Women with ADHD are much more likely to have been abused than those without ADHD. According to a recent study, 34 percent of women with ADHD stated they had been sexually abused prior to the age of 18 years old and 44 percent indicated they had been physically abused during childhood.
This isn’t the first time abuse has been linked to ADHD. In 2014, a study published online on the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, showed a link between ADHD and physical abuse with almost one-third of those with ADHD indicating abuse in childhood as compared to only seven percent of those without ADHD. In this study, researchers from the University of Toronto looked at information supplied from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey for over 13,000 adults. After reviewing both those who indicated they were abused in childhood and those who stated they were diagnosed with ADHD, the scientists concluded that there was an association between the two. Researchers could not tell, however, whether ADHD made people more susceptible to abuse, whether the trauma of abuse caused symptoms similar to ADHD or exacerbated the risk for ADHD.
The more recent study, also completed at the University of Toronto, used the 2012 Canadian Health Study. Results of the study include:
- 34 percent of women with ADHD reported they were sexually abused before the age of 18
- 44 percent of women with ADHD reported they experienced physical abuse during childhood as compared to 21 percent without ADHD
- 11 percent of men with ADHD indicated they were sexually abused as compared to only six percent of those without ADHD
- 41 percent of men with ADHD reported they had been physically abused during childhood as compared to 31 percent of those without ADHD
As with the first study, researchers aren’t sure why this connection exists.
The results of these studies bring up some important questions:
- Are those with ADHD more at risk of being abused? If so, why would this be true?
- Does the trauma of childhood abuse cause similar symptoms of ADHD or affect a person’s neurobiological development?
No matter the answers, however, researchers point out that it is very important for doctors to screen children with ADHD for abuse – both physical and sexual. Steps to prevent abuse or protect children from further abuse could then be taken. It might be helpful to address this issue with adults as well so that those who are still experiencing difficulty coping with the long-term effects of abuse can get the help they need.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.