Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are common diagnoses among children and teens. Although these are not new conditions, they seem to be growing more prevalent in modern society.
It’s been reported that 11 percent of school-aged children in the US have ADHD, with the rate of diagnosis being about 15 percent in boys and 7 percent in girls. For high schoolers, the numbers are higher: about 19 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls. Of these, 87 percent are on medication such as Ritalin for the disorder. In fact, sales of medications used to treat ADHD rose from $4 billion to $9 billion between 2007 and 2012.
Why the Increase?
While some of these new diagnoses stem from doctors being more aware of the symptomology of ADHD, many are the result of other factors including the normal inattention and high energy of childhood being mistaken for a disorder. Parents wanting a “quick fix” for their child’s behavioral problems or academic difficulties may push for a diagnosis and medication as well.
Also putting pressure on doctors are the pharmaceutical companies responsible for manufacturing ADHD drugs. Sometimes the doctors themselves have ties to the industry. Further complicating the issue are the potential symptomatic overlap with autism and the new, broader standards for ADD diagnosis published in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
This combination of factors has led to 86 percent of ADHD patients being classified as having “mild to moderate” cases while around 14 percent are labeled as “severe.”
Problems with Overdiagnosis
Diagnosing ADD when it isn’t actually present leads to kids being prescribed medications they don’t need. Many of these drugs have side effects that interfere with day to day life such as mood swings and problems with sleep. Physical effects may include weight loss and slowed growth. In addition, it’s been suggested that up to 30 percent of medications wind up being shared with friends, leading to the potential for serious side effects in kids without an ADHD diagnosis.
Despite the apparent increase in occurrence, ADHD still carries a social stigma that can follow a child throughout his or her academic and personal life. If the condition is truly being overdiagnosed, kids with ADHD may be missing out on the services that they need to function properly and succeed as they mature and grow.