ADHD Medication Use in Adults Climbs Dramatically

The number of adults taking ADHD meds is on the rise, especially in women. Why has there been such an increase?
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While children are the primary users of ADHD medications, the number of adults taking ADHD medications has been increasing at a much faster pace.

A new report from drug manager Express Scripts shows that the number of Americans who use medication to treat ADHD rose between 2008 and 2012.

The greatest increase in use during the five-year study period was among adults, with the largest gains seen in women ages 26 to 34, climbing 85 percent.

The use of medication among children, much higher than among adults, rose less — about 19 percent over the same time period — but still reached levels that some experts find troublesome, says a recent New York Times article, “Report Says Medication Use Is Rising for Adults with Attention Disorder.”

According to the report, Turning Attention to ADHD: U.S. Medication Trends for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, while children are the primary users of ADHD medications, the number of adults taking ADHD medications has been increasing at a much faster pace, up 53.4 percent compared with 18.9 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Women outnumber men in their use of ADHD medication, the reverse of childhood trends in which only half as many girls as boys take medication for attention deficit. The number of males using ADHD drugs plummets after ager 18, while women ages 19 to 25 surpass younger girls’ use of these medications, 4.4 percent versus 3.5 percent respectively in 2012.

Why is there such an increase of medication usage among women? One reason, some experts say, is that females tend to have the inattentive form of ADHD and do not display disruptive behavior in school, so their symptoms may be overlooked in childhood. As they age, they may become more aware of their symptoms and consult their physician.

The report does voice concerns that less appropriate uses of the medication — as a weight-loss aid due to stimulants’ ability to decrease a person’s appetite or to boost focus in women who are juggling multiple demands on their time — may explain the increase in use among women.

Several mental health experts attribute increased use of medication among adults to a broader and better understanding that attention deficit affects more than children. Some studies estimate that about 10 million adults have it, suggesting that medication use has room to grow.

“We know that a majority of adults with ADHD are untreated,” says Dr. Lenard A. Adler, director of the adult ADHD program at NYU Langone Medical Center. “As we move forward, we want to make sure that people who have the disorder get the prescription. And that people who don’t have the disorder don’t.”

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