ADHD med prescriptions for young women have jumped 85 percent in just five years – overdiagnoses?

Drugs like Adderall are sometimes being abused as stimulants for people who don’t actually have ADHD, especially by college students. But there’s more to the story. Whether it’s overdiagnoses or people not getting access to drugs that can help them, distribution of drugs has created some interesting trends, especially for young women. The Huffington Post […]

Drugs like Adderall are sometimes being abused as stimulants for people who don’t actually have ADHD, especially by college students. But there’s more to the story. Whether it’s overdiagnoses or people not getting access to drugs that can help them, distribution of drugs has created some interesting trends, especially for young women.

The Huffington Post looked into the specific subject:

ADHD medication use among women is rising rapidly. A groundbreaking report released earlier this year by the prescription management company Express Scripts stated that the number of adults in the United States taking ADHD medications (which also include Ritalin and Concerta, in addition to Adderall) rose 53 percent from 2008 to 2012. It also found that women are using ADHD medication at notably higher rates than girls, with those in the 26-to-34 age range posting a staggering 85 percent jump in the use of such drugs in just five years.

“It’s clear that one reason for the recent rise is overdiagnosis,” says ADHD researcher Keith Conners, PhD, professor emeritus at Duke University and the creator of a highly regarded rating scale commonly used to help diagnose the disorder. “There is a swarm of primary care doctors and psychiatrists who really don’t know that much about ADHD but are willing to give out a prescription.”

 “Depression, anxiety, menopause, hyper- and hypothyroidism, and sleep disorders like sleep apnea can present with attention issues that seem a lot like ADHD,” says New York City psychiatrist Scott Shapiro, MD, who treats only adults with the disorder. “Often when you address the underlying problem, the ADHD-like symptoms dissipate.”

Unfortunately, there is no single test to determine whether or not actually someone has the disorder, so that makes this process a lot more loose.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a clinician should confirm that the patient has had ADHD symptoms since childhood; if the problem has just popped up in the past couple of years, it doesn’t qualify, since ADHD is, by definition, a condition that begins in childhood. There are also a few standardized rating scales that can be used to help screen for the disorder and determine the range and severity of symptoms.

So despite the fact that ADHD medications could be over-prescribed, that doesn’t discount for the people who actually need treatment and could have been overlooked during the prime childhood-time frame for diagnoses. Shelby Gonzalez spent almost two decades struggling with attention issues before receiving the treatment she needed.

“The first thing I did was ADHD-specific cognitive-behavioral therapy for 18 months. Then I cycled through different meds until my doctor and I found something that worked,” she says. “Getting the proper treatment, and accepting that some of my challenges are rooted in neurobiology rather than a bunch of character flaws, has transformed my life.”

There are many ways that ADHD diagnoses could go wrong and lead to abuse, but there are ways it could be a life-saver. Doctors being properly educated to call the shots with the disorder is the biggest factor in the situation.

[Photo from flickr user Brandi Eszlinger]