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“Women with ADHD Deserve Better — and More — Analysis”

ADHD medication prescriptions among women are growing faster than any other segment of the population today. A new study reveals a staggering growth rate, but little else. Could I possibly be the only one asking why?

Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control released a report revealing that the number of young adult women prescribed ADHD medication increased by 344 percent in a 12-year period. The study looked at data from private insurers in the U.S. between 2003 and 2015; the sample included more than 4 million women per year.

According to The New York Times, ADHD prescription rates during that period increased “by 700 percent among women aged 25 to 29, and by 560 percent among women aged 30 to 34.” The 344 percent increase referred to women ages 15 through 44.

As noted in The Guardian, “The large increase among women in their 20s and 30s, considered the optimal age for having children, raised concern among physicians.”

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

In fact, seemingly every article regarding the study was about the safety of women taking medications while expecting a child or during childbearing years. This is perhaps not surprising, given how the study’s researchers framed its results in their research summary: “Given that half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, ADHD medication use among reproductive-aged women might result in early pregnancy exposure, a critical period for fetal development.”

The potential impact of taking ADHD medications during pregnancy has been the subject of much contemplation (here, here, and here) on my part. And I agree that this topic should be the object of scientific inquiry and later journalistic reportage on the results.

Here’s the thing, though: Focusing on how an increase in ADHD medication prescriptions among women affects only fetal safety comes at the expense of other vital considerations and their implications. This study’s narrow focus on the fetus reduces women to their reproductive function. And that’s just not cool.

Not to mention, in 2016, the U.S. fertility rate was the lowest it has ever been.

[ADHD Is Not a Male Disorder]

Plus, being unable to see the forest for the baby-making trees misses a golden opportunity to gain insight into the changing face of ADHD.

According to The Guardian, about 4 percent of adults have ADHD, “but those numbers have increased over time, as awareness of the diagnosis has grown.”

No one else seems to wonder what exactly has led to this upswing in ADHD scrips among women of my generation. I, however, am curious in light of the fact that girls with ADHD often go undiagnosed until well into adulthood.

Sadly, this new study provides very little new information about U.S. women and ADHD medication usage.

First of all, we don’t know how many women in the sample took their medication for ADHD, rather than for other conditions — and not a related condition such as anxiety or narcolepsy. Also, the data don’t illustrate how many women actually took the medications they were prescribed. Finally, the data only concern women with private insurance, even though many people with disabilities (30 percent of all adults with disabilities and 60 percent of all children with disabilities) receive government-subsidized health coverage, i.e., Medicaid.

[Why Women with ADHD Feel Disempowered — And What We Can Do About It]

Meanwhile, there has been little attention paid to the fact that, while stimulant prescriptions have skyrocketed, prescriptions for non-stimulants (Strattera and Intuniv) have remained relatively stagnant. What might account for this?

And why do I seem to be the only one asking?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad the CDC deemed women with ADHD worthy of study, and the results of that study worthy of analysis. But it’s essential that researchers stop viewing ADHD women solely in relation to pharmaceuticals and reproduction.

Government scientists need to learn that women with ADHD are a highly misunderstood population. And it’s incumbent upon them to make us better understood by continuing to investigate them in a research context.

A version of this post was originally published on

6 reviews

  1. “This study’s narrow focus on the fetus reduces women to their reproductive function. And that’s just not cool.”
    …This statement is Not Cool. Sounds like the assumption is that most people think that way (a stereo-type foisted on “Right-to Lifer’s and Religious conservatives), Or that you got inside the heads of the people doing the study- unless you have a source for that…
    One can be equally concerned for both the women and the unborn and NOT reduce women to “their reproductive function”. Please check your bias.
    Otherwise, the rest of the article was fine and an interesting topic. Just leave out the micro-political comment next time.

    1. Thank you for pointing out this issue! Women, 50% of the population, have career ambitions, amazing intellect, and feelings! Why has the only research done been on reproduction?
      As a woman with ADHD who began taking ADHD medication after 2003, Here’s just a sampling of the research topics I’d love to learn about!!!
      Researchers, on your marks, get set, GO!!!
      – What is the cause for this massive uptick in prescriptions? Is there greater disambiguation that will give us insight as to what factors have caused these women to get this diagnosis?
      – What factors prevented women before 2003 from getting diagnosed and treated?
      – What populations are NOT experiencing this uptick? What factors are present in those populations that are barriers to entry? Or are there possibly factors that are resulting in their not needing medications?
      – How do these medications affect women with ADHD differently than men with ADHD?
      – Are there new medications that could be modified to better accommodate ADHD symptoms in women?
      – Other than medication, what are ways women successfully manage their ADHD? How is this different from how men manage it? How is it the same?
      – What challenges are unique to women with ADHD?
      – What challenges are unique to women of color with ADHD?
      – What do women and men with ADHD have in common? What is different? In which ways they can help each other?
      – In what ways can we further improve the experiences of women with ADHD?
      – How do ADHD symptoms and strategies evolve for us as we age? Or do they?
      – How do ADHD symptoms and strategies change when we hit menopause? Or do they?
      – What challenges do women face in their lives that have gone unstudied because we’ve focused so much on men in the past, and how does having ADHD figure into the experiences of those challenges? And what can we do to make those challenges easier?
      – What challenges do women with ADHD face in the workplace? How can we make those better?
      – Let’s re-evaluate ADHD medications, ADHD treatment strategies, ADHD coaching and therapy with this new knowledge and ask ourselves, “is this treatment as good for women as it is for men? If not, how can we make it better?”

      If you’re a researcher and you’re reading this, thank you in advance! You’ll be making me and a lot of other ladies very happy.

      1. Some of the studies you would like researchers to focus on have already been focused on, and well documented. For example, ADHD and menopause. There is a lot of information out there about that. Another one is the challenges women with ADHD face. There is a lot of information out there for that topic as well. Quite a few of your research suggestions, though, I would LOVE to see researched, especially how is ADHD different between men and women and what are the similarities, and how to help each other. Good thoughts!

  2. I am a 48 year old woman with ADHD. I think this article is to the point an accurate. Some medications can be very expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover them. Strattera being one of them. I wanted to try non stimulant medication first. I had no insurance at all. Strattera is one of the more expensive meds available. Several years ago it was about 3.00$ a pill. It is now almost 13.00$ A PILL!!!!! I’m now taking Methylphenidate, generic for Ritalin. Which is about 40$ a month compared to 350$. That is why I don’t use Strattera any longer.

  3. Yes to both of the other commenters! I was also annoyed at the original poster’s offense at the researchers’ pointing out the risks of medication to unborn babies. Perhaps a better way to look at that might be to ask whether the medications’ affects on sperm have been studied?

    I also agree that there is a vast amount of information regarding how ADHD affects women and girls, and wish that research would hurry up with some answers! I am happy to note, however, that girls now are somewhat less likely to hear “If it was important to you…” or “Why aren’t you trying harder” than they were when I was younger. Hopefully, many girls will be spared the lifetime of regrets and, later, bitterness at realizing how very different life could have been if help had been offered much earlier.

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