Over a 10-year period ADHD rates more than doubled among American adults

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If the latest statistics are any indication, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is no longer an issue for children only.

Over a 10-year period, ADHD rates more than doubled among American adults, new research shows.

However, the rate among children remains much higher than in adults.

“While we can’t pinpoint the source of the increase in ADHD rates in adults, we can surmise that it has to do with growing recognition of ADHD in the adult populations by doctors and service providers, as well as increased public awareness of ADHD overall,” said study co-author Dr. Michael Milham. He is vice president of research at the Child Mind Institute, in New York City.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 5 million Kaiser Permanente Northern California patients, and found that the percentage of adults with a diagnosis of ADHD rose from 0.43% in 2007 to 0.96% in 2016.

White adults showed a larger increase—0.67% to 1.42%—than those in other racial/ethnic groups.

Adults with other mental health conditions – such as depression, and bipolar, anxiety or eating disorders – were more likely to have ADHD.

The researchers also found that adults with ADHD had higher rates of health care use and sexually transmitted infections.

Meanwhile, ADHD diagnoses among children aged 5 to 11 rose from 2.96% in 2007 to 3.74% in 2016, a 26% increase.

The study was published online Nov. 1 in JAMA Network Open.

“More work needs to be done to better understand why rates are higher in white adults, particularly whether there are deficiencies in detection and diagnoses among non-white adults,” Milham said in a journal news release.

“And,” he added, “we must develop more effective diagnostic tools and standards for adults, who, in general, remain more challenging to diagnose than children.”

Study lead author Dr. Winston Chung, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, noted that people in some cultures are less likely to regard certain behaviors as a disorder or to seek help for them.

“It’s always been just understood that different cultures and races might vary in meaningful ways in how they cope with stress or expressing emotions,” Chung said.

However, “this is something we don’t actually have definitive answers to,” and more research is needed, he added.


Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric condition that has long been recognized as affecting children’s ability to function. Individuals suffering from this disorder show patterns of developmentally inappropriate levels of inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.

Although there used to be two different diagnoses of Attention Deficit Disorder vs Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the DSM IV combined this into one disorder with three subtypes: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive, or combined type. 

The symptoms begin at a young age and usually include lack of attention, lack of concentration, disorganization, difficulty completing tasks, being forgetful, and losing things. These symptoms should be present before the age of 12, have lasted six months, and interfere with daily life activities in order to be labeled as ‘ADHD’.

This must be present in more than one setting (ie at home and at school, or at school and at afterschool activities). It can have large consequences including social interactions, increased risky behaviors, loss of jobs, and difficulty achieving in school. 

ADHD must be considered within the context of what is developmentally and culturally appropriate for a person. It is considered a dysfunction of executive functioning, predominantly a frontal lobe activity. Therefore, patients with ADHD show disability not only in attention and focus but also in decision making and emotional regulation. Children with ADHD can have difficulty with social interactions, can be easily frustrated, and can be impulsive. They are often labeled as “trouble makers.” 

ADHD is not a new condition and has been called different names throughout history. It was labeled as ‘minimal brain dysfunction’ in the 1930s and has ever since changed names to ADD and ADHD respectively.[1] Its prevalence has increased over time, with a seeming spike in the 1950s as school became more standardized for children. 

It is important to diagnose and treat the disorder at a young age so that the symptoms do not persist into adulthood and cause other comorbid conditions. The treatment for the disorder is mostly related to stimulants and psychotherapy.[2] This review would further shed light upon the causal factors, pathophysiology, and management of ADHD.


More information: Winston Chung et al. Trends in the Prevalence and Incidence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adults and Children of Different Racial and Ethnic Groups, JAMA Network Open (2019). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14344

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