain drugs, and watch the ‘ADHD crime rate’ drop to normal levels.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.