ADHD Medication: Is it overprescribed?

ADHD and ADD are conditions which have been shown to be quite responsive to medication, including stimulants (methylphenidate, ritalin, concerta, metadate CD, Adderall or Dexedrine) and non-stimulants (atomoxetine or Strattera).

Approximately 80% of individuals with ADHD or ADD respond well to medication.

When I see patients in my office, many people say that medication for ADHD is over prescribed, and they often are hesitant to consider medication for themselves or their children because of these concerns. A recent study was published in the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which addresses this issue.

This Washington University Study followed twins and one of the issues that they looked at was the treatment of ADHD. The finding on this point was that only 58% of boys and 45% of girls with a full diagnosis of ADHD received medication for their condition.

This finding completely contradicts the general rhetoric in the media which suggests that ADHD is overtreated with medication. The basic point is that only approximately HALF of kids with ADHD take medication for it.

So, if there are a significant number of people with ADHD not getting treatment, what about the opposite?

Are there people without a diagnosis of ADHD who are receiving medication? The answer to this question would certainly help to shed light on the question of whether there is too much medication for ADHD being prescribed – especially to those who don’t have the diagnosis.

This study did address this question as well.

It found that in children without a diagnosis of ADHD, 3.6% of boys and 2.6% of the girls received medication. When the researchers delved more deeply into these cases – they found that these individuals had mild ADHD, or ‘sub-syndromal’ ADHD, meaning that they had significant symptoms, but not quite enough to make the diagnosis. The other interesting factor was that these individuals were generally twins with a sibling with full ADHD. They did also benefit from the medication for their ADHD symptoms.

Overall, my reading of this study is that ADHD is not ‘over medicated’. Of course, this is only one study, and one sample, and cannot be generalised to all areas and different countries.

The important point for anyone with ADHD or who has children with ADHD is to have a clear, open discussion with the treating Doctor, and discuss whether medication can play a role. If there is one take away message from this study – it is that you need to take any preconceived ideas out of your treatment decisions, and just review your situation carefully with your health care professional.

To read a full report on this study, click here: Washington University ADHD Study.


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