ADHD News & Research

ADHD Research Roundup: New Studies, Findings & Insights

ADHD research continues to reveal new insights about attention deficit — its relationship to trauma, race, emotional dysregulation, rejection sensitive dysphoria, and treatments ranging from medication to video games. We’ve curated the most significant news of the past year.

ADHD Research Continues to Reveal New Truths

ADHD research has produced groundbreaking and impactful discoveries in the past year. Our understanding of the relationship between health care and race has deepened. Alternative treatments, like video games and neurofeedback, are showing encouraging promise while ADHD stimulant medication continues to demonstrate benefits for patients of all ages. The connections between comorbid conditions, gender, and ADHD are better understood than ever before. And we are encouraged by the ongoing work coming from the world’s leading research teams.

Read below to catch up on the most significant news and research from 2020, and stay updated on new findings as they are published by subscribing to ADDitude’s free monthly research digest.

General ADHD Research

Study: Long-Term Health Outcomes of Childhood ADHD are Chronic, Severe
November 24, 2020
Childhood ADHD should be considered a chronic health problem that increases the likelihood of adverse long-term health outcomes, according to a population-based birth cohort study of children with ADHD and psychiatric disorders. Further research on the impact of treatment is needed.

Study: Living with ADHD Causes Significant Socioeconomic Burden
October 21, 2020
Living with ADHD poses a significant economic burden, according to a new study of the Australian population that found the annual social and economic cost of ADHD was $12.76 billion, with per person costs of $15,664 over a lifetime.

Study: Unmedicated ADHD Increases the Risk of Contracting COVID-19
July 23, 2020
The COVID-19 infection rate is nearly 50% higher among individuals with unmedicated ADHD compared to individuals without ADHD, according to a study of 14,022 patients in Israel. The study found that ADHD treatment with stimulant medication significantly reduces the risk of virus exposure among individuals with ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity and impulsivity.

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Study: Poverty Increases Risk for ADHD and Learning Disabilities
March 23, 2020
Children from families living below the poverty level, and those whose parents did not pursue education beyond high school, are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or learning disabilities, according to a new U.S. data brief that introduces more questions than it answers.

ADHD and Children

Study: Diagnosed and Subthreshold ADHD Equally Impair Educational Outcomes in Children
December 21, 2020
Children with diagnosed and subthreshold ADHD both experienced impaired academic and non-academic performance compared to controls used in an Australian study examining the two community cohorts.

Study: Children with ADHD More Likely to Bully — and to Be Bullied
November 23, 2020
Children with ADHD are more likely than their neurotypical peers to be the bully, the victim of bullying, or both, according to a new study.

Study: ADHD Symptoms in Girls Diminish with Extracurricular Sports Activity
October 16, 2020
Consistent participation in organized sports reliably predicted improved behavior and attentiveness in girls with ADHD, according to a recent study of elementary school students active — and not active — in extracurricular activities. No such association was found for boys with ADHD.

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Study: ADHD in Toddlers May Be Predicted by Infant Attentional Behaviors
August 12, 2020
Infants who exhibit behaviors such as “visually examining, acting on, or exploring nonsocial stimuli including objects, body parts, or sensory features” may be more likely to demonstrate symptoms of ADHD as a toddler, according to a new study that also found a correlation between this Nonsocial Sensory Attention and later symptoms of executive dysfunction.

Study Shows Gender Disparities in ADHD Symptoms of Hyperactivity and Poor Response Inhibition
June 26, 2020
Girls with ADHD are less physically hyperactive than are boys with the condition, and experience fewer problems with inhibition and cognitive flexibility, according to a new meta-analysis that says more accurate screening tools are needed to recognize the subtler manifestations of ADHD in girls.

Study: Raising a Child with ADHD Negatively Impacts Caregivers’ Mental Wellbeing
July 27, 2020
Caring for a child with ADHD negatively impacts caregivers’ quality of sleep, relationships, and satisfaction with free time, among other indicators of mental wellbeing, according to a recent study from the United Kingdom. The significant deficit in sleep and leisure satisfaction led researchers to conclude that caregivers may benefit from greater support — for example, coordinated health and social care — that focuses on these areas.

Study: ADHD, Diet, Exercise, Screen Time All Directly or Indirectly Impact Sleep
July 27, 2020
A child with ADHD is more likely to experience sleep problems, in part because ADHD symptoms influence diet and physical activity — two factors that directly impact sleep. This finding comes from a new study that also shows how screen time impacts exercise, which in turn impacts sleep. Understanding these interwoven lifestyle factors may help caregivers and practitioners better treat children with ADHD.

ADHD and Adolescents

Teens with ADHD Should Be Regularly Screened for Substance Use Disorder: International Consensus Reached
July 17, 2020
Adolescents with ADHD should be regularly screened for comorbid substance use disorder, and vice versa. This was one of 36 statements and recommendations regarding SUD and ADD recently published in the European Research Addiction Journal.

Study: Girls with ADHD Face Increased Risk for Teen Pregnancy
February 12, 2020
Teenagers with ADHD face an increased risk for early pregnancy, according to a new study in Taiwan. However, long-term use of ADHD medications does reduce the risk for teen pregnancies. Researchers suggested that ADHD treatment reduces the risk of any pregnancy and early pregnancy both directly by reducing impulsivity and risky sexual behaviors and indirectly by lowering risk and severity of the associated comorbidities, such as disruptive behavior and substance use disorders.

Study: Teens with ADHD Face Increased Risk for Nicotine Addiction
January 27, 2020
Young people with ADHD find nicotine use more pleasurable and reinforcing after just their first smoking or vaping experience, and this may lead to higher rates of dependence, according to findings from a new study published in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Study: Adolescent Health Risks Associated with ADHD Go Unmonitored by Doctors
February 27, 2020
The health risks facing adolescents with ADHD — teen pregnancy, unsafe driving, medication diversion, and more — are well documented. Yet, according to new research, primary care doctors still largely fail to address and monitor these urgent topics during their patients’ transition to young adulthood.

Study: Emotional Dysregulation Associated with Weak, Risky Romantic Relationships Among Teens with ADHD
May 20, 2020
Severe emotional dysregulation increases the chances that an adolescent with ADHD will engage in shallow, short-lived romantic relationships and participate in unprotected sex, according to a new study that suggests negative patterns developed in adolescence may continue to harm the romantic relationships and health of adults with ADHD.

ADHD and Adults

Study: Discontinuing Stimulant Medication Negatively Impacts Pregnant Women with ADHD
December 17, 2020
Women with ADHD experience negative impacts on mood and family functioning when they discontinue stimulant medication use during pregnancy, according to a new observational cohort study that suggests medical professionals should consider overall functioning and mental health when offering treatment guidance to expectant mothers.

New Study: Adult ADHD Diagnosis Criteria Should Include Emotional Symptoms
April 21, 2020
The ADHD diagnosis criteria in the DSM-5 does not currently include emotional symptoms, despite research indicating their importance. Now, a new replication analysis has found that ADHD in adults presents in two subtypes: attentional and emotional. Researchers suggest that this system offers a more clinically relevant approach to diagnosing ADHD in adults than does the DSM-5.

Study: Stimulant ADHD Medication Relatively Safe and Effective for Older Adults
June 30, 2020
Older adults with ADHD largely experience symptom improvement when taking a low dose of stimulant medication, which is well tolerated and does not cause clinically significant cardiovascular changes. This is the finding of a recent study examining the effects of stimulant medication among adults aged 55 to 79 with ADHD, some of whom had a pre-existing cardiovascular risk profile.

ADHD, Race, and Culture

Study Explores Medication Decision Making for African American Children with ADHD
June 23, 2020
In a synthesis of 14 existing studies, researchers have concluded that African American children with ADHD are significantly less likely than their White counterparts to treat their symptoms with medication for three main reasons: caregiver perspectives on ADHD and ADHD-like behaviors; beliefs regarding the risks and benefits associated with stimulant medications; and the belief that ADHD represents a form of social control.

Culturally Adapted Treatment Improves Understanding of ADHD In Latinx Families
August 31, 2020
Latinx parents are more likely to recognize and understand ADHD after engaging in culturally adapted treatment (CAT) that includes parent management training sessions adapted to be more culturally appropriate and acceptable, plus home visits to practice skills. This recent review of ADHD knowledge among Latinx parents found that CAT outperformed evidence-based treatment (EBT) in terms of parent-reported knowledge of ADHD.

Treating ADHD

Study: New Parent Behavior Therapy Yields Longer ADHD Symptom Control in Children
October 6, 2020
ADHD symptom relapse was significantly reduced in children of parents who participated in a new schema-enhanced parent behavior therapy, compared to those whose parents participated in standard PBT.

Research: Physical Exercise Is the Most Effective Natural Treatment for ADHD — and Severely Underutilized
January 22, 2020
A new meta-analysis shows that physical exercise is the most effective natural treatment for controlling ADHD symptoms such as inhibition, attention, and working memory. At the same time, a comprehensive study reveals that children with ADHD are significantly less likely to engage in daily physical activity than are their neurotypical peers.

A Video Game Prescription for ADHD? FDA Approves First-Ever Game-Based Therapy for Attention
June 18, 2020
Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRx is the first game-based digital therapeutic device approved by the FDA for the treatment of attention function in children with ADHD. The history-making FDA OK followed a limited-time release of the device during the coronavirus pandemic, and several years of testing the device in randomized controlled trials.

Study: Neurofeedback Effectively Treats ADHD
April 9, 2020
Neurofeedback is an effective treatment for ADHD, according to a new quantitative review that used benchmark studies to measure efficacy and effectiveness against stimulant medication and behavior therapy. These findings relate to standard neurofeedback protocols, not “unconventional” ones, for which significant evidence was not found.

Study: Mindfulness-Enhanced Behavioral Parent Training More Beneficial for ADHD Families
June 29, 2020
Behavioral parent training (BPT) enhanced with mindfulness meditation techniques provides additional benefits to parents of children with ADHD, such as improved discipline practices and parental behavioral regulation. This is the finding of a new randomized control trial conducted by researchers who compared mindfulness-enhanced to standard BPT.

Mapping the ADHD Brain: MRI Scans May Unlock Better Treatment and Even Symptom Prevention
March 9, 2020
Brain MRI is a new and experimental tool in the world of ADHD research. Though brain scans cannot yet reliably diagnose ADHD, some scientists are using them to identify environmental and prenatal factors that affect symptoms, and to better understand how stimulant medications trigger symptom control vs. side effects.

New Clinical Guidelines: Holistic Treatment Is Best for Children with ADHD and Comorbidities
February 3, 2020
The Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (SDBP) says that children and teens with ADHD plus comorbidities should receive psychosocial treatment, such as classroom-based management tools, in addition to ADHD medication.

Study: Mindfulness Exercises Effectively Reduce Symptoms in Boys with ADHD and ODD
May 19, 2020
Boys with both ADHD and ODD were less hyperactive and more attentive after attending a multi-week mindfulness training program, according to a new study that finds promise in this treatment as a viable complement or alternative to medication.

ADHD and Comorbid Conditions

Study: Risk for Diabetes 50% Higher for Adults with ADHD
October 23, 2020
A diagnosis of ADHD increased the likelihood of diabetes by as much as 50% for adults with ADHD, according to a recent study from the National Health Interview Survey that found the strong correlation independent of BMI.

Study: ADHD Symptoms Associated with More Severe Gambling Disorder and Emotional Dysregulation
January 28, 2020
Roughly one-fifth of individuals diagnosed with gambling disorder in the study also tested positive for ADHD symptoms. This population is more likely to experience severe or acute symptoms of gambling disorder, which is tied to higher emotional dysregulation, according to a new study of 98 Spanish men.

ADHD Research: Next Steps