ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a common condition that has steadily been on the increase in both children and adults. 

What is ADHD?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that ADHD is “one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood.” It is typically marked by a lack of focus and difficulty paying attention, overactivity, and impulsivity. 

ADHD Prevalence and Statistics

There has been a notable increase in ADHD prevalence in both children and adults. 

ADHD in children

Data from the National Survey of Children’s Health reports that ADHD currently affects nearly six million children in the United States – more than one in 11 children. The National Health Interview Study estimated the prevalence in children ages four to 17 was about six percent in the 1990s. By 2016, that figure rose to 10 percent and continues to climb. 

ADHD in adults 

While typically associated with children, ADHD and its symptoms can continue into adulthood. In fact, some individuals may receive their first ADHD diagnosis as an adult.

It is estimated that 10.5 million American adults are living with ADHD. A study published in JAMA, reported that diagnosis of ADHD in adults is now four times that of children, and its prevalence more than doubled between 2007 and 2016, from .43 percent to .96 percent. However, other studies suggest even higher rates, ranging from 2.5 percent to 4.4 percent, with more men diagnosed than women. Some researchers suggest that ADHD may be underdiagnosed in adults as well. 

Why is ADHD on the rise?

Regardless of age, ADHD is being diagnosed more than ever before. However, that does not mean the condition itself is more common. According to Psychology Today the increase in diagnoses can be attributed to several factors:

  • Increased access to healthcare. Thanks to state and federal efforts, more individuals have access to healthcare, resulting in more diagnoses. 
  • Decreased stigma. Slowly the stigma surrounding mental health conditions and treatment is becoming more accepted. 
  • Better awareness. Individuals, parents, educators, and the medical community are more aware of ADHD and its symptoms, leading to additional ADHD diagnoses. 
  • Changes to how ADHD is defined. In the past, only children who were hyperactive were diagnosed with ADHD. The definition was later expanded to include other symptoms associated with inattention. As a result, more individuals were diagnosed with the disorder. This is particularly true in girls, who more commonly exhibit signs of inattention rather than hyperactivity. 

“In prior generations, many boys and girls with symptoms we now associate with ADHD were not diagnosed with ADHD,” says Brian Coyne Kavanaugh, PsyD, a clinical neuropsychologist at Bradley Hospital. “Instead, these children were called pejorative terms by adults in their lives, blamed and punished for their symptoms, and not provided treatments that could have helped them.” He explains that this unequivocally made outcomes worse than they needed to be. 

Dr. Kavanaugh adds that the improved diagnosis of ADHD has:

  1. Reduced the stigma and blame for these children
  2. Provided a neurobiological explanation for why these symptoms emerge
  3. Guided families and providers to the evidence-based interventions we now have available to successfully manage ADHD.

What causes ADHD?

While the causes of ADHD remain unknown, researchers believe genetics plays a key role. In addition, other potential causes and risk factors may include brain injury, environmental risks such as lead exposure, alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, premature birth, and low birth weight.  

Treating ADHD

“It is certainly possible ADHD may be over diagnosed by select providers in certain areas of the world, but this is not a major concern in areas where there is adequate mental health care. Thankfully, we have amazing pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners, and other mental health experts in Rhode Island who can successfully diagnosis and treat ADHD,” notes Kavanaugh.

If you or another adult is struggling with ADHD, Lifespan Psychiatry and Behavioral Health can help. Call us at 1-401-606-0606.

If your child is struggling with ADHD symptoms, Bradley Hospital can help.

Also, teens with ADHD can help us better understand the ADHD brain. Learn more about important studies seeking participants

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.