ADHD News & Research

Teen Girls with ADHD 2 to 3 Times More Likely to Become Pregnant, Study Finds

Research suggests that impulsive behavior associated with ADHD increases the risk of unintended pregnancy, especially for girls in their early teens.

May 31, 2017

A large Danish study finds that teenagers with ADHD are much more likely to have children during their teen years than are their peers without the condition. Girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are particularly vulnerable to unintended pregnancy.

Researchers looked at nearly 3 million people born in Denmark between 1960 and 2001, including more than 27,000 who had been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their lives. They studied the likelihood of becoming a parent at seven different age ranges: 12 to 16, 17 to 19, 20 to 24, 25 to 29, 30 to 34, 35 to 39, and over 40.

Girls with ADHD were more than three and a half times as likely as their peers to become pregnant between the ages of 12 and 15, while boys in the same age group were two and half times as likely as their peers to impregnate a partner. Teens with ADHD between 16 and 19, of all genders, were about twice as likely to become pregnant or contribute to a pregnancy, and young adults with ADHD often had more children overall than their peers by the time they turned 25.

ADHD — and its hallmark symptom of impulsivity, in particular — has long been linked to an increased risk of dangerous behavior, including sexual behavior. But research specifically looking at the rate of teenage pregnancy among young people with ADHD has been scarce, the researchers said — and researchers said this study’s data surprised them.

“We were expecting to find an increased risk, but not of this magnitude,” said lead study author Dr. Soren Dinesen Ostergaard, of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark. He and his colleagues suggest that sexual-education programs — particularly those focusing on the use of contraceptives — should be tailored specifically toward teens with ADHD, who may not respond to traditional education methods. Building an effective ADHD-friendly sex-ed program should be explored in future studies on teen pregnancy, the researchers said.

“It is well established that becoming a teenage parent, irrespective of your mental health status, is burdensome for both parents and children,” Ostergaard said. “It is also well known that parenting is often difficult for individuals with ADHD.”

Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, of the University of Maryland at College Park, added that parents should take a proactive approach to educating their children about sex — whether or not they have ADHD.

“Rather than just teaching a safe sex program, which doesn’t address the impulsive nature of ADHD… maybe we could work on enhancing relationships with parents to prevent negative outcomes,” she said.

Dustin Sarver, who works at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, agreed.

“Teenagers aren’t going to shy away from sex, and impulsivity only magnifies the potential problem,” he said in an interview with Reuters Health. “I’ve found that parents are surprised to learn their children, especially girls, are at a higher risk — but they’re glad to have the issue raised so they can think ahead about how to address it.”

Neither Chronis-Tuscano nor Sarver were involved in the new study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in May.