The Hidden Costs Of ADHD

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When it comes to line-iteming Attention Deficit’s $266 billion impact, little things add up.

Traveling to my parents’ last Christmas, I left my liquid sack at the TSA checkpoint and had to spend $80 buying new makeup. It cost $27 for TSA to FedEx me my laptop, which I also managed to forget. Here at home, I recently spent $35 on a new pair of iPhone earbuds after stepping on mine and breaking them.

Despite the evidence, I’m not a careless person. Nor am I a spendthrift. By and large, I watch my money closely — I order water in a restaurant, reuse the wrapping paper from gifts, and shop the sales rack first.

But because I have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I am often hit with hidden costs.

My spending is something I can focus on and change — but I’ll never be able to change the fact that I have ADHD. A neurological condition, Attention Deficit is present from birth. When you have it, your brain doesn’t make as much dopamine and norepinephrine — both neurotransmitters — as everyone else’s. In general, neurotransmitters are the grease that help the wheels of the brain go round; these two help you focus.

Note I didn’t say “help you pay attention.” Despite the name, people with ADHD have no problem paying attention. In fact, we pay attention to everything — to what we’re doing, to what you’re doing, to what everyone is doing — making it difficult to focus only on the job directly before us.

Meanwhile, medicine doesn’t come cheap — and because it’s a controlled substance, the government requires we see a physician anywhere from once a month to once a quarter, depending on the state, for rediagnosis. Every visit, I will spend at least $215 that insurance does not cover so my doctor can say yep, you still have Attention Deficit, plus $800 on the medicine he prescribes, which of course also isn’t covered by any insurance plan I’ve seen. Every year, I and other ADHDers will spend up to $35.05 billion more on medical costs than people without it.

And that’s just for adults. Parents of ADHD children pay another $38 to $72 billion, largely on medical and education fees.

All told, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), a national nonprofit that works to improve the lives of people with ADHD, estimates that excess costs related to ADHD total $143 billion to $266 billion a year.

Excess costs of ADHD total $143 billion to $266 billion a year.

It’s not just that we spend more — we also make less. A Canadian study revealed that 37% of women with ADHD have annual salaries so low, it’s difficult “meeting basic expenses such as food, shelter and clothing,” compared to 13% of women without it. American ADHD adults make $2 less an hour on average. And, since we’re less able to concentrate on single, isolated tasks, Americans with Attention Deficit are two to four times more likely to get fired.

Perhaps this is why 42–53% of families below the poverty line have at least one member with ADHD — as opposed to only 33% percent of wealthier families.

Is ADHD a poverty trap? It’s difficult to delineate the level to which ADHD’s cost prohibits people from investing that money or from spending it on things that improve income, like education. Attention Deficit is hereditary and, according to Pew Charitable Trust, 70% of Americans born in poverty — ADHD or not — stay there. Without precise data, it’s difficult to point to a single microindicator inside a macroproblem.

As a lone individual, I of course can’t solve poverty, nor can I convince an insurance company to cover my medication, or bring down the multi-billion-dollar figure for us all. But I can bring my costs down.

And so, after paying to have my laptop shipped back to me, I decided to create a Quicken category to line-item my ADHD — just like a lot of people do for clothing and groceries. I don’t know anyone else who separates their expenses this way, who divides what would and wouldn’t have been spent if they didn’t have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

I line-item my expenses not to guilt myself into realizing how much Attention Deficit makes me spend — but rather to be cognizant of my full cost of living with ADHD.

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