Teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — the most common childhood psychiatric condition in the United States — are less likely to finish high school on time than students with other mental-health disorders that often are considered more serious, a large national study by researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine has found. The study found that nearly one third of students with ADHD, twice the proportion as students with no psychiatric disorder, either drop out or delay high school graduation.
The study also examined the effects of substance use and abuse on high school graduation and found that among students who engage in substance use, including alcohol and other drugs, teens who smoke cigarettes are at greatest risk of dropping out.
There are three types of ADHD: the hyperactive type, the inattentive type and the combined type. Symptoms include not being able to pay attention, daydreaming, being easily distracted and being in constant motion or unable to remain seated.
“Most people think that the student who is acting out, who is lying and stealing, is most likely to drop out of school. But we found that students with the combined type of ADHD — the most common type — have a higher likelihood of dropping out than students with disciplinary problems,” said Julie Schweitzer, an expert on ADHD at the UC Davis MIND Institute, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s senior author. “This study shows that ADHD is a serious disorder that affects a child’s ability to be successful in school and subsequently in a way that can limit success in life.”
Published online in July in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the study “Childhood and Adolescent-onset Psychiatric Disorders, Substance Use, and Failure to Graduate High School on Time” found that 32.3 percent of students with the combined type of ADHD — which incorporates hyperactive and inattentive symptoms — drop out of high school. Fifteen percent of teens with no psychiatric disorder drop out.