ADHD News & Research

Study: Prevalence of ADHD Among Adults More Than Doubles In a Decade

The prevalence of ADHD among adults rose by 123% between 2007 and 2016, according to a 10-year cohort study that also revealed a 26% increase in ADHD prevalence among children, plus persistent racial and ethnic inequalities in diagnosis rates.

November 7, 2019

ADHD diagnoses among adults are growing four times faster than are ADHD diagnoses among children in the United States. This finding comes from a 10-year study recently published in JAMA Network Open1, which found the prevalence of ADHD among children aged 5 to 11 rose from 2.96% to 3.74% between 2007 and 2016, whereas the prevalence of ADHD among adults rose from .43% to .96% — a 123% increase — during the same time period. What’s more, the study states, “The overall rate of annual adult ADHD incidence per 10,000 person-years increased from 9.43 in 2007 to 13.49 in 2016.”

Though the study revealed increased ADHD diagnosis rates across all races and ethnicities, the largest jump in prevalence — from .67% to 1.42% — was seen among white adult patients. The study found that adults with an additional, pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis were more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, though it acknowledged that these comorbidities may also obscure the picture.

“When assessed in youth, ADHD is often the primary condition, whereas in adults, comorbid illnesses can obfuscate the attribution of symptoms to ADHD,” the report states. “Moreover, consequences of ADHD (eg, substance abuse or behavioral problems) can also complicate the clinical picture. This highlights the need for comprehensive assessment of adults with ADHD that focuses on the overlap of its core features with those of other conditions as well as a detailed history of the evolution and consequences of ADHD.”

In preparing the report, researchers studied 5,282,877 adult patients at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, and 867,453 patients aged 5 to 11 years old, whom it followed from January 1, 2007, to December 31, 2016. During that time, ADHD prevalence rates increased across both age cohorts and across all racial groups studied:

  • African American or Black: ADHD prevalence rose from 0.22% to 0.69% among adults
  • Native American: ADHD prevalence rose from 0.56% to 1.14% among adults
  • Pacific Islander: ADHD prevalence rose from 0.11% to 0.39% among adults
  • Latino or Hispanic: ADHD prevalence rose from 0.25%-0.65% among adults
  • Asian American: ADHD prevalence rose from 0.11% to 0.35% among adults
  • Non-Hispanic White: ADHD prevalence rose from .67% to 1.42% among adults

Being divorced, being employed, and having a higher median education level were all positively associated with the likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis. Having an eating disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder were also associated with increased likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis.

The increased rate of ADHD among adults noted in this study reflects the findings of various other large studies of primary samples in US and Scandinavian registries.2,3,4 Growing public awareness of ADHD and increased recognition of adult ADHD symptoms by physicians and clinicians are often credited with the increased prevalence and incidence of ADHD in adults.

Sources

1 Chung, Winston, MD., MS., et al. “Trends in the Prevalence and Incidence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adults and Children of Different Racial and Ethnic Groups.” JAMA Open Network (Nov. 2019). 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14344

2 Zhu  Y, Liu  W, Li  Y, Wang  X, Winterstein  AG.  “Prevalence of ADHD in publicly insured adults.”  J Atten Disord. (Mar. 2017). 10.1177/1087054717698815

3 Rydell  M, Lundström  S, Gillberg  C, Lichtenstein  P, Larsson  H. “Has the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder phenotype become more common in children between 2004 and 2014? trends over 10 years from a Swedish general population sample.”  J Child Psychol Psychiatr (Aug. 2018). 10.1111/jcpp.12882

4 Mohr-Jensen  C, Müller Bisgaard  C, Boldsen  SK, Steinhausen  H-C.  “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in childhood and adolescence and the risk of crime in young adulthood in a Danish nationwide study.”  J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2019;58(4):443-452. 10.1016/j.jaac.2018.11.016

Updated on December 5, 2019

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