Adult ADHD Sufferers Face Lost Income, Jobs

Average Loss of $10,000 a Year, More for Professionals

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 25, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

May 25, 2005 (Atlanta) -- If the jitters, short attention span, and the impulsivity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sound like a recipe for job disaster, you're probably right.

Adult ADHD victims suffer an average of $10,000 a year in lost income -- adding up to a staggering $77 billion annually on the national level, researchers say.

The higher the job level, the greater the hit: Professionals with postgraduate degrees lose nearly $40,000 a year, the study shows.

Downhill Spiral

Once thought of as a disease of childhood, more than 8 million adults, or 4.3% of American adults, suffer from ADHD, says Joseph Biederman, MD, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Reporting here at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Biederman blames the same symptoms that cause young people with ADHD to perform poorly in school: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. He describes a downhill spiral, with sufferers going through job after job, relationship after relationship.

"With any work we do, you have to have discipline to have a product," he tells WebMD. "If you're forgetful, fall asleep in meetings, impulsive -- as people with ADHD are -- you're not going to do well."

ADHD Crimps Abilities

Howard Eist, MD, past president of the APA and a clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., isn't surprised by the findings.

Describing people who have problems with deadlines, organization, and prioritizing, he says, "It's not uncommon to be underemployed and not uncommon to run into job difficulties.

"People with adult ADHD and enormous intellectual horsepower have to work much harder than a person with much fewer IQ points to accomplish the same thing," Eist tells WebMD. "If you don't have enormous horsepower and ADHD crimps your abilities, you'll have to take a lower paying job."

The bottom line, Eist says, is that whether the price tag is "$100 billion or $150 billion, the economic impact is enormous."

So what to do?

Flexible work hours, family leave arrangements, and childcare assistance can help, according to Biederman. And obviously, correct diagnosis and treatment is essential, he says, noting that there are two drugs, Adderall and Strattera, available for adult ADHD, both of which help relieve symptoms in about two-thirds of people. Lilly, Strattera's maker, is a WebMD sponsor.

ADHD Sufferers Less Likely to Graduate

For the study, the researchers interviewed 1,000 men and women, half of whom had adult ADHD. It was funded by Shire Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Adderall.

Among the findings:

  • About 17% of adults with ADHD did not graduate from high school, compared with 7% of those without the condition.
  • Just 19% of those with adult ADHD graduated from college vs. 25% of the adults without ADHD.
  • Those with adult ADHD averaged 5.4 jobs in a 10-year period, compared with 3.4 jobs for those without the disorder.
  • Only 52% of those with adult ADHD were currently employed, compared with 72% of those without the condition.
  • More than four in 10 ADHD victims lost jobs or left them due to their symptoms.

Even after education was taken into account, the average yearly loss of household income associated with adult ADHD ranges from $8,900 to $15,400 per year, the study shows.

Also, adults with ADHD were three times more likely to suffer from depression, stress, and other mental health problems, the survey shows. And almost one in four say their symptoms are severe enough to prevent them from going about their everyday activities.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: American Psychiatric Association 2005 Annual Meeting, Atlanta, May 21-26, 2005. Joseph Biederman, MD, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston. Howard Eist, MD, past president, APA; clinical professor of psychiatry, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

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