Associations between abuse/neglect and ADHD from childhood to young adulthood: A prospective nationally-representative twin study

Adi Stern, Jessica Agnew-Blais, Andrea Danese, Helen L. Fisher, Sara R. Jaffee, Timothy Matthews, Guilherme V. Polanczyk, Louise Arseneault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Child maltreatment has consistently been found to be associated with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the robustness of this association and the direction of the link between maltreatment and ADHD remain unclear. We used data from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, a cohort of 2232 British twins, to investigate the associations between exposure to abuse/neglect and ADHD in childhood and in young adulthood, and to test their robustness and specificity. We also aimed to test longitudinal associations between abuse/neglect and ADHD from childhood to young adulthood, controlling for confounders. Results indicated strong associations between abuse/neglect and ADHD in childhood and also in young adulthood. In childhood, the association was concentrated among children with comorbid conduct disorder. Longitudinal analyses showed that childhood ADHD predicted abuse/neglect in later years. This association was again concentrated among individuals with comorbid conduct disorder. Abuse/neglect in childhood was not associated with later ADHD in young adulthood after adjusting for childhood ADHD. Our study does not provide support of a causal link between child abuse/neglect and adult ADHD but highlights the possibility of a long-term effect of disruptive behaviors on the risk for experiencing abuse/neglect. These findings emphasize the need for clinicians treating people with ADHD, especially those with comorbid conduct disorder, to be aware of their increased risk for experiencing abuse/neglect. Interventions aimed at reducing risks of abuse/neglect should also focus on the environment of individuals with disruptive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-285
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The E-Risk Study is funded by the Medical Research Council (UKMRC grant G1002190 ). Additional support was provided by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (grant HD061298 ), National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) , The Avielle Foundation , and by the Jacobs Foundation . Adi Stern is supported by The Haruv Institute’s Post-Doctoral Students Fellowship and by the Humanitarian Trust Fellowship. Helen L. Fisher is supported by an MQ Fellows Award (MQ14F40). Louise Arseneault is the Mental Health Leadership Fellow for the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors


  • Abuse/neglect
  • Childhood ADHD
  • Conduct disorder
  • Longitudinal design
  • Maltreatment
  • Young adult ADHD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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