ADHD News & Research

Study: Related Conditions Associated with ADHD Don’t Impact Both Genders Equally

A study confirmed that ADHD impacts both genders equally, but suggests that related conditions do not break down evenly between the sexes. For example, substance-abuse problems are more likely in men, while related personality and anxiety disorders are more common in women.

October 6, 2016

Despite inconsistent diagnosis rates in men and women, ADHD is equally likely to occur in both genders. A soon-to-be-printed study supports this medical conclusion, but adds another dimension to the relationship between ADHD and gender: Some comorbid psychiatric disorders commonly associated with ADHD are far more likely in one sex than the other. Specifically, men with ADHD are more likely to have substance-abuse problems while women with ADHD are more likely to have personality or mood disorders as well.

The study was conducted in 2014 by a team from Denmark, but will be published in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers looked at 155 adults, 65 percent of whom were men. All of them had been diagnosed with ADHD and were being treated at Psychiatric Services West in the city of Herning. At the study’s start, all the patients were clinically re-assessed for ADHD and screened for the presence of other psychiatric disorders.

Some of the results were fairly predictable. The researchers concluded, for instance, that men were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as women, and that adults older than 25 were less likely than their younger counterparts to have received a formal diagnosis in childhood. Most of the subjects (78 percent) were diagnosed with ADHD-Combined type, while 18 percent were primarily Inattentive and a mere 4 percent were primarily Hyperactive.

When the researchers turned their attention to comorbid conditions, however, the results became somewhat surprising. Nearly 60 percent of the subjects had at least one comorbid condition alongside ADHD, which the researchers expected. But surprisingly, men had a slightly higher chance of comorbid disorders overall — although women were more likely to have more than one.

The types of comorbid disorders differed sharply along gender lines, too. Men were three times more likely to have a substance-abuse disorder than were women — with 34 percent of those men abusing multiple drugs at once. Women, on the other hand, were more than twice as likely to have a personality disorder. Women were also slightly more likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder — though not as likely as the researchers had originally hypothesized.

The researchers were also shocked to find that there no significant gender differences between the different subtypes of ADHD. It’s long been assumed that women lean heavily toward the quieter inattentive subtype — explaining why they often go undiagnosed — but in this study, men were actually more likely to be diagnosed as primarily inattentive. This could be merely the result of a small sample size that skewed male, the researchers write, but it could also indicate that our current assumptions about women and ADHD may not be totally accurate.

The results make one thing clear, the researchers say: comorbidities should be taken into account from the moment ADHD is diagnosed.

“Adults with ADHD are a highly psychiatrically impaired group,” they write. “Knowing ADHD and related comorbid symptom profiles can contribute to a sharpening of the clinicians’ attention toward specific subgroup symptoms and impairments and thereby to an improvement of the diagnostic precision.”

On top of that, they conclude, “It can contribute to a refinement of treatment methods specifically targeted at particular subgroups.”