Can Untreated ADHD Shorten Your Life?


Untreated ADHD shortens your life

If you follow me on Instagram then you know that I attended the Annual International Conference on ADHD a couple weeks ago.

I love this event. The speakers are interesting, people are friendly, and you really get a sense of community. Next year the conference will be in Philadelphia and I would love to see some of you there!

This year I was super excited when I heard that Russell Barkley was doing the keynote on Saturday the 10th, so I dragged myself out of bed to see him.

I talk about Dr. Barkley a lot. So naturally I stalked him a little. He didn’t seem to notice, and if he did he did not call the police.

Russell Barkley

Dr. Barkley always gives a good presentation, but this time he really knocked my socks off!

I mean I call myself HealthyADHD. I’ve done this for three years because I have always felt intuitively that ADHD affects your overall health and wellbeing.

I have seen in my own family what happens when ADHD goes untreated and unacknowledged. It is not pretty.

If left untreated and unacknowledged ADHD will shorten your life.


Can Untreated ADHD Shorten Your life?

Here is the latest research


Executive Inhibition and Executive Attention

These are what Dr. Barkley refers to as, “The two dimensions of neuropsychological deficits.”

Executive Inhibition  might include being unable to sit still, or feeling as if we cannot hold our tongue during a conversation. Other examples of executive inhibition include problems filtering stimuli, making decisions and delaying gratification.

Executive Attention includes poor persistence towards goals, trouble with transitions, and impaired working memory.

Because of these two dimensions we are very poor at self-monitoring.

Who Me?!


We need self-monitoring to take care of ourselves, so that kinda sucks.


ADHD persists into Adulthood

For the vast majority of people diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, symptoms will persist into the adult years.

Many of us develop compensatory strategies to make our way through the world, but life almost always feels like a struggle.

Dr. Barkley created a chart showing each of the following impairments. Each can be linked to ADHD in adulthood:

  • – Limited educational attainment

  • – Greater family/relationship stress

  • – Increased legal/behavioral problems as a result of antisocial behavior

  • – Increased rates of cigarette/marijuana/alcohol use

  • – Earlier unplanned pregnancies (in women)

  • – Occupational and financial difficulties

  • – Marital problems/higher rates of domestic violence

  • Impaired parenting behavior

While not every one of us will have issues in each category, I can see myself or one of my family members in every single one. SCARY STUFF


ADHD and physical health

Knowing does not equal doing when it comes to ADHD.

We know that drinking and driving is dangerous, so does everyone who ever got a DUI. But knowing is not the same as doing or making a good decision. We are not the best decision makers.

ADHDers often make bad decisions about food, exercise, sex, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Particularly if we don’t have any support.

Again – we are terrible at self-monitoring and this puts us at a distinct disadvantage.

According to Dr. Barkley’s report we are at greater risk for all of the following:

  • – Traumatic brain injuries

  • – Accidental injuries of all types

  • – Victim/perpetrator of aggression, bullying, abuse

  • – STDs

  • – Poor physical health

  • – Lower quality diet

  • – Higher incidence of overweight/obesity

  • – Dental issues

  • – Type 2 diabetes in adolescence

  • – Eating disorders in females (See my post on this topic.)

Here is another post on ADHD women and eating.

Most of these physical health issues could be managed more effectively if we had better Executive Function.

In order to have better EFs we have to acknowledge the ADHD and get treatment and support.


ADHD and low conscientiousness

Conscientious = being careful or vigilant, organized and efficient.

Are you efficient and organized? Yeah – me neither.

Living with ADHD means that we are often the opposite of conscientious.

We have trouble regulating our emotions, our impulses, and all manner of behavioral response.

This lack of self-regulation can lead to earlier mortality for all of the reasons listed above.

But there is an antidote to all of this: ADHD Awareness


ADHD awareness is key

Having a level of awareness about how ADHD affects us is the antidote to this huge public health problem.

You cannot control your genes but you can choose to get the support and treatment you need.

Dr. Barkley named nine different “malleable factors” when it comes to increasing life expectancy. These are all factors that are changeable. See photo below.

ADHD health factors

What do you think when you look at the list?

Personally, I feel a little defeated because just by virtue of having ADHD I struggle with making positive choices about many of these items.

But when I have support, and therapy, and I take my medications I have a fighting chance! And so do you!


Barkley’s study showed that lack of self-regulation can lead to a shortened lifespan for adults and children with ADHD.

Dr. Barkley concedes that the test group was small in size, and the reporting parties were predominately male. But if females were included I don’t doubt for a minute the results would have been similar.

Like it or not ADHD is a serious health problem, and more primary care physicians and psychiatrists need to understand and discuss with patients the long-term implications for health and wellbeing.

Women in particular are often diagnosed with another comorbid disorder first. While screening for these is important, physicians need to broaden their diagnostic screening of women to include ADHD more often.

And obviously, with the wealth of evidence demonstrating ADHD as a neurobiological disorder the shaming and denial needs to stop.

Thank you Dr. Barkley for bringing this important information to light! (Though I am certain he will never read this.)

If left untreated and unacknowledged ADHD will shorten your life.


I’ve known this for a loooong time. And now I have the best possible proof that my intuition was right!

I run support groups for women with ADHD.


I produce products and services to help manage ADHD emotions.


Sign up for email support – coming in January 2019.



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