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The effects of temporally secondary co-morbid mental disorders on the associations of DSM-IV ADHD with adverse outcomes in the US National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A)

  • R. C. Kessler (a1), L. A. Adler (a2), P. Berglund (a3), J. G. Green (a4), K. A. McLaughlin (a5), J. Fayyad (a6), L. J. Russo (a7), N. A. Sampson (a1), V. Shahly (a1) and A. M. Zaslavsky (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 08 October 2013

Although DSM-IV attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is known to be associated with numerous adverse outcomes, uncertainties exist about how much these associations are mediated temporally by secondary co-morbid disorders.


The US National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a national survey of adolescents aged 13–17 years (n = 6483 adolescent–parent pairs), assessed DSM-IV disorders with the World Health Organization (WHO) Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Statistical decomposition was used to compare direct effects of ADHD with indirect effects of ADHD through temporally secondary mental disorders (anxiety, mood, disruptive behavior, substance disorders) in predicting poor educational performance (suspension, repeating a grade, below-average grades), suicidality (ideation, plans, attempts) and parent perceptions of adolescent functioning (physical and mental health, interference with role functioning and distress due to emotional problems).


ADHD had significant gross associations with all outcomes. Direct effects of ADHD explained most (51.9–67.6%) of these associations with repeating a grade in school, perceived physical and mental health (only girls), interference with role functioning and distress, and significant components (34.5–44.6%) of the associations with school suspension and perceived mental health (only boys). Indirect effects of ADHD on educational outcomes were predominantly through disruptive behavior disorders (26.9–52.5%) whereas indirect effects on suicidality were predominantly through mood disorders (42.8–59.1%). Indirect effects on most other outcomes were through both mood (19.8–31.2%) and disruptive behavior (20.1–24.5%) disorders, with anxiety and substance disorders less consistently important. Most associations were comparable for girls and boys.


Interventions aimed at reducing the adverse effects of ADHD might profitably target prevention or treatment of temporally secondary co-morbid disorders.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: R. C. Kessler, Ph.D., Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 180 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. (Email:
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