Is it really necessary to treat ADHD?
Because many people tend to think of ADHD as a condition that affects just schooling (think: first graders who can't stay in their seats), you may wonder if the only point of treating it is so that kids can do well in school. That's one reason to treat it -- frustration and failure in school are not only painful for children, but can dramatically undermine their sense of self-worth -- but there are others, as ADHD affects all areas of a child's life. A child who's distracted or underperforming in school doesn't necessarily have ADHD; one of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD is that children have to be impaired in other settings besides school.
Symptoms of ADHD affect children outside the classroom as well. Parents will tell you how stressful home life can be when a child is unable to stop moving, focus on something important, finish what he starts, follow instructions, or think before he acts. Children with ADHD often have trouble forming and keeping friendships because they may be too aggressive, too talkative, too impulsive. Teenagers with untreated ADHD are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, more likely to get addicted, more likely to have early and unprotected sex, and more likely to get into car accidents. As they become young adults they have a harder time holding jobs, staying married, raising children, and even keeping out of jail.
Hyperactivity and impulsivity tend to wane as children get older, but the inattentive behaviors -- being disorganized and unable to finish what they start -- are more likely to persist into adulthood. The best estimate is that 40 percent of those who had ADHD as kids will continue to have impairment as adults.