ADHD in Girls

Inaccurate Gender Stereotypes Hindering Treatment

Gender stereotypes could be preventing some teens with ADHD from getting the help they need.

Gender Assumptions Up in Smoke
Gender Assumptions Up in Smoke

Inaccurate assumptions about how ADHD affects boys and girls could be preventing some teens from getting all the help they need to deal with ADHD and related complications.

For example, researchers have found that girls with ADHD may be up to 20 times more likely to have problems with alcohol or drug abuse than are boys with ADHD. “That ADHD in girls was a more serious risk factor for substance use disorders than it was in boys was an unanticipated and surprising finding,” noted Joseph Biederman, M.D. of Harvard Medical School. “This finding would support the targeting of substance abuse prevention programs to girls with ADHD.”

That major depression was actually more common among boys with ADHD than it was among girls also came as a surprise. “This finding was not anticipated, since depression is commonly viewed as a predominantly female disorder,” wrote Biederman. Although these girls had a lower rate of depression than did boys with ADHD, depression was still more common among girls with ADHD than it was among girls who did not qualify for diagnosis.

Researchers based their conclusions on observations and comparisons of 140 boys with ADHD, 140 girls with ADHD, and almost 250 boys and girls who did not have ADHD. The results of the study were published in the January 2006 edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry, the journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

Based on this research, doctors recommend that parents and clinicians should be more aware of the potential for substance abuse among girls with ADHD and the strong possibility of depression among ADHD boys.

Some More Familiar Findings

While bringing some gender stereotypes into question, the Harvard study did confirm some of what was already believed about other sex differences in ADHD.

As expected, girls with ADHD were more likely than boys to have the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD, or ADHD without hyperactivity. Girls were also less likely to have a learning disability in addition to their ADHD. In addition, the girls with ADHD were at less risk for conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder than boys with ADHD. Anxiety was more common among girls than boys.

Boys were three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD and an incredible ten times more likely to be given a clinical referral for treatment. Boys with ADHD are also more likely to be given medication and other therapies for treatment.

Biederman believes that these differences in treatment are probably related to the gap in diagnosis. Girls don’t act out as much as boys; therefore, they are less likely to be diagnosed.

“Once identified, ADHD may be treated similarly in boys and girls,” concluded Biederman. Unfortunately, many of our ADHD daughters apparently aren’t being properly identified and thus are not receiving appropriate treatment.