by Richard Webster
To begin, let me state that ADHD can only be diagnosed by a medical professional … and that’s not me. I make no claims in that direction. I AM, however, the parent of four daughters, two of whom have ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADHD about twenty years ago. I have also been engaged with CHADD’s Northern California chapter as their Regional Coordinator and serve on the CHADD National Board of Directors. As such, I’ve had interactions with thousands of people with ADHD over the past couple of decades.
Originally published in 2019, this article was updated and republished on September 23rd, 2022.
It is important to obtain a proper diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional. Other conditions can manifest similar symptoms but have drastically different treatment recommendations. Taking a stimulant medication for sleep apnea, for example, could make your problems exponentially worse. Sleep apnea can look EXACTLY like ADHD to the untrained eye.
ADHD is not a psychiatric condition, though it is often complicated by a number of psychiatric conditions. It’s a neuro-developmental (physical) difference that is incurable but highly treatable.
Here are seven alternative (and sometimes co-morbid) explanations that self-diagnosing individuals often miss:
- Bipolar and Bipolar 2 disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Childhood trauma
- Improper diet
- Sensory processing disorders
The point is … don’t self-diagnose.
I believe medication (stimulant and non-stimulant) represents only about 20% of ADHD remediation for most adults and maybe 65% in children. If you want to thrive, you must do the work. That might include cognitive behavioral therapy, coaching and other strategies. That’s the other 80%. But, the 20% is crucial.
Why the difference between adults and kids? Late-diagnosed adults are not only dealing with ADHD, they are dealing with the accumulated damage, baggage, and other consequences of living an untreated ADHD life.
If you or your child’s ADHD is mild and simply an annoyance, something that is not seriously impacting your lives, then you don’t need to hear this rant. BUT if you’re one of the many people properly diagnosed with significant ADHD challenges, then please read on.
Maybe it’s your child, maybe it’s you. If you’re resistant to the idea of using mainstream medication for any number of reasons, I’d suggest stepping back to see what’s real. The allure of well-marketed unproven alternatives is seductively appealing.
You have diagnosed ADHD impairments. In the throes of chronic pain and dysfunction you’ve shown up seeking help. Unchecked ADHD is ruining your life. Nothing you’ve done has made your life better, BUT you still look for alternatives to the mostly benign, rare, and temporary side effects of mainstream medications.
Yes, medication can cause temporary side effects and carries a rarely manifested risk of serious complications.
Here are some of the serious and common risk factors you should be concerned with:
Unmedicated ADHD is positively correlated with the following:
- With being a defendant in court.
- With going to prison and going back to prison.
- With living close to the poverty line.
- With having outstanding parking tickets and traffic violations.
- With paying two, three … sometimes 10 times the initial value of those tickets in additional penalties.
- With being injured in a car wreck that the ADHD person caused.
- With having few if any real friends.
- With feeling isolated.
- With having so much clutter and debris in the house that the ADHD person becomes too ashamed to invite anyone in.
- With toxic and life diminishing levels of chronic shame.
- With becoming homeless.
- With being in the same dead-end job for years.
- With getting fired or laid off.
- With being unemployed, under employed, and/or being in a “bad fit” job.
- With elevated rates of foreclosure, eviction, and auto repossession.
- With having a stack of unopened nasty letters from the IRS.
- With disease exacerbated by chronic financial stress.
- With obesity and most of its related negative health consequences.
- With chronically over committing and under achieving.
- With failing in school… especially in college.
- With living on poor quality food to the point of damaging their health.
- With not seeing a doctor or dentist for years.
- With neglecting common sense health care practices
- With engaging in risky behaviors: Substance abuse, DUI, and rock climbing beyond their skill set.
- With engaging in other risky behaviors ranging from unprotected sex to reckless driving to road rage.
- With not taking prescribed medication for other physical ailments.
- With getting divorced.
- With having utilities cut off for nonpayment.
- With having utilities repeatedly interrupted for nonpayment.
- With being up to their neck in debt.
- With sleep disturbances.
- With worsened anxiety, anger management, and depressive issues.
- With earning 25% less over the course of their lives.
- With losing copious amounts of money to the “ADHD tax.”
- With retiring broke.
- With experiencing higher rates of domestic abuse (both as victim and perpetrator).
- And, with having a dramatically shortened life expectancy (11 – 18 years shorter).
- Plus, with having a shortened “healthy life expectancy” as a percentage of their already shortened lives.
Here are some sobering “side effects” of NOT medicating kids and not providing a suitably adjusted living / social / school environment, of not providing a non-judgmental living environment, if you will.
Compared to their properly treated ADHD peers, untreated ADHD kids are likely to experience the following:
- Earn and receive poorer grades – significantly poorer.
- Suffer more emotional abuse at the hands of their classmates.
- Get physically bullied more often.
- Have fewer friends.
- Are more likely to self-medicate with street drugs.
- Become substance abusers and alcoholics more often.
- Take foolish risks.
- Have more accidents.
- Die in car accidents more often.
- Spend more days in the hospital before the age of 18.
- Are more likely to die before the age of 18.
- Develop antisocial tendencies more often.
- Get in trouble with the law more often.
- Acquire more STD’s.
- Fail to graduate high school in greater numbers.
- Fail to make it to college more often.
- Fail to graduate college more often.
- Internalize the negative judgments of peers, teachers, and authority figures.
- Witness trauma more often.
- Experience trauma more often.
- Are marginalized more often resulting in a greater risk of being targeted and culled from the herd by a predator.
- Are depressed more often.
- Are more prone to anxiety issues.
- Attempt suicide more often.
- Successfully commit suicide more often.
But hey … it’s just ADHD, right?
Every one of these negative impacts is a common and KNOWN (research based) RISK FACTOR of ADHD. Every one of these outcomes can be significantly reduced by proper medication, hard work, and conscious action.
The consequences of NOT utilizing research-proven medication and not attending to the self-care necessary are probable, often devastating, and sometimes tragically unrecoverable.
Now that you know the other side, do your homework. Be in the know and make an educated decision.
Richard Webster, the author of this article, is CEO and founder of Rena-Fi, Inc. His opinions and viewpoints expressed do not necessarily reflect that of Rena-Fi, Inc.