Women With ADHD Twice As Likely To Have Been Abused as Children

child abuseA newly published Canadian study found that 34% of women with ADHD reported having been sexually abused before age 16. That’s compared to 14% of women without ADHD. In addition, 44% of the women with ADHD reported childhood physical abuse, while only 21% of those without ADHD did.

Researchers from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto looked at data from more than 20,000 men and women who responded to the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health. They found that childhood sexual and physical abuse were strong predicting factors for diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood. Interestingly, childhood exposure to domestic violence appeared to be a risk factor only for women. The study was published online in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.

This is the second study on childhood abuse and ADHD released by the University of Toronto team in as many months. In March, an article in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, which used data from 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, found that 30% of adults with ADHD report they were physically abused before they turned 18, compared to only 7% of those without ADHD.

“Our data does not allow us to know the direction of the association. It is possible that the behaviors of children with ADD/ADHD increase parental stress and the likelihood of abuse,” said co-author Rukshan Mehta.

“Alternatively, some new literature suggests early childhood abuse may result in and/or exacerbate the risk of ADD/ADHD.” (An overview of that article can be found in Psych Central News.)

A small 2006 study of girls under age 12 found similar risks of abuse among female children with ADHD. That study, published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, found that among a sample of 228 American girls ages six to 12, 14.3% of those with ADHD had a history of child abuse, compared to only 4.5% of those without ADHD. The abuse was more prevalent among girls with the combined hyperactive/inattentive subtype of ADHD than among girls who were primarily inattentive.

Some people “outgrow” ADHD when they enter adulthood, but many who had it as children continue to meet diagnostic criteria into adulthood. About 8.8% of children ages four to 17 in the US have ADHD. Around 4% of adults in the US population have ADHD, according to a number of government sponsored studies. While ADHD is up to three times more common in male children and adolescents, the frequency per gender evens out to about 50:50 in adulthood.

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Photo courtesy of Patrik Nygren on flickr


Women With ADHD Twice As Likely To Have Been Abused as Children

Amy Harding

Amy Harding is an editor at Psych Central Pro. She has worked as a writer and editor in the healthcare field for more than 10 years, in roles as diverse as writing marketing copy for a large hospital system to serving as executive editor at a psychiatry CME publisher. Her career has focused primarily on creating accessible, timely, and reader-friendly professional education for those in the mental and behavioral health fields. You can reach her at


APA Reference
Harding, A. (2015). Women With ADHD Twice As Likely To Have Been Abused as Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


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Last updated: 16 Apr 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Apr 2015
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