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Divorce More Likely in ADHD Families?

Parents of ADHD Kids Nearly Twice as Likely to Split as Families without ADHD, Study Shows


Certain risk factors in the children and the parents made divorce more likely, researchers found. If the child had coexisting disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder (CD), it boosted the risk. A father’s antisocial behavior, such as having a DUI, boosted divorce risk, as did a discrepancy in the amount of education between partners, such as a mother having a low level and a father a high level.

"The bright spot is, the majority did not get divorced, even though the rate is twice as high," Pelham tells WebMD. Previous research, done by others, has found that mothers of children with ADHD are three times more likely to split up with their husbands than are mothers of children without ADHD.

Another potentially bright spot: the proportion of parents who divorced after the child with ADHD turned 8 did not differ significantly.

That finding may simply mean that "people have learned to cope and deal with the situation," Pelham tells WebMD. ADHD is typically treated with medication, behavior therapy, or both.

The study is published in the October issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The first author is Brian Wymbs, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh.

Parents of ADHD children have tremendous stress, says Pelham, who has researched that in other studies.

More stress can occur, he says, if parents disagree on what treatment to offer the child.

"One of the problems in families with ADHD kids is, one parent will be really concerned it's a problem and the other won't see it as a problem," Pelham says. A mother, for instance, may deal with school officials and hear their concerns, he says, while a father may dismiss the behavior in a son with ADHD as "He's just all boy."

"Sometimes you get differences in parental perceptions, leading to disagreements," he says.

The study findings come as no surprise to other experts. "We've suspected that marital discord and divorce are higher among families with children with ADHD, but this study shows that in a clear way," says Charlotte Johnston, PhD, professor of psychology and a long-time researcher on ADHD at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, who trained with Pelham as a graduate student.

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