Son Headed for Prison or Death…Is This Due to ADHD?

Reader’s Question

My now adult son (25 years old) was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. He was on Ritalin for several years but began to refuse to take his medicine. He’s had multiple legal, relational and employment issues as a result of his condition. Now, at age 25, he is once again living with me due to his utter lack of ability to maintain some semblance of his own life. He has become more and more verbally and emotionally abusive toward me and my other son (29 and disabled) — to the point that the ADHD son physically assaulted the other. The ADHD son has had innumerable anger and violence problems throughout his life. He has never been able to accept responsibility for his actions and is vehemently opposed to any counseling whatsoever. I am afraid that the only two paths in life he has now are prison or death. Please advise and thanks.

Psychologist’s Reply

ADHD does not create the problems you describe with your adult son. What you are describing is an Antisocial Personality Disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders, available on this site). Individuals with Antisocial Personality resist and refuse any expectations for a normal level of responsibility, respect, concern for others, and acceptance of authority. As you describe, they have no concern for others in their environment and will abuse, attack, intimidate, con, manipulate, threaten, and scheme to get their way. They accept no personal responsibility for their behavior, always blame others, yet have an incredible sense of entitlement — the world owes them everything! Having no concern for family and friends, they “burn out” everyone around them — emotionally, financially, and physically.

Sadly, they are actually narcissistic (self-loving) and see nothing wrong with their behavior. They have no need to change as they are only distressed when they don’t get their selfish way. The fact that those around them are upset by their behavior is not a problem to them. As you’ve probably seen, they also justify all their misbehavior with excuses such as ADHD, “You didn’t love me enough”, bad-luck, others picking on them and treating them unfairly, and other excuses. While we see these excuses when they lose jobs or are arrested, they self-justify their assaults, manipulations, and abuse of others with the same excuses.

Dealing with a personality disorder in the family is very difficult. They don’t care how you feel about them — only about what they want. As a parent, you’ll need to set firm boundaries such as calling the police if there’s an assault. Antisocial Personalities only fear the local courts and law enforcement — because they can’t manipulate or con them. As you suspect, these personalities often do end up in prisons and jails. Some are able to turn their lives around as a result of their stay in prison/jail while others continue their behavior while in prison.

You’ve got a shark in the family pool. You’ll need to protect yourself and protect your family as much as possible. Move your relationship with him to almost business-like — for example you can offer $30 a week, a place to sleep, and meals. You won’t bail him out, let him use your credit cards, etc. Secure your finances, put your valuables in a safety deposit box, etc. He’ll feel justified in stealing from you. If he assaults anyone — he goes to jail and good luck while there. While this sounds harsh — it’s not has harsh as his behavior toward your family. Your son has changed into this person by his own decision — not due to ADHD, your parenting, or others treating him unfairly. Loving him will not protect you from his behavior. You can continue to encourage him to seek mental health help although he will likely reject any attempts to help…something else we find in personality disorders.

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