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Children With ADHD Are At Risk For Criminal Life Styles

Updated on July 11, 2013
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Deonne Anderson is a retired Child and Family Therapist, Free Lance Writer, and Motivational Speaker who lives in Florence, SC.

Prisoners on Bunks

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crowded jails | Source

Psychiatrist and ADHD expert Ned Hallowell defines Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) as a collection of symptoms, some positive, some negative. He espouses that ADHD is not a disorder but a trait, a way of being in the world. Only when it impairs your life, he says, then it becomes a disorder. But once they learn to manage it's disorderly aspects, they can take full advantage of the many talents and gifts embedded in this sparkling kind of mind.

For more information on the positives and gifts of ADHD see:

There are (3)sub-types of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, combined type
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive Impulsive Type

Teens with the Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive Impulsive Type are the ones we are targeting in this article. They are prone to boredom and restlessness. They are risk takers and live for the highs and adrenalin rushes. One thing I need to mention is that those of us with ADHD have a chemical imbalance in our brains....a deficiency in the neurotransmitter dopamine. A neurotransmitter is a chemical that is released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced by the brain and is linked to it's motivation and reward mechanisms. Deficiencies in dopamine can cause many symptoms, most notably, Parkinson's Disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.

For example, Bill who has ADHD is very very happy, calm, and content when driving his sports car at high speeds. The exhilaration he experiences causes a rise in his dopamine levels just as a snort of cocaine or the medication Dopamine would. What happens is that every time he feels bored and/or depressed his first thought is to go for a drive, which for him is risky and potentially harmful behavior.

The importance of having a Mental Health Professional evaluate and diagnose your child cannot not be stressed enough. If your child is experiencing ADHD symptoms and receives treatment while in Kindergarten and Elementary School, it is important for you to have him re-evaluated before going on to Middle or High School.

We learned in the late 90's and early 2000s that children do not always outgrow ADHD during adolescence as we originally thought, but that up to 60% of them continue to have symptoms throughout their adult years. One of the negative consequences of undiagnosed ADHD in teens that we are focusing on today is their involvement with the Criminal Justice System.

Teens with ADHD are at risk for many behaviors that are harmful and sometimes fatal. The need for diagnosis and treatment is crucial at this time. Being able to put a name on their behaviors can be helpful as well as empowering. Once teens are diagnosed as one with ADHD, they feel a sense of relief. They come to know that they are not just screw ups or stupid.

Many of these children have been called "stupid," "dunce" or "dumb." Learning that their brains are wired different than that of their peers provides an explanation for their differences and gives them some legitimacy and validation.

I will never forget the immense joy I felt upon learning that I had Adult ADHD. My first thought was, "If only mama was still living. She would finally understand why I was such a difficult baby and child....why I talked non-stop and flitted from one location and one activity to another and why I earned all A's in my subjects and F's in conduct....why I would sneak out of my bedroom window as a teen to go to the movies on a school night. I was described by her as "my brilliant but problem child."

In this post we are dealing with the dark side of ADHD. The dark side is what can happen when ADHD is undiagnosed and untreated. The importance of having a Mental Health Professional evaluate and diagnose your child cannot not be stressed enough.

If your child is experiencing ADHD symptoms and receives treatment while in Kindergarten and Elementary School, it is important for you to have him re-evaluated before going on to Middle and High School.

Those of us in the Mental Health Profession learned in the late 90's and early 2000s that ADHD symptoms did not always diminish or go away during adolescence as originally believed but that as many as 60% of those with the symptoms as young children continue to present with the symptoms throughout their adult lives.

Our concern here is how undiagnosed and untreated ADHD impacts on the lives of teens in the area of criminal activity. Teens with the Predominantly Hyperactive Impulsive Type of ADHD have difficulty with impulse control. They do not have a pause mechanism in their brains that enables them to stop and think about their choices or the consequences of their actions. Because they have dopamine deficiencies in their brains, the very thought of doing something illegal and dangerous causes a rise of their dopamine level.

So, when walking home from school one day Bill notices a convertible parked in front of a convenience store with the keys in the ignition, he said to Justin, "Dude, that's one crazy person leaving their keys in the car like that." "Yeh," said Justin. "We need to teach somebody a lesson!n. Man let's take this baby for a spin! "Naw man," said Bill. Suppose we get caught!" "Don't be such a wuss dude,"said Justin, " just think how it'll be when we show up in this baby. It's only four or five blocks to the gym. Larry and Steve will be shocked man. You know they don't think you're cool but this will show them." Wanting to belong for a change, Bill hops on the driver's side, turns the ignition and drives off without any thought other than the fact that his driving the car will prove to Larry and Steve that he is one cool dude.

Bill was so focused on driving the convertible that he ends up driving 55 in a 35 mph zone. From out of nowhere he hears a police siren and hears Justin saying, "Damn, we're in trouble now that police car is right behind you. Dude, why you gotta speed? You really are a f*** up!

Justin and Bill are arrested for auto theft and carted off to the Juvenile Detention Center. They now have a criminal record...a felony, and are at risk for losing their freedom.

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Life Behind Bars

"help! I can't get out!"
"help! I can't get out!" | Source

ADHD Teen Crime Report

Some Facts About ADHD and Criminal Behavior

  • Anti-social behaviors are common among Teens with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • 60% of kids with ADHD also have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
  • Impulsive Hyperactive Disorder Teens are more likely to get into trouble with the law than the inattentive ADHD Teens as they crave the stimulation of anti-social behaviors as well as acting on impulse.
  • Impulsive Hyperactive Disorder Teens do not plan their crimes or illegal activities. When the feeling hits them, they just do it!
  • Teens with ADHD average (2) arrests by age 18.
  • ADHD dos not cause Teens or Adults to commit crimes, but the symptoms increase their risks for involvement with the criminal justice system.
  • Evidence has shown that proper treatment may reduce the risk for criminal behavior as well as the recidivism rate among ADHD criminals.
  • 25% of untreated Teens will be arrested compared with 3% for the general population.
  • About 50% of men in prison have ADHD.
  • Arson is often associated with ADHD. ADHD Teens are three times more likely to be arrested for arson.
  • Teens with ADHD (hyperactive impulsive type) are four times more likely to be involved in auto accidents and get speeding tickets than non-ADHD Teens.
  • Teens who do not receive treatment are often plagued by boredom and impulsivity. In order to get their dopamine fix, they crave sensation and excitement. Often times they commit crimes to achieve that fix.
  • According to a study by the Medical University of South Carolina Teens with ADHD are three times more likely to be hurt in a car crash, four times as likely to be at fault and six to eight times more likely to have their driver's licenses suspended.


  • People with ADHD are more likely to attempt to take their own life.
  • Teens with ADHD are more likely to use drugs to self medicate as an unconscious gesture to replenish their dopamine supply.

  • Teens with untreated ADHD are ten times more likely to become pregnant or cause a pregnancy than other Teens.

Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD can have far reaching, serious and often fatal consequences for Teens. If your child is exhibiting symptoms, it is imperative for you to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for an evaluation and diagnosis. If your Teen is found to have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Predominantly Hyperactive Impulsive Type, he is at risk for criminal activity because of his impulsivity which he has not learned or is unable to control without treatment and because of his dopamine deficiency.

It is important that you keep in mind that ADHD does not cause criminal behavior but that it increases the risk for criminal behavior. It is paramount that your Teen be evaluated and diagnosed. Your failure to make this happen may mean a criminal life style for your Teen.


[1]Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, D.C. American Psychiatric Association.

[2] T. Grisso. Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Offender with Mental Disorder. The University of Chicago Press, 2004



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    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you for writing to me! There is nothing stopping me from walking in there on a Sunday sermon. But they made it perfectly clear I was no longer welcome there, so I guess I consider that "banned".

      I went to the pastor after the secretary approached me and he wouldn't talk to me at all. He told me to discuss things with the head of the nursery. So she spoke to me and apologized for the girl slapping my child. But then told me my son was no longer allowed in the nursery. The teenager was still allowed to be in the nursery though which never made sense to me. Well, I had just signed up for their Bible class on Wednesday nights and paid for my own book. I couldn't go if my son wasn't allowed in the nursery. They told me too bad. They said my son was undisciplined because I was a single mother and they couldn't have him around other children.

      Even still today, on the occasion I have seen one of the members in a store or out in public, they completely turn their face from me and will not speak to me. Sad, but true.

      Now on to positive things: My son is going to a structured lego group right now. He loves it! He is making new friends and is getting ready to transition to school.

      The one question I have about Omega 3 is that do you have a recommendation for one that doesn't have a dye in it? His therapist started him out on that last year but we are trying to get away from food additives and dyes. We have tried giving him children's vitamins but a lot of them have dyes that seem to cause more hyperactivity. Is there a version for Omega 3 by itself that is dye free (instead of being in a combined children's vitamin?) Thanks!

    • ladydeonne profile imageAUTHOR

      Deonne Anderson 

      5 years ago from Florence, SC

      Thanks for clearing things up fo me. I have responded to you in an email. You can hopefully find a church that is supportive of you and your son. If church members can't accept and love you and your son, how can they teach you or him about the love of God? I am happy that he will be mainstreamed

      this school year and that has an Aide assigned to him full time. In order to play to his genius, you can provide him with Math games and exercises. Set up as many situations you can that will enable him to experience success and tell him that you love him as often as you can. His potential is unlimited. Ask your Therapist or his doctor about adding Omega 3 or fish oil to his diet or as a supplement. That will help him with his hyperactivity and concentrration. Have a good day.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      Regarding church, I had been taking my children there four times a week when the church was hosting services. I was a single mother at that point and wanted to make a connection with the community. (My son had just finished pre-K at a private school and was banned from participating in the graduation ceremonies that he practiced for because the director said he was "disobedient".)

      After going to the church for a while and establishing a relationship with a few other people, my son was in the nursery and I was in Bible study in the main part of the church. Someone came to get me and said my son was having a problem in the nursery. I went to the nursery and walked in on a teenager slapping my son. My son ran out of the room screaming and crying. I went to see if he was ok. Then I approached the teenager who was practically foaming at the mouth ready to take another hit at my child. He had crawled under the table in the nursery to get a Crayola that had fallen on the floor while he was coloring. Apparently that was against nursery policy, to allow a child to go under a table. Anyway, a head nursery worker did apologize but then, the church secretary approached me and said my son wasn't welcome in the nursery and he behaves as he does because he has no role model as I am a single mother. They also basically told me that they felt I needed a lot of guidance because I didn't raise my children within their standards. (Basically they were blaming me for everything. He was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD.)

      My son is a genius in math. He has had testing in school and ranks higher than most of the children his age group in all subjects except language. He has phonological disorder.

      Right now he is enrolled in structured summer activities. He will be mainstreamed this school year in the fall with a full-day aide.

    • ladydeonne profile imageAUTHOR

      Deonne Anderson 

      5 years ago from Florence, SC

      It's great to hear from you again. I'm sorry to hear about your incident with the nursery room worker. Am I missing something? Are you saying that you were banned from your church because you are a single Mom? You and I need to talk further. I will email you if I can find your address. I read somewhere that our email addresses are available for hubbers. I do believe in medication. When I first learned that I had Adult ADHD, I was prescribed Adderall. It works wonders for me. My ADHD is of the severe type. It can be very debilitating for me, but I've learned to use and to focus on my strengths and minimize my weaknesses. Have you read my DaVinci hubs? I have spot lighted only three so far. These individuals have ADHD and or Dyslexia. They all have special gifts. Have you or his teachers or therapists been able to identify your son's strengths or gifts. What does he get excited about doing? Identifying those things he is good at and encouraging as well as joining with him in doing them is key to building his self esteem. It is unlikely that he will take the path of juvenile delinquency because he is being treated. Those youths who ae not identified as having ADHD or are not bein treated via Therapy and/or medication are the ones who are at risk. Your support and guidance as well as his treatment will certainly pay off for him now and forever. All efforts give him a better chance of being successful in life. He is blessed to be your child. You are blessed to have been chosen as his mother. All will be well with you both. Thanks for reading my hub and sharing on a personal level.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you again for another inspirational writing about ADHD. As I said, my son has Autism and ADHD. We've been through a tough road. The last straw for me from the public was when a nursery worker slapped my son because he crawled under the nursery room table where he dropped a crayon. The church then banned me for being a "single" parent telling church members it was my fault my child is like he is. Nothing was said to the teenager for slapping my son. She was honored at that church.

      My son's medical bills in the past two years exceed what most people pay for a house. We have specialists on board. He is on Kapvay (a newer ADHD medication) and he is doing brilliantly in school. While not everyone believes in medication, I found that it was the only thing that helped my child function day to day. Without it, he is not able to sit still for a second. As it is, on the medicine he has to rock himself to do normal things like read a book.

      I just hope that all we are doing for him now will pay off for his future. I hope for him that all of the guidance, support, and therapy we have provided will one day help him stay on an untroubled path.

    • ladydeonne profile imageAUTHOR

      Deonne Anderson 

      5 years ago from Florence, SC


      It is great that you have discovered how to play to your strengths as evidenced by the sharing of your gift for writing. Were you diagnosed as a child or teen? Those of us who were diagnosed late in life are at a great disadvantage because we suffered silently for years, often losing relationships,jobs, missing opportunities, and not living up to our true potential. Our self esteems, our hopes and dreams, our potential to become, were often shattered, leaving us broken and feeling less than.

      I believed that I was just one big f... up...until I learned that I was one with ADHD. This knowledge was liberating for me. I now know that my ADHD is my greatest gift. I have learned to play to my talents and strengths, to minimize my weaknesses, and to delegate or hire others to do those things I'm not good at. Thanks for your comments.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      I have adult ADHD too. I can completely understand the frustration these young ones have, honestly. Thanks for sharing these tips...passing it on.

    • ladydeonne profile imageAUTHOR

      Deonne Anderson 

      5 years ago from Florence, SC


      Thanks for your comments. It is my mission to share my personal and work experiences with ADHD with as many individuals as possible.


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