Comedication in Adults With ADHD

Comedication with ADHD medication in adults in a nationwide population cohort study

Individuals who are prescribed ADHD medications are much more likely to also be prescribed other medications both for psychiatric and non-psychiatric disorders.

Persons with ADHD have known to have high rates of psychiatric comorbidities. There is also growing evidence of somatic (non-psychiatric) comorbid disorders among youths with ADHD, such as metabolic syndrome (which can lead to type 2 diabetes) and chronic inflammation (such as asthma and allergic rhinitis). Much less is known, however, about comorbid conditions in adults with ADHD.

An international team of researchers looked for indicators of comorbid conditions in a nationwide cohort study using Swedish national registers. The target population was Swedish residents between the ages of 18 and 64 in 2013 and more specifically those who had been prescribed ADHD medication. They identified over 41,000 individuals who met these criteria, including over twenty thousand young adults aged 18-29 years, over sixteen thousand middle-aged adults aged 30-49 years, and over four thousand older adults aged 50-64. The remainder of the overall cohort were used as controls.

Young adults receiving ADHD medications were four times as likely to also be receiving somatic medications, and older adults were seven times as likely. The highest rate of co-medication -roughly five times more frequent than among controls - was for respiratory system medications. The second most common was for alimentary tract and metabolic system medications, with odds over four times higher than for controls. Cardiovascular system medications were the next most common, with odds among young adults receiving ADHD medications over four times those of controls, though reducing with age to being twice as common in older adults with ADHD. Patterns were similar among men and women.

Adults receiving ADHD medications were far more likely to also be receiving other psychotropic medications. Middle-aged adults were 21 times as likely to be dispensed such medications as controls, older adults eighteen times more likely, and younger adults fifteen times more likely.

For young adults prescribed ADHD medications, the most prevalent co-prescriptions were for addictive disorders, which were dispensed at over 26 times the rate for controls. For middle-aged and older adults, on the other hand, the most prevalent co-prescriptions were for antipsychotics, which were likewise dispensed at over 26 times the rate for controls. Results remained consistent for individuals who had an ADHD diagnosis in addition to an ADHD prescription.

In addition, individuals receiving ADHD medications were also on average taking more types of prescriptions, rising from 2.5 classes of medications at age 18 to five classes at age 64. For controls, the equivalent numbers were 0.9 types of medications at age 18, rising to 2.7 at age 64.

Looking at specific somatic medications prescribed, those for respiratory conditions were ones typically prescribed for asthma and allergic reactions, reinforcing a previously known association. Insulin preparations also had high rates of co-prescription, again further confirming the known association with obesity and diabetes.

On the other hand, the most commonly dispensed alimentary tract and metabolic system medications included proton pump inhibitors, typically prescribed for gastric/duodenal ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Sodium fluoride, prescribed to prevent dental caries, was also prominent. Neither of these is an established association and warrants further exploration.

Turning to psychotropic medications, the most frequent prescriptions were with drugs used to treat addictive disorders and with antipsychotics. Rates of opioid co-prescription were also notably high, a source of concern given the higher proclivity of persons with ADHD to substance use disorders.

March 5, 2022

Meta-analysis: No Association Between Childhood Antibiotic Use and ADHD

Meta-analysis finds no association between childhood antibiotic exposure and ADHD

Childhood antibiotic use is not found to be associated with development of ADHD

A Chinese research team recently conducted a systematic search of the peer-reviewed medical journal literature for studies exploring the association between childhood antibiotic exposure and subsequent diagnosis of ADHD in youths 18 years and younger.

A meta-analysis of six studies with a combined total of over 1.5 million participants found that children exposed to antibiotics were 18% more likely to later be diagnosed with ADHD.

There was absolutely no indication of publication bias. Between-study heterogeneity, on the other hand, was extremely high.

With such large cohorts, one can often tease out whether an association is causal, or due to genetic and familial confounding, by looking at matched close relatives.

Three of the studies, with a combined total of well over half a million participants, also compared matched siblings.

Significantly, the meta-analysis among matched siblings found no association whatsoever between childhood exposure to antibiotics and subsequent ADHD. Between-study heterogeneity was virtually nonexistent.

The team concluded, "Our meta-analysis indicated that early-life antibiotic exposure was associated with a subsequent increased risk of ASD or ADHD. However, such association was not found in the sibling-matched analysis, indicating that genetic and familial confounding factors may largely explain the observed association."

March 3, 2022

Maternal Anti-Seizure Meds May Affect Offspring Chances of Developing ADHD

Nationwide cohort study indicates choice of maternal antiseizure medication during pregnancy has implications for offspring ADHD

Although all potential confounding factors have not been ruled out, these findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain ASMs (i.e., lamotrigine) may be safer than others in pregnancy.

Roughly five of every thousand women (0.5%) have epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Primary treatment consists of anti-seizure medications (ASMs).

Yet, research has shown that ASMs cross the human placenta. In rodents, ASMs have been shown to lead to abnormal neuronal development, and some research has pointed to the risk of adverse birth outcomes and neurodevelopmental disorders in humans. But samples have been too small for reliable conclusions, and in most cases confounding factors are not addressed.

For a more comprehensive evaluation of risk from ASMs, an international team of researchers examined a nationwide cohort using Swedish national registers that track health outcomes for virtually the entire population.

Using the Medical Birth Register, the National Patient Register, and the Multi-Generation Register, they were able to identify 14,614 children born from 1996-to 2011 to mothers with epilepsy.

Through the prescribed Drug Register, they also examined the first-trimester use of anti-seizure medications (ASMs) by these mothers. The three most frequently used ASMs "frequent enough to yield useful data“ were valproic acid, lamotrigine, and carbamazepine.

The researchers identified ADHD in offspring in one of two ways: ICD-10 (international classification of Diseases, 10th Revision) diagnoses, or filled prescriptions of ADHD medication.

Finally, they consulted the Integrated Database for Labor Market Research and the Education Register to explore potential confounding variables. These included maternal and paternal age at birth, the highest education, cohabitation status, and country of origin. They also included maternal and paternal disposable income in the year of birth and a measure of neighborhood deprivation.

Using the medical registers, they considered parental psychiatric and behavioral problems diagnosed before pregnancy, including bipolar disorder, suicide attempt, schizophrenia diagnosis, substance use disorder, and criminal convictions. They adjusted for inpatient diagnosis of seizures in the year before pregnancy to capture and adjust for indication severity.

Other covariates explored included year of birth, birth order, child sex, maternal-reported smoking during pregnancy, and use of other psychotropic medications.

After fully adjusting for all these confounders, children of mothers who were taking valproic acid were more than 70% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy. The sample size was 699, and the 95% confidence interval stretched from 28% to 138% more likely to develop ADHD.

By contrast, children of mothers who were taking lamotrigine were at absolutely no greater risk(Hazard Ratio = 1) of developing ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy.

Finally, children of mothers who were taking carbamazepine were 18% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy, but this result was not statistically significant (the 95% confidence interval ranged from 9% less likely to 52% more likely).

The authors concluded, "The present study did not find support for a causal association between maternal use of lamotrigine in pregnancy and ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] and ADHD in children. We observed an elevated risk of ASD and ADHD related to maternal use of valproic acid, while associations with carbamazepine were weak and not statistically significant. Although we could not rule out all potential confounding factors, our findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain ASMs (i.e., lamotrigine) may be safer than others in pregnancy."

February 17, 2022

Study Suggests Certain ADHD Meds May Have Protective Effect On The Brain

Might methylphenidate have a protective effect on brain development?

Methylphenidate, a psychostimulant, is among the drugs most frequently prescribed to children with ADHD.

Using magnetic resonance imaging(MRI), studies have shown that as children mature, those with ADHD differ from controls in developing regionally thinner cortices (the folded outer layer of the cerebrum that is essential to rational thought) and smaller lower basal ganglia(structures linked to the thalamus in the base of the brain and involved in the coordination of movement). The cortical differences were found in the right medial frontal motor region, the left middle/inferior frontal gyrus, and the right posterior parieto-occipital region in children with ADHD who were not taking psychostimulants.

A Dutch/Norwegian team of researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with 96 males recruited from Dutch clinical programs. 48 were boys aged 10-12 years, and 47 were men between the ages of 23 and 40. None had previously been on methylphenidate. There were no significant differences in baseline age, ADHD symptom severity, estimated intelligence quotient, the proportion of right-handedness, or region of interest brain characteristics between the placebo and medication groups.

The trial was carried out during the standard 17-week waiting list time for evaluation and treatment to begin so that those receiving a placebo during the trial would not ultimately be at a disadvantage. The same MRI scanner was used for all measurements, both before and after treatment.

Among the boys, the methylphenidate group showed increased thickness in the right medial cortex, while the placebo group showed cortical thinning. In adults, both groups showed cortical thinning. When converted into an estimated mean rate of change in cortical thickness for the right medial cortex, boys taking methylphenidate could expect to lose about 0.01 mm per year, versus about 0.14 mm for boys not on methylphenidate.

In the right posterior cortex, scans also showed reduced thinning in the methylphenidate treatment group, though to a lesser extent. But there was no reduced thinning in the left frontal cortex.

The authors noted several limitations. The sample size was small. Second, "because we did not detect significant relationships between changes in cortical [regions of interest] and changes in symptom severity, the functional significance remains uncertain." Third, the follow-up period was relatively short, not allowing any assessment of the longer-term effects of the medication. Fourth, the differences in effects on the three brain regions examined were uneven, contrary to what had been expected from previous studies. They recommended replication with larger groups and longer follow-ups.

February 11, 2022

An Analysis Of ADHD Meds For ADHD Patients Also Receiving Opioid Treatment

Norwegian nationwide cohort study probes use of ADHD medication by ADHD patients undergoing treatment for opioid addiction

Despite roughly 1 in 5 patients in opioid recovery having ADHD, less than 1 in 20 of those patients will be treated with ADHD medication.

A key aspect of ADHD is greater difficulty controlling urges, so it is no surprise that there is a strong association between ADHD and substance use disorders, and opioid addiction in particular. It's also known that stimulants are effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. That would suggest that ADHD patients being treated for opioid addiction should also be treated for ADHD.

How extensive is such complementary treatment? A Norwegian research team used national register data from the Norwegian Prescription Database to find out. They began by identifying all 9,235 individuals who were dispensed at least one opioid agonist prescription from 2015 through 2017.

Opioid agonists, such as methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone), while opioids have properties that prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings. They can do this precisely by substituting a less dangerous slow-acting opioid for a more dangerous rapid-acting one. They are also less addictive because they do not generate the intense highs of fast-acting opioids. That greatly reduces the risk of overdose, and risk of relapse to more hazardous opioid use, and promotes connections with the professional healthcare sector.

About 7,500 Norwegians are undergoing opioid agonist therapy at any given time. During the three-year study period, roughly three out of four were dispensed buprenorphine and the remainder methadone.

Although somewhere around one in five patients on opioid agonist therapy have ADHD (estimates range from11 to 33%), the team found that less than one in twenty were also dispensed ADHD medication. In 2015, only 3.5 percent received ADHD medication, rising slightly to 4.6 percent in 2017. In 2017, 62 percent received methylphenidate, 42 percent received various amphetamines, and only five percent received non-stimulant atomoxetine (there was some overlap).

Patients on buprenorphine were 60 percent more likely to be dispensed ADHD medications than those on methadone.

The authors concluded, "Co-prescribing of CAS [centrally acting stimulant] and atomoxetine was low in the OAT [opioid agonist therapy] population in Norway, relative to the expected prevalence of ADHD in this patient group. Considering that up to a third of the OAT population is estimated to have ADHD, only 3.5 to 4.6% of patients received both ADHD medication and OAT opioids in Norway in the period from 2015 to 2017. Randomized-controlled trials evaluating ADHD medication in different doses are needed to improve the treatment of ADHD in the OAT population."

February 9, 2022

New Estimates on Worldwide Prevalence of ADHD

Meta-analysis updates estimates of adult ADHD prevalence worldwide

Twenty studies covering a total of 107,282 participants reported the prevalence of persistent adult ADHD and found that the total pooled prevalence was 4.6%.

An international team of researchers conducted a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed literature to perform a meta-analysis, with three aims:

1) assess the global prevalence of adult ADHD

2) explore possible associated factors

3) estimate the 2020 global population of persons with adult ADHD.

In doing so, they distinguished between studies requiring childhood-onset of ADHD to validate adult ADHD (persistent adult ADHD) and studies that make no such requirement and examine ADHD symptoms in adults regardless of previous childhood diagnosis (symptomatic adult ADHD).

The search yielded forty articles covering thirty countries. Twenty reported prevalence data on symptomatic adult ADHD, 19 on persistent adult ADHD, and one on both. Thirty-five studies were published in the last decade (2010-2019). Thirty-one included both urban and rural populations. Thirty-five had a quality score of six or above (out of ten). Twenty-five had sample sizes greater than a thousand.

Because the prevalence of ADHD is age-dependent, and different countries vary widely in the age structure of their populations, the authors adjusted country results for their structures. This allowed for meaningful global estimates of the prevalence of adult ADHD.

Twenty studies covering a total of 107,282 participants reported the prevalence of persistent adult ADHD. The pooled prevalence was 4.6%. After adjustment for the global population structure, the pooled prevalence was 2.6%, equivalent to roughly 140 million cases globally.

Twenty-one studies covering 50,098 participants reported on the prevalence of symptomatic adult ADHD. The pooled prevalence was 8.8%. After adjustment for the global population structure, the pooled prevalence was 6.7%, equivalent to roughly 366 million cases globally.

For persistent adult ADHD, adjusted prevalence declined steeply from 5% among 18- to 24-year-olds to 0.8% among those 60 and older.

For symptomatic adult ADHD, adjusted prevalence declined less steeply from 9% among 18- to 24-year-olds to 4.5% among that 60 and older.

In each case, subgroup analyses found no significant differences based on sex, urban or rural setting, diagnostic tool, DSM version, or investigation period, although pooled prevalence estimates of persistent adult ADHD from 2010 onward were almost twice the previous pooled prevalence estimates. For symptomatic adult ADHD, however, differences between WHO (World Health Organization) regions were highly significant, although the outliers(Southeast Asia at 25% and Eastern Mediterranean at 16%) were based on small samples(304 and 748 respectively).

In both cases, between-study heterogeneity was very high (over 97%). The authors noted, "the age of interviewed participants in the included studies was not unified, ranging from young adults to the elderly. Given the fact that the prevalence of adult ADHD decreases with advancing age, as revealed in previous investigations and our meta-regression, it is not surprising to observe such a diversity in the reported prevalence, and the considerable heterogeneity across included studies could not be fully ruled out by a priori selected variables, including diagnostic tool, DSM version, sex, setting, investigation period, WHO region, and WB [World Bank] region. The effects of other potential correlates of adult ADHD, such as ethnicity, were not able to be addressed due to the lack of sufficient information."

In both cases, there was also evidence of publication bias. The authors stated, "we did not try to eliminate publication bias in our analyses, because we deemed that an observed prevalence of adult ADHD that substantially differed from previous estimates was likely to have been published."

January 30, 2022

Interpreting Vehicular Accident Data in Relation To Those With ADHD

Nationwide population study finds high relative risk of traffic crashes among the elderly with ADHD, but with very low frequency, muddling interpretation of the results

Researchers from the Swedish Department of Global Public Health, the Swedish Transport Agency, and the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute collaborated in a nationwide population study of motor vehicle crashes among the elderly, defined as 65 and older.

They availed themselves of the country's all-encompassing national registers to identify the anonymized records of all such drivers from 2011 through 2016. That enabled them to compare crash records of those with known driving-impairing conditions with matched drivers who had no record of such conditions.

They looked only at road traffic crashes that resulted in injury to the driver or a passenger. For anyone with multiple crash records, they only looked at the first.

This was a case-control study, with two controls matched to each case wherever possible. For every case of a 65 or older driver involved in an injurious crash, the team randomly matched two individual controls by sex, birth year, municipality of residence, and other medical conditions. Place of residence was used to distinguish residents of large cities, who would tend to drive less frequently and in denser traffic, from those in small towns and rural areas. To minimize controls that never drive, only those with a driver's license and car were considered.

Of the thirteen medical conditions examined, elderly drivers with "ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and similar conditions" had by far the highest odds of being in crashes that resulted in injury "at almost three times the rate of those without those conditions."

But note carefully the serious limitations in the data:

  • ADHD was bundled in with autism spectrum disorder and "similar conditions", making an unalloyed evaluation impossible.
  • Out of a total of 13,701 crashes, only 26 involved any of these conditions.
  • Because of the small number, the two-for-one matching broke down completely. Only 17 matched controls could be found, less than a third of the target of 52.
  • That means that despite a nationwide sample involving over 40,000 cases and controls, the sample size for "ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and similar conditions" was only 43.
The authors noted that while the high odds ratio "for ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and similar conditions, are in line with previous studies on young adult drivers and adult drivers in this recent cohort of older, Swedish adults, such conditions are very uncommon compared to younger adults, suggesting likely under-diagnosis. Hence, the results should be interpreted with caution."
January 22, 2022

The Use of EEGs in Diagnosing Various Levels of Adult ADHD

Adult ADHD: How do those with the full syndrome compare with those who are subthreshold on executive functioning, and are EEGs of any use in diagnosis?

German researchers study how useful EEG markers may or may not be in the treatment of full-spectrum ADHD as compared to sub-threshold ADHD.

Noting that to date, no study investigated potential behavioral and neural markers in adults with subthreshold ADHD as compared to adults with full syndrome ADHD and healthy controls, the German team of researchers at the University of Tübingen out to do just that, recruiting volunteers through flyers and advertisements.

Their ADHD sample consisted of 113 adults between 18 and 60 years of age (mean age 38) who fulfilled the DSM-IV-TR criteria of ADHD and were either not on medication or a steady dose of medication over the prior two months.

Another 46 participants (also mean age 38), whose symptoms did not reach the DSM-IV-TR criteria, were assigned to the group with subthreshold ADHD.

The control sample was comprised of 42 healthy participants (mean age 37).

Individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, epilepsy, or traumatic brain injury were excluded from the sample, as were those with current substance abuse or dependence.

All participants were German-speaking Caucasians. There were no significant differences in gender, age, education, or verbal/nonverbal intelligence among the three groups.

Participants first completed an online pre-screening, which was followed up with an interview to confirm the ADHD diagnosis.

ADHD impairs executive functions, "defined as the 'top-down' cognitive abilities for maintaining problem-solving skills to achieve future goals." The researchers explored three categories of executive functioning: 1) capacity for inhibition, "the ability to inhibit dominant, automatic, or prepotent responses when necessary- 2) ability to shift, enabling smooth switching between tasks or mental sets; and 3) ability to update, "updating and monitoring of working memory representations." Participants took a battery of neuropsychological tests to assess performance in each category.

Significant differences emerged between the group with ADHD and healthy controls in all measures except one: the STROOP Reading test. But there were no significant differences between participants suffering from subthreshold and full-syndrome ADHD. Nor were there any significant differences between those with subthreshold ADHD and healthy controls.

The researchers also recorded electroencephalograms(EEGs) for each participant. In healthy individuals, there is little to no association between resting-state EEG spectral power measures and executive functions. In individuals with ADHD, some studies have indicated increased theta-to-beta ratios, while others have found no significant differences. This study found no significant differences between the three groups.

The authors concluded, "The main results of the study can be summarized as follows: First, increased executive function deficits (in updating, inhibition, and shifting functions) could be observed in the full syndrome ADHD as compared to the healthy control group while, on the electrophysiological level, no differences in the theta to the beta ratio between these groups were found. Second, we observed only slightly impaired neuropsychological functions and no abnormal electrophysiological activity in the subthreshold ADHD sample. Taken together, our data suggest some practical uses of the assessment of objective cognitive markers but no additional value of examining electrophysiological characteristics in the diagnosis of subthreshold and full syndrome ADHD in adulthood."

They added, "These findings deeply question the value of including resting EEG markers into the diagnostic procedure and also have implications for standard neurofeedback protocols frequently used in the treatment of ADHD, where patients are trained to reduce their theta power while simultaneously increasing beta activity."

January 12, 2022

Is There Any Hard Evidence in Support of Homeopathic Remedies for ADHD?

Is there any hard evidence in support of homeopathic remedies for ADHD?

According to Vox, "Homeopathy is a $1.2 billion industry in the US alone, used by an estimated 5 million adults and 1 million kids. It's become such a staple of America's wellness industry that leading brands such as Boiron and Hyland's are readily available at high-end health-focused chains like Whole Foods and sprouts, supermarkets like Ralph's, and superstores such as Walmart."

Yet, this highly profitable "wellness" industry has shown little to no interest in supporting randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to test the efficacy and safety of its products.

In a team of Italian physicians, Rana comprehensive search of the medical literature and found only nine RCTs exploring the efficacy and safety of homeopathic remedies for psychiatric disorders that met the selection criteria.

Only two of these RCTs addressed efficacy for ADHD, with a combined 99 participants. Neither reported any significant effect.

Combining them into a small meta-analysis likewise found no significant effect.

But that's not all. According to the study authors, "The paucity of published trials does not allow a reliable estimate of publication bias, which would require a larger number of studies. This is a major issue since it has been reported that, among completed trials of homeopathy registered on ClinicalTrials.gov, only 46% were published within 2 years of completion, and among these, 25% altered or changed their primary outcomes. It is, therefore, possible that the results of the present meta-analysis are distorted because of selective publication."

The authors conclude, "The most surprising result of this meta-analysis is the paucity of available data from RCTs," and "Based on the very few available trials, homeopathy did not produce any relevant effect on symptoms of ADHD ... Ethical considerations should therefore prevent clinicians from recommending HRs [homeopathic remedies], which have a cost either for patients or for health care systems, until when a sufficient amount of solid evidence becomes available."

January 8, 2022

ADHD Medication Least Likely to be Associated With Headache

Which ADHD medications are least likely to be associated with headaches?

A large-scale international research team conducts a systemic review of literature on ADHD medication and headaches.

There is strong evidence of the effectiveness of a variety of ADHD medicines in reducing ADHD symptoms. While some are more effective than others, another factor in deciding on a course of treatment is minimizing noxious side effects.

One of those side effects is a headache.

An international team of researchers from Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed medical literature about ADHD and headaches on the one hand, and ADHD medications and headaches on the other.

As a baseline, they performed a meta-analysis of twelve studies with a combined total of over 2.7 million participants that compared headache rates between youths with and without ADHD. Those with ADHD were twice as likely to suffer from headaches. This held even after limiting the meta-analysis to the four studies that adjusted for confounders.

Breaking down the results by type of headache revealed a fascinating distinction. There was no significant difference in rates of tension headaches, but migraines were 2.2 times as frequent among youths with ADHD.

This strong association between ADHD and migraines suggests looking for medications that are both effective and unlikely to further contribute to the odds of migraine.

Accordingly, the team examined associations between specific ADHD medications and headaches.

Stimulant medications are generally considered the most effective medications for treating ADHD. A meta-analysis of ten studies with 2,672 participants found no association between amphetamines and headaches. On the other hand, a meta-analysis of 17 studies with 3,371 participants found that methylphenidate increased the odds of headache by one-third (33%).

The non-stimulant atomoxetine is usually considered a second-tier treatment for those among whom stimulants are contraindicated. A meta-analysis of 22 studies encompassing 3,857 participants found it increased the odds of headache by 29%.

Guanfacine fared worst of the bunch. A meta-analysis of eight studies combining 1,956 participants found it increased the odds of headache by 43%.

Finally, a meta-analysis of six studies with a combined total of 818 participants found no association with headaches.

There was no indication of publication bias in any of the meta-analyses.

December 29, 2021

How Effective and Safe are Stimulant Medications for Older Adults?

How effective and safe are stimulant medications for older adults?

Older adults are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Psychostimulants may contribute to that risk through side effects, such as elevation of systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate.

On the other hand, smoking, substance abuse, obesity, and chronic sleep loss - all of which are associated with ADHD - are known to increase cardiovascular risk, and stimulant medications are an effective treatment for ADHD.

So how does this all shake out? A Dutch team of researchers sets out to explore this. Using electronic health records, they compared all 139 patients 55 years and older at PsyQ outpatient clinic, Program Adult ADHD, in The Hague. Because a principal aim of the study was to evaluate the effect of medication on cardiovascular functioning after first medication use, the 26 patients who had previously been prescribed ADHD medication were excluded from the study, leaving a sample size of 113.

The ages of participants ranged from 55 from 79, with a mean of 61. Slightly over half were women. At the outset, 13 percent had elevated systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure, 2 percent had an irregular heart rate, 15 percent had an abnormal electrocardiogram, and 29 percent had some combination of these (a "cardiovascular risk profile"), and 21 percent used antihypertensive medication.

Three out of four participants had at least e comorbid disorder. The most common are sleep disorders, affecting a quarter of participants, and unipolar mood disorders (depressive or more rarely manic episodes, but not both), also affecting a quarter of participants.

Twenty-four patients did not initiate pharmacological treatment. Of the 89 who received ADHD medication, 58 (65%) reported positive effects, and five experienced no effect. Thirty-eight (43%) discontinued ADHD medication while at the clinic due to lack of effect or to side effects. The most commonly reported positive effects were enhanced concentration, more overview, less restlessness, more stable mood, and having more energy. The principal reasons for discontinuing medication were anxiety/depression, cardiovascular complaints, and lack of effect.

Methylphenidate raised heart rate and lowered weight, but had no significant effect on systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Moreover, there was no significant correlation between methylphenidate dosage and any of these variables, nor between methylphenidate users taking hypertensive medication and those not taking such medication. There was no significant difference in systolic or diastolic blood pressure and heart rate before and after the use of methylphenidate among patients with the cardiovascular risk profiles.

Systolic blood pressure rose in ten out of 64 patients, with two experiencing an increase of at least 20 mmHg. It descended in five patients, with three having a decrease of at least 20 mmHg. Diastolic blood pressure rose by at least 10 mmHg in four patients, while dropping at least 10 mmHg in five others.

The authors concluded "that the use of a low dose of ADHD-medication is well tolerated and does not cause clinically significant cardiovascular changes among older adults with ADHD, even among those with an increased cardiovascular risk profile. Furthermore, our older patients experienced significant and clinically relevant improvement of their ADHD symptoms using stimulants, comparable with what is found among the younger age group," and that "the use of methylphenidate may be a relatively safe and effective treatment for older adults with ADHD, under the condition that all somatic complaints and especially cardiovascular parameters are monitored before and during pharmacological treatment."

Yet they cautioned that "due to the observational nature of the study and the lack of a control group, no firm conclusions can be drawn as to the effectiveness of the stimulants used. ... Important factors that were not systematically reported were the presence of other risk factors, such as smoking, substance (ab)use, aspirin use, and level of physical activity. In addition, the response to medication was not systematically measured"

December 21, 2021

ADHD medication and risk of suicide

ADHD medication and risk of suicide

A Chinese research team performed two types of meta-analyses to compare the risk of suicide for ADHD patients taking ADHD medication as opposed to those not taking medication.

The first type of meta-analysis combined six large population studies with a total of over 4.7 million participants. These were located on three continents - Europe, Asia, and North America - and more specifically Sweden, England, Taiwan, and the United States.

The risk of suicide among those taking medication was found to be about a quarter less than for unmediated individuals, though the results were barely significant at the 95 percent confidence level (p = 0.49, just a sliver below the p = 0.5 cutoff point). There were no significant differences between males and females, except that looking only at males or females reduced sample size and made results non-significant.

Differentiating between patients receiving stimulant and non-stimulant medications produced divergent outcomes. A meta-analysis of four population studies covering almost 900,000 individuals found stimulant medications to be associated with a 28 percent reduced risk of suicide. On the other hand, a meta-analysis of three studies with over 62,000 individuals found no significant difference in suicide risk for non-stimulant medications. The benefit, therefore, seems limited to stimulant medication.

The second type of meta-analysis combined three within-individual studies with over 3.9 million persons in the United States, China, and Sweden. The risk of suicide among those taking medication was found to be almost a third less than for unmediated individuals, though the results were again barely significant at the 95 percent confidence level (p =0.49, just a sliver below the p = 0.5 cutoff point). Once again, there were no significant differences between males and females, except that looking only at males or females reduced the sample size and made results non-significant.

Differentiating between patients receiving stimulant and non-stimulant medications once again produced divergent outcomes. Meta-analysis of the same three studies found a 25 percent reduced risk of suicide among those taking stimulant medications. But as in the population studies, a meta-analysis of two studies with over 3.9 million persons found no reduction in risk among those taking non-stimulant medications.

A further meta-analysis of two studies with 3.9 million persons found no reduction in suicide risk among persons taking ADHD medications for 90 days or less, "revealing the importance of duration and adherence to medication in all individuals prescribed stimulants for ADHD."

The authors concluded, "exposure to non-stimulants is not associated with a higher risk of suicide attempts. However, a lower risk of suicide attempts was observed for stimulant drugs. However, the results must be interpreted with caution due to the evidence of heterogeneity ..."

December 13, 2021

Comorbidities and Risk of Premature Death in Individuals With ADHD

How do psychiatric comorbidities affect risk of premature death among children and adults with ADHD?

Comorbidities contribute substantially to premature mortality risks in ADHD patients, but even those with ADHD alone are at a 40% greater risk.


The Nordic countries maintain detailed registers of their inhabitants. This enables researchers to examine patterns over entire nations. An international research team used the Swedish national registers for a prospective cohort study of 2,675,615 persons in the Medical Birth Register born in Sweden over 27 years from January 1, 1983, through December 31, 2009. Follow-up was completed in December 2013, with the oldest cohort member aged31. The mean age at study entry was 6, and the mean at follow-up was 11.

Using personal identification numbers, researchers were able to cross-reference with the National Patient Register and the National Drug Register. From this, they determined that 86,670 members of the cohort (3.2percent) had ADHD, based either on records of clinical diagnosis or of prescription of ADHD drugs. Psychiatric comorbidities were likewise identified in the National Patient Register.

These comorbidities were significantly more prevalent in the ADHD population than in the rest of the cohort. For example, whereas only 2.2% of the non-ADHD group was diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD), 13.3% of the ADHD group also had SUD, a six-fold difference. For depression, it was a seven-fold difference; for schizophrenia a nine-fold difference.

The ADHD group had a significantly higher risk of premature death from all causes than the non-ADHD group, with an adjusted hazard ratio(HR) of 3.94 (95% CI 3.51-4.43). Unintentional injury (36%) and suicide (31%)were the leading causes of death in the ADHD group. Those with ADHD were more than eight times more likely to die by suicide than non-ADHD individuals and roughly four times more likely to die from unintentional injury.

The vast majority of the increased risk appears to be associated with comorbid psychiatric conditions. Those with ADHD but no diagnosed comorbidities had an adjusted HR of 1.41 (95% CI 1.01-1.97). With a single comorbidity, the HR more than doubled to 3.71 (95% CI 2.88-4.78). With four or more comorbidities, it rose to a staggering 25.22 (95% CI 19.6-32.46).

The comorbid condition with the greatest impact was SUD, which increased the risk eight-fold by comparison with those with only ADHD (HR= 8.01, 95% CI 6.16-10.41). Anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorder increased the risk about fourfold. Bipolar disorder, depression, and eating disorder increased risk by roughly two and a half times.

The co-variate analysis helped tease out what portion of the risk was associated with ADHD alone versus comorbid conditions. Adjusting for the year of birth, sex, birth weight, maternal age at birth, parental educational level, and parental employment status, those with ADHD (including comorbid conditions)were 2.7 times more likely to prematurely die of natural causes than those without. Adjusting for comorbid psychiatric conditions completely eliminated the risk from ADHD alone (HR = 1.01, 95% CI.72-1.42).

Likewise, those with ADHD (including comorbid conditions)were six times as likely to die of unnatural causes. Adjusting for early-onset comorbid disorders (such as conduct disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disability) only modestly reduced the HR to 5.3, but further adjusting for later-onset comorbid disorders(including substance use disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, and eating disorders)reduced the HR to 1.57 (95% CI 1.35-1.83), and reduced it to insignificance in the case of suicide (HR = 1.13, 95% CI .88-1.45).

Summing up, the lion's share of the greater risk of premature death in persons with ADHD is attributable to psychiatric comorbidities. Nevertheless, those with ADHD alone still face a 40 percent greater risk than those without ADHD.

The study did not examine the effects of ADHD medication, which the authors state should be analyzed because of documented potential benefits on ADHD symptoms and comorbid disorders.

The authors concluded, Among adults, early-onset psychiatric comorbidity contributed substantially to the premature mortality risks due to natural causes. On the other hand, later-onset psychiatric comorbidity, especially SUD, explained a substantial part of the risk for unnatural deaths, including all the risk of suicide deaths and most of the deaths due to unintentional injuries. These results suggest that overall health conditions and risk of psychiatric comorbidity should be evaluated clinically to identify high-risk groups among individuals with ADHD.

September 8, 2021

Exploring The Long-term Effects of Treating ADHD with Methylphenidate

Are there adverse effects to long-term treatment of ADHD with methylphenidate?

Although this review highlights the need for further research, it also upholds previous studies which support Methylphenidate as a safe and effective ADHD medication.


Methylphenidate (MPH) is one of the most widely-prescribed medications for children. Given that ADHD frequently persists over a large part of an individual’s lifespan, any side effects of medication initiated during childhood may well be compounded over time. With funding from the European Union, a recently released review of the evidence looked for possible adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes.

From the outset, the international team recognized a challenge: “ADHD severity may be an important potential confounder, as it may be associated with both the need for long-term MPH therapy and high levels of underlying neuropsychiatric comorbidity.” Their searches found a highly heterogeneous evidence base, which made meta-analysis inadvisable. For example, only 25 of 39 group studies reported the presence or absence of comorbid psychiatric conditions; even among those, only one excluded participants with comorbidities. Moreover in only 24 of 67 studies was the type of MPH used (immediate or extended-release) specified. The team, therefore, focused on laying out an “evidence map” to help determine priorities for further research.

The team found the following breakdown for specific types of adverse events:

·  Low mood/depression. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. Two large cohort studies, one with over 2,300 participants, and the other with 142,000, favored MPH over the non-stimulant atomoxetine. But many other studies, including a randomized controlled trial (RCT), had unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base regarding mood outcomes from long-term MPH treatment is relatively strong, includes two well-powered comparative studies, and tends to favor MPH.”

·  Anxiety. Here again, all three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. But only two of seven comparative studies favored MPH, with the other five having unclear results. Conclusion: “while the evidence about anxiety as an outcome of long-term MPH treatment tends to favor MPH, the evidence base is relatively weak.”

·   Irritability/emotional reactivity. A large cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “the evidence base  is limited, although it includes one well-powered study that found in favor of MPH over atomoxetine.”

·  Suicidal behavior/ideation. There were no non-comparative studies, but all five comparative studies favored MPH. That included three large cohort studies, with a combined total of over a hundred thousand participants, that favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “the evidence base  is relatively strong, and tends to favor MPH.”

·  Bipolar disorder. A very large cohort study, with well over a quarter-million participants, favored MPH over atomoxetine. A much smaller cohort study comparing MPH with atomoxetine, with less than a tenth the number of participants, pointed toward caution. Conclusion: “the evidence base  is limited and unclear, although it includes two well-powered studies.”

·  Psychosis/psychotic-like symptoms. By far the largest study, with over 145,000 participants, compared MPH with no treatment and pointed toward caution. A cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “These findings indicate that more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD and psychosis, and into whether MPH moderates that risk, as well as research into individual risk factors for MPH-related psychosis in young people with ADHD.”

· Substance use disorders. A cohort study with over 20,000 participants favored MPH over anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and no medication. Other studies looking at dosages and durations of treatment, age at treatment initiation, or comparing with no treatment or “alternative” treatment, all favored MPH except a single study with unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is relatively strong, includes one well-powered study that compared MPH with antipsychotic and antidepressant treatment, and tends to favor MPH.”

·Tics and other dyskinesias. Of four non-comparative studies, three favored MPH, the other, with the smallest sample size, urged caution. In studies comparing with dexamphetamine, pemoline, Adderall, or no active treatment, three had unclear results and two pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “more research is needed regarding the safety and management of long-term MPH in those with comorbidities or tic disorder.”

·  Seizures or EEG abnormalities. With one exception, the studies had small sample sizes. The largest, with over 2,300 participants, compared MPH with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Two small studies found MPH safe, one had unclear results, and two others pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “While the evidence is limited and unclear, the studies do not indicate evidence for seizures as an AE of MPH treatment in children with no prior history  more research is needed into the safety of long-term MPH in children and young people at risk of seizures.”

·  Sleep Disorders. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe, but the largest cohort study, with over 2,300 participants, clearly favored atomoxetine. Conclusion: “more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD, sleep, and long-term MPH treatment.”

· Other notable psychiatric outcomes. Two non-comparative studies, with 118 and 289 participants, found MPH safe. A cohort study with over 700 participants compared with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Conclusion: “there is limited evidence regarding long-term MPH treatment and other neuropsychiatric outcomes, and that further research may be needed into the relationship between long-term MPH treatment and aggression/hostility.”

Although this landmark review points to several gaps in the evidence base, it mainly supports prior conclusions of the US Food and Drug Administration) and other regulatory agencies (based on short-term randomized controlled trials) that MPH is safe for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults. Given that MPH has been used for ADHD for over fifty years and that the FDA monitors the emergence of rare adverse events, patients, parents, and prescribers can feel confident that the medication is safe when used as prescribed.

September 6, 2021

Stigma: Public attitudes towards children and adults with ADHD

Stigma: Public attitudes towards children and adults with ADHD

To gauge the extent of stigma towards persons with ADHD, a European research team hired a company specialized in market and social research to conduct a poll of some five thousand randomly selected Germans. Just over a thousand completed the interview, representing a response rate of only one in five. The team acknowledged, “Although non-responder bias has to be considered to be important, ethical considerations prohibited the collection of any detailed information on non-respondents.” The sample had slightly more women and elderly persons, and a higher average level of educational attainment relative to the German population as a whole. Sampling weights were used to compensate for these discrepancies.

The poll relied on computer-assisted telephone interviews. Interviews began with prerecorded vignettes of either a 12-year-old child or 35-year-oldadult exhibiting core symptoms of ADHD (such as “careless mistakes in schoolwork,” “does not follow through on instructions,” “easily distracted by extraneous stimuli”, “loses things”, “leaves his place in the classroom or when sitting at the dining table”). Half of those interviewed were presented with child vignettes, and half with adult vignettes. The gender of the person described varied randomly.

On a scale of one to five, respondents were asked to indicate levels of agreement with two statements: 1. ‘‘Basically, we are all sometimes like this person. It’s just a question of how pronounced this state is.’’ 2. “All in all, the problems of Robert / Anne are abnormal.” For both child and adult vignettes, two out of three respondents agreed that “we are all sometimes like this person.” One in three respondents considered the problems depicted in the child vignettes as abnormal. That dropped to one in four in the adult vignettes.

Next, respondents were asked whether they ever had a problem like this, and whether someone among their family or close friends ever had to deal with such a problem. For both vignettes, one in four acknowledged having had a problem like this, and half said a close friend or family member had such a problem.

On the assumption that “negative emotional reactions are an important consequence of negative stereotypes, leading to separation, discrimination and status loss,” respondents were probed for their specific emotional reactions. “I feel annoyed,” “I react angrily,” and “provokes my incomprehension” were interpreted as indicating varying levels of anger.“Provokes fear” and “Makes me feel insecure” were seen as indicating fear. “I feel uncomfortable” was viewed as indicating somewhere between fear and anger. On the other hand, “I feel the need to help,” “I feel pity,” and “I feel sympathy” were interpreted as “pro-social” responses.

Pro-social reactions were by far the most common. Over two-thirds felt a need to help a child, and over half to help an adult, in such a situation. In both instances, almost half felt sympathy, and a half or more felt pity. On the other hand, a quarter of respondents in each case felt annoyed, and just under one in five felt uncomfortable. Almost one in seven reacted angrily to the child vignette, and almost one in six to the adult vignette. Fear was the least frequent emotional reaction.

In the case of adults, respondents were also asked about their willingness to accept the person described in the vignette in seven social situations:

·        Working together
·        As a neighbor
·        Marrying into the family
·        Introducing to a friend
·        Renting a room
·        Recommending for a job
old adult·        Taking care of chi

While three out of four respondents were willing to accept such persons as co-workers, only one in three would recommend them for a job. Two out of three would accept such persons as neighbors, and almost as many to marry into the family. Three out of five would very willingly introduce such persons to friends. Slightly over half would rent a room to them. But less than one in three would be willing to have such individuals take care of their own children.

Older respondents were more likely to see the problems as“abnormal” and to seek greater social distance. Women, and respondents with higher levels of education, were less likely to see the problems as abnormal and more likely to respond in pro-social ways.

Though showing most Germans to be accepting of persons with ADHD, these findings still indicate a significant degree of stigma, though less than for other psychiatric conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, or alcohol dependence.

August 27, 2021

Exploring The Long-term Effects of Treating ADHD with Methylphenidate

Are there adverse effects to long-term treatment of ADHD with methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate (MPH) is one of the most widely-prescribed medications for children. Given that ADHD frequently persists over a large part of an individual's lifespan, any side effects of medication initiated during childhood may well be compounded over time. With funding from the European Union, a recently released review of the evidence looked for possible adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes.

From the outset, the international team recognized a challenge: ADHD severity may be an important potential confounder, as it may be associated with both the need for long-term MPH therapy and high levels of underlying neuropsychiatric comorbidity. Their searches found a highly heterogeneous evidence base, which made meta-analysis inadvisable. For example, only 25 of 39 group studies reported the presence or absence of comorbid psychiatric conditions, and even among those, only one excluded participants with comorbidities. Moreover, in only 24 of 67 studies was the type of MPH used (immediate or extended-release) specified. The team, therefore, focused on laying out an evidence map to help determine priorities for further research.

The team found the following breakdown for specific types of adverse events:

·        Low mood/depression. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. Two large cohort studies, one with over 2,300 participants, and the other with 142,000, favored MPH over the non-stimulant atomoxetine. But many other studies, including a randomized controlled trial (RCT), had unclear results. Conclusion: the evidence base regarding mood outcomes from long-term MPH treatment is relatively strong, includes two well-powered comparative studies, and tends to favor MPH.

·        Anxiety. Here again, all three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. But only two of seven comparative studies favored MPH, with the other five having unclear results. Conclusion: while the evidence about anxiety as an outcome of long-term MPH treatment tends to favor MPH, the evidence base is relatively weak.

·        Irritability/emotional reactivity. A large cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: the evidence base is limited, although it includes one well-powered study that found in favor of MPH over atomoxetine.

·        Suicidal behavior/ideation. There were no non-comparative studies, but all five comparative studies favored MPH. That included three large cohort studies, with a combined total of over a hundred thousand participants, that favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: the evidence base is relatively strong, and tends to favor MPH.

·        Bipolar disorder. A very large cohort study, with well over a quarter-million participants, favored MPH over atomoxetine. A much smaller cohort study comparing MPH with atomoxetine, with less than a tenth the number of participants, pointed toward caution. Conclusion: the evidence base is limited and unclear, although it includes two well-powered studies.

·        Psychosis/psychotic-like symptoms. By far the largest study, with over 145,000 participants, compared MPH with no treatment, and pointed toward caution. A cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: These findings indicate that more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD and psychosis, and into whether MPH moderates that risk, as well as research into individual risk factors for MPH-related psychosis in young people with ADHD.

·        Substance use disorders. A cohort study with over 20,000 participants favored MPH over anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and no medication. Other studies looking at dosages and durations of treatment, age at treatment initiation, or comparing with no treatment or alternative treatment, all favored MPH except a single study with unclear results. Conclusion: the evidence base is relatively strong, includes one well-powered study that compared MPH with antipsychotic and antidepressant treatment, and tends to favor MPH.

·        Tics and other dyskinetic. Of four non-comparative studies, three favored MPH, the other, with the smallest sample size, urged caution. In studies comparing with dexamphetamine, pemoline, Adderall, or no active treatment, three had unclear results and two pointed towards caution. Conclusion: more research is needed regarding the safety and management of long-term MPH in those with comorbidities or tic disorder.

·        Seizuresor EEG abnormalities. With one exception, the studies had small sample sizes. The largest, with over 2,300 participants, compared MPH with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Two small studies found MPH safe, one had unclear results, and two others pointed towards caution. Conclusion: While the evidence is limited and unclear, the studies do not indicate evidence for seizures as an AE of MPH treatment in children with no prior history more research is needed into the safety of long-term MPH in children and young people at risk of seizures.

·        Sleep Disorders. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe, but the largest cohort study, with over 2,300 participants, clearly favored atomoxetine. Conclusion: more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD, sleep, and long-term MPH treatment.

·        Other notable psychiatric outcomes. Two noncomparative studies, with 118 and 289participants, found MPH safe. A cohort study with over 700 participants compared with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Conclusion: there is limited evidence regarding long-term MPH treatment and another neuropsychiatric outcome, and that further research may be needed into the relationship between long-term MPH treatment and aggression/hostility.

Although this landmark review points to several gaps sins in the evidence base, it mainly supports prior conclusions of the US Food antidrug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies (based on short-term randomized controlled trials) that MPH is safe for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults.  Given that MPH has been used for ADHD for over fifty years and that the FDA monitors the emergence of rare adverse events, patients, parents, and prescribers can feel confident that the medication is safe when used as prescribed.

August 25, 2021

The Economic Burden of ADHD

The Economic Burden of ADHD

ADHD, especially when untreated, impairs patients and creates difficulties in families.  Although these are the proximal targets of treatment, ADHD also burdens society due, for example, to underemployment and the use of health resources.   A recent study assessed the economic burden using the danish population registries, researchers, which link medical information with employment, education, crime, and social care registers while maintaining confidentiality. They identified 5,269 adults with adult ADHD who had not been diagnosed with ADHD in childhood and, we can assume, were probably not treated for the disorder. They excluded patients with other psychiatric diagnoses, and cases without a same-sex sibling free of any diagnosed psychiatric diagnoses. That left 460 pairs of same-sex siblings, one with an adult with ADHD and the other with no psychiatric diagnosis. They selected the non-ADHD sibling closest in age to the ADHD sibling. Using siblings mitigated the effects of genetics and upbringing between the ADHD group and normally developing controls.

Looking at personal income (combining work income and public transfers), adults with ADHD on average brought home about 12,000 Euros less - almost a third less - than their sibling counterparts. They also paid 40% less tax. Balancing that out, their after-tax income was roughly 7,500 Euros less than their siblings. With the additional personal cost of prescribed medication(prescriptions are relatively inexpensive in Denmark, and co-payments even more so) the net personal cost to adults with ADHD was 7,700 Euros.

The net public costs were considerably greater. That was primarily due to the reduction in taxes paid (about 4,500 Euros) and increase in income replacement transfers (just over 5,500 Euros). The cost of additional crimes committed by adults with ADHD added another 1,000 Euros. Additional primary and secondary health care costs contributed another 1,000 Euros. Subsidies for prescribed medicines added 661 Euros, but that was partly counterbalanced by a reduction of 344 Euros in education costs. There were no significant differences in costs from traffic accidents or adult continuation of foster care. Overall, the net per capita public cost of adults with ADHD was just over12,400 Euros each year.

Combining public and private costs, the per capita economic burden of adult ADHD was just over 20,000 Euros each year.

The study could not evaluate the extent to which ADHD treatment may reduce the economic burden, but given many studies that show treatment for ADHD reduces impairments, we would expect treatment to have a positive impact on the economic burden.  These results are extremely important for policymakers and for those who control the allocation of treatment in healthcare systems.  Although treating ADHD incurs costs, not treating it incurs even greater costs in the long run

August 15, 2021

Driving, Safety, and ADHD

How to Improve Driving Safety for Teens and Adults With ADHD

Drivers with ADHD are far more likely to be involved in crashes, to be at fault in crashes, to be in severe crashes, and to be killed in crashes. The more severe the ADHD symptoms, the higher the risk. Moreover, ADHD is often accompanied by comorbid conditions such as oppositional-defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety that further increase the risk.

What can be done to reduce this risk? A group of experts has offered the following consensus recommendations:

·        Use stimulant medications. While there is no reliable evidence on whether-stimulant medications are of any benefit for driving, there is solid evidence that stimulant medications are effective in reducing risk. But there is also a “rebound effect” in many individuals after the medication wears off, in which performance becomes worse than it had been before medication. It is therefore important to time the taking of medication so that its period of effectiveness corresponds with driving times. If one has to drive right after waking up, it makes sense to take a rapid-acting form. The same holds for late-night driving that may require a quick boost.
·        Use a stick shift vehicle wherever possible. Stick shifts make drivers pay closer attention than automatic transmissions. The benefits of alertness are most notable in city traffic. But using a stick shift is far less beneficial in highway driving, where shifting is less frequent.
·        Avoid cruise control. Highways can be monotonous, making drivers more prone to boredom and distraction. That is even more true for those with ADHD, so it is best to keep cruise control turned off.
·        Avoid alcohol. Drinking and driving is a bad idea for everyone, but, once again, it’s even worse for those with ADHD. Parents should consider the no-questions-asked policy of either picking up their teenager anytime and anywhere or setting up an account with a ride-sharing service.
·        Place the smartphone out of reach and hearing. Cell phone use is as about as likely to impair as alcohol. Hands-free devices only reduce this risk moderately, because they continue to distract. Texting can be deadly. Sending a short text or emoticon can be the equivalent of driving 100 yards with one’s eyes closed. Either turn on Do Not Disturb mode or, for even greater effectiveness, place the smartphone in the trunk.
·        Make use of automotive performance monitors. These can keep track of maximum speeds and sudden acceleration and braking, to verify that a teenager is not engaging in risky behaviors.
·        Take advantage of “graduated driver’s licensing laws” wherever available. These laws forbid the presence of peers in the vehicle for the first several (for example, six) months of driving. Parents can extend that period for teenagers with ADHD, or set it as a condition in states that lack such laws.
·        Encourage practicing after obtaining a learner’s permit. Teenagers with ADHD generally require more practice than those without. A “pre-drive checklist” can be a good place to start. For example: check the gas, check the mirrors, make sure the view through the windows is unobstructed, put your cell phone in Do not disturb mode and place it out of reach, put on a seatbelt, and scan for obstacles.
·        Consider outsourcing. Look for a driving school with a professional to teach good driving skills and habits.

Experts do not agree on whether to delay licensing for those with ADHD. On the one hand, teenagers with ADHD are 3-4 years behind in the development of brain areas responsible for executive functions that help control impulses and better guide behavior. Delaying licensing can reduce risk by about 20 percent. On the other hand, teens with ADHD are more likely to drive without a license, and no one wants to encourage that, however inadvertently. Moreover, graduated driver’s licensing laws only have a legal effect on teens who get their licenses at the customary age.

August 13, 2021

Can College Students Trying to Fake ADHD be Detected

Can College Students Trying to Fake ADHD be Detected

Many college students truly have ADHD and deserve to be treated, but some attempt to fake ADHD symptoms to get stimulant medications for nonmedical uses, such as studying and getting high.  Some students who fake ADHD also seek to gain accommodations that would give them additional time to complete exams. To address this issue, two psychologists examined data from 514 university students being assessed for ADHD to evaluate the ability of assessment tools to detect students who fake ADHD symptoms.

All participants had asked to be assessed to determine whether they could qualify for disability services. This was therefore by no means a random sample of university students, and could be expected to include some non-ADHD individuals seeking the benefits of an ADHD diagnosis. But this offered a good opportunity to explore which combination of tools would yield the best accuracy, and be best at excluding malingerers.

That was achieved by using both multiple informants and multiple assessment tools and comparing results. Self-assessment was supplemented by assessment by other informants (e.g. parent, partner, friend, or another relative). These were supplemented with symptom validity tests to check for telltale highly inconsistent symptom reporting, or symptom exaggeration, which could signal false positives.

On the other hand, some individuals with ADHD have executive functioning problems that may make it difficult for them to reliably appraise their symptoms on self-assessment tests, which can lead to false negatives. Performance validity tests were therefore also administered, to detect poor effort during evaluation, which could lead to false negatives.

Observer reporting was found to be more reliable than self-reporting, with significantly lower inconsistency scores (p < .001), and significantly higher exaggeration scores (p < .001). More than twice as many self-reports showed evidence of symptom exaggeration as did observer reports. This probably understates the problem when one considers that the observer reports were performed not by clinicians but by parents and partners who may themselves have had reasons to game the tests in favor of an ADHD diagnosis.

Even so, the authors noted, "External incentives such as procurement of a desired controlled substance or eligibility for the desired disability accommodation are likely to be of more perceived value to those who directly obtain them." They suggested compensating for this by making ADHD diagnoses only based on positive observer tests in addition to self-reports: "Applying an 'and' rule-one where both self-and observers reports were required to meet the diagnostic threshold-generally cut the proportions meeting various thresholds at least in half and washed out the differences between the adequate and inadequate symptom validity groups."

They also recommended including formal tests of response validity, using both symptom validity tests and performance validity tests. Overall, they found that just over half of the sub-sample of 410 students administered performance validity tests demonstrated either inadequate symptom or performance validity.

Finally, they recommended "that clinicians give considerable weight to direct, objective evidence of functional impairment when making decisions about the presence of ADHD in adults. The degree to which symptoms cause significant difficulty functioning in day-to-day life is a core element of the ADHD diagnostic criteria (American Psychiatric Association,2013), and it cannot be assumed that significant symptoms cause such difficulty, as symptoms are only moderately associated with such functional impairment. ... we urge clinicians to procure objective records (e.g., grade transcripts, work performance evaluations, disciplinary and legal records) to aid in determining functional impairment in adults assessed for ADHD."

August 9, 2021

Pharmacotherapy and ADHD in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

How effective is pharmacotherapy of ADHD inadults with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is frequently comorbid with ADHD. Among adults with ADHD, as many as half are reported to also have ASD.

A Dutch team set out to answer two questions:
1)     Do adults with ADHD and comorbid ASD experience less effectiveness in pharmacological treatment for ADHD than adults with only ADHD
2)     Do adults with ADHD and comorbid ASD experience different or more severe side effects of pharmacological treatment for ADHD than adults with only ADHD, as measured in side effect scores, blood pressure, heart rate, and weight?

This was a retrospective study, using well-documented medical records, of the effects of drug treatment with methylphenidate (MPH), dexamphetamine (DEX), atomoxetine (ATX), bupropion, or modafinil.

The researchers compared 60 adults with comorbid ASD and ADHD to 226 adults with only ADHD. ADHD symptoms were scored using the Conner's ADHD Rating Scale: Self Report-Short Version (CAA RS: S-S). Side effects of ADHD medication were measured using either a 13-item or 20-item checklist with4-point scales for item response. Researchers also tracked changes in body weight, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Following treatment, ADHD symptoms among the comorbid group declined by a quarter, and among the ADHD-only group by almost a third. There was no significant difference between men and women. Controlling for age, gender, and ADHD subtype, a comorbid diagnosis of ASD also did not significantly affect ADHD symptom reduction.

Turning to side effects, in the ADHD+ASD group, there were significant increases in decreased appetite and weight loss, and decreases in agitation, anxiety, and sadness/unhappiness. In the ADHD-only group, there were significant increases in decreased appetite, weight loss, and dry mouth, and decreases in sleeping disorder, nervousness, agitation, anxiety, and sadness/unhappiness. Yet there were no significant differences between the two groups. Side effects increased and decreased similarly in both. Likewise, there were no significant differences between the groups in changes in heart rate and blood pressure. The only significant difference in medication dosage was for bupropion, which was higher in the ADHD+ASD group, though without any sign of the difference in side effects.

The authors concluded that this retrospective study "showed pharmacological treatment of adults with diagnoses of ADHD and ASD to be just as successful as the pharmacological treatment of adults with only ADHD," but cautioned that "randomized controlled trial should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and possible side effects of pharmacological treatment for ADHD in patients with ASD more reliably."

August 3, 2021

Social and self-stigmatizationinadults with ADHD

Social and self-stigmatizationinadults with ADHD

A German team recruited 104 adults with ADHD at both inpatient and outpatient ADHD clinics, and from ADHD self-help groups. Just under two-thirds were being treated with ADHD drugs, most with methylphenidate.
Just under a quarter reported high internalized stigma. Two in five reported high levels of alienation, meaning a sense of "not being a fully functioning, valuable member of society." Three in ten reported high levels of social withdrawal.
On the other hand, only two participants reported high levels of stereotype endorsement, meaning personal acceptance of stereotypes associated with mental illness. And more than two-thirds reported high stigma resistance, meaning they were internally resistant to stigmatization. Thus, while most were free of significant internalized stigma, a still substantial minority were not.
Most of the participants expected to be discriminated against and treated unfairly by employers, colleagues at work, neighbors, and teachers should they reveal that they have ADHD. Relatively few expected to be discriminated against by health professionals, family, and friends. Almost half expected discrimination if they confided to strangers they were dating.
Over two-thirds of participants reported they had encountered public stereotypes concerning ADHD. But, on balance, they rated these at low levels of intensity. Nevertheless, among those perceiving such stereotypes, eight out of nine sensed some degree of public doubt about the validity of ADHD as a genuine ailment ("ADHD does not exist in adults"), and three out of four had at some point encountered the argument that "ADHD is invented by drug companies." More than four out of five had heard allegations that ADHD results from bad parenting, and almost three in four had heard the claim that it results from watching too much television or playing too many video games.
These data call for more education of the public about the nature and causes of ADHD. Information reduces stigmatization, so the widespread dissemination of the facts about ADHD is warranted.

July 26, 2021

Are Shared Care Models Effective in Treating Childhood ADHD?

Are Shared Care Models Effective in Treating Childhood ADHD?

A systematic review found five studies that evaluated shared care models involving children and adolescents, in which primary care providers(PCPs) collaborated with mental health care providers in treating ADHD. The 655participants ranged in age from 5 to 17. Two of the studies were randomized. In one, the largest, with 321 participants, care managers acted as liaisons between PCPs and psychiatrists and provided psychoeducation and skills training for families. Effect sizes on the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Teacher Rating Scale were very small, ranging from a standardized mean difference (SMDs) of 0.07 to 0.12. Improvement on the Clinical Global Impression scale was also small (SMD = 0.3)and was not significant (p = 0.4).In the other randomized study, with 63 participants, care managers also acted as liaisons between PCPs and a psychiatric decision support panel to provide Positive Parenting Training. The SNAP-IV hyperactivity/impulsivity score showed a medium effect size (SMD = 0.7), with a medium-to-large effect size (0.7) for improvement in social skills. The score difference for SNAP-IV inattention was not statistically significant. The other three studies followed groups of individuals over time. In one cohort with 129 participants, PSPs consulted with psychiatrists by telephone; an evaluation, where necessary, was performed within 4 weeks. As assessed by the Clinical Global Impression-Severity scale, symptoms declined from moderately severe to mild or borderline. On the Children's Global Assessment Scale, there was an improvement from problems in more than one area of functioning to just one area. In another cohort with 116 participants, care managers acted as liaisons between pediatricians and a psychiatrist and provided education to parents. Just over a quarter of participants showed improvement of greater than one standard deviation on the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale, and just under one in seven on the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Teacher Rating Scale. The remaining cohort had only 26 participants. It offered PCPs access to outpatient psychiatric consultations within three weeks. PCPs reported a high level of satisfaction with their improved skills in mental health care. There was no evaluation of the effect on symptoms. With varied study designs, methodologies, and outcomes, the authors of the review could only conclude "that PCP collaboration with psychiatrists may be associated with the increased comfort level. However, the association with symptom outcome and increased capacity was variable." Given that randomized studies report only small effects, these shared care models cannot be routinely recommended.

July 22, 2021

Is prenatal antidepressant exposure a risk factor for ADHD?

Is prenatal antidepressant exposure a risk factor for ADHD?

A systematic review of the literature found seven studies examining this question. Significantly, six were large cohort studies with a combined total of almost three million individuals. The other was a large case-control study with 7,874 participants.
The largest cohort study, with more than a million and a half children, found that prenatal antidepressant exposure increased the risk for ADHD.  The adjusted odds ratio was 1.6forany antidepressant and for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). But sibling comparison models, which better adjust for confounds shared by siblings(e.g., poverty, stress in the home), this study found no increased risk of ADHD.
The second-largest cohort study, with over 875 thousand children, found a small adjusted risk of 1.2 for all antidepressants, with little variation by class of antidepressant. The fourth-largest study, with over 140 thousand children, likewise found a small adjusted risk of 1.2, which barely achieved statistical significance (95% CI 1.0-1.4).
The third-largest study, with over 190 thousand children, obtained an adjusted risk of 1.4 for all antidepressants. But it also pointed to a possible explanation for the small association found in this and other studies, suggesting that the apparent association with antidepressant use was due to ADHD's known genetic association with psychiatric conditions treated by antidepressants.
The fifth-largest study, with more than 55 thousand children, similarly found an adjusted risk of 1.7 for SSRIs and an adjusted risk of 1.7 for an unmediated maternal psychiatric disorder. Again, the underlying psychiatric disorder appears to be confounding the effect of antidepressants.
The sixth-largest study, with over 38 thousand children, found no evidence of any effect from SSRIs. Yet it found evidence of a large effect from bupropion, with an odds ratio of 3.6, and only one in 50 odds of obtaining such a result by chance (p = 0.02). However, it offered no comparison with untreated depression and made no adjustments for potential confounders.
The case-control study found an odds ratio of 2.3 for maternal use of any antidepressant, which dropped to a statistically non-significant 1.6 when adjusted for a maternal psychiatric disorder (95% CI0.66-3.71).

July 10, 2021

High Dropout Rate in Six-Year Cohort Study of Medication Treatment for ADHD

High Dropout Rate in Six-Year Cohort Study of Medication Treatment for ADHD

Few studies have examined the safety and tolerability of ADHD medications (stimulants and atomoxetine) extending beyond six months, and none beyond a few years. A pair of Swedish neuroscientists at Uppsala University Hospital set out to explore longer-term outcomes. They conducted a six-year prospective study of 112 adults diagnosed with ADHD who were being treated with ADHD medications (primarily MPH, but also dexamphetamine and atomoxetine).


They found that at the end of that period, roughly half were still on medication, and half had discontinued treatment. There were no significant differences between the two groups in age, sex, ADHD severity, or comorbidity. The average ADHD score for the entire cohort declined to vary significantly, from a mean of 37 to a mean of 26, with less than one in a thousand odds of that being due to chance. There was also no sign of drug tolerance or a need to increase the dosage over time.
All 55 adults who discontinued treatment had taken MPH for at least part of the time. Eleven had also been treated with dexamphetamine(DEX) and 15 with atomoxetine (ATX). The average time on treatment was just under two years. Almost a third quit MPH because they perceived no beneficial effect. Since they were on average taking higher doses at discontinuation than initiation, that is unlikely to have been due to suboptimal dosage. Almost another third was discontinued for various adverse mental effects, including hyperactivity, elation, depressive moods, aggression, insomnia, fatigue, and lethargy. Another one in eleven quit when they lost contact with the prescribing physician. In the case of ATX, almost half quit because of what they perceived as adverse mental effects.


Among the 57 adults who remained on medication, four out of five reported a strong beneficial effect. Only two reported minimal or no effect. Compared with the group that discontinued, the group that remained on medication was far more likely to agree with the statements, "My quality of life has improved," and "My level of functioning has improved." Yet, as the authors caution, it is possible "that the subjects' subjective ratings contained a placebo-related mechanism in those who are compliant with the medication and pursue treatment over time." The authors reported that there were no significant differences in ADHD scores or ADHD severity between the group that quit and the group that remained on medication, even though, on average, the group that quit had been off medication for four years at follow-up.


We cannot explain why the patients who quit treatment showed similar levels of ADHD symptoms to those who continued treatment.  It is possible that some patients remit symptoms over time and do not require sustained treatment.  But we must keep in mind that there was a wide range of outcomes in both groups. Future work needs to find predictors of those who will do well after treatment withdrawal and those who do not.


Any decision on whether to maintain a course of medication should always weigh expected gains against adverse side effects. Short of hard evidence of continuing efficacy beyond two years, adverse events gain in relative importance. With that in mind, it is worth noting that this study reports that among those who remained on MPH, many reported side effects. More than a quarter complained of decreased appetite, one in four of dry mouth, one in five of anxiousness and increased heart rate, one in six of decreased sexual desire, one in nine of depressed mood, and one in eleven of insomnia.


This study breaks important ground in looking at the long-term effects of medication. It reaffirms findings elsewhere of the efficacy of ADHD medications. But contrary to the authors' conclusion, the data they present suggests the possibility that permanently medicating ADHD patients may not be more efficacious than discontinuation beyond a certain point, especially when balanced against adverse side effects.
But this is just one study with a relatively small sample size. This suggests a need for additional studies with larger sample sizes to pursue these questions with greater statistical reliability.

July 8, 2021

Bad eating habits in adults with ADHD

Bad eating habits in adults with ADHD

An Israeli team compared eating habits and body mass index(BMI) in adults with and without ADHD. They recruited 60 students from Hebrew University in Jerusalem between 20 and 30 years old. To avoid bias due to particular diets, the authors excluded vegetarians and vegans, as well as persons with chronic diseases that require altered diets, such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and chronic kidney disease. Twenty-nine of the participants had been diagnosed with ADHD.
All participants filled out the Food Frequency Questionnaire, a semi-quantitative scale querying about 119 food items. Based on World Health Organization guidelines, it distinguished between "healthy" items (such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and minimally processed foods)and "unhealthy" ones (such as cookies, processed meats, and other processed foods). The data obtained from the questionnaires were linked to a nutrient database to estimate daily nutrient intake. BMI was calculated from heights and weights reported by the students.
No significant differences were found between the two groups for servings, calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Yet, the ratio of healthy to unhealthy portions was significantly higher among controls than among those with ADHD. Those without ADHD consumed about a quarter more servings of healthy food and about a quarter fewer servings of unhealthy food.
On average, BMI levels were about 13 percent higher in participants with ADHD than among those without, meaning they were significantly more likely to be overweight. This finding is consistent with many prior studies.
The authors concluded, "Although participants in both groups consumed similar amounts of servings, calories, and nutrients, students with ADHD reported eating lower amounts of healthy food and higher amounts of unhealthy food. The results suggest that ADHD is not associated with general overeating, but with a biased proportion of unhealthy versus healthy food consumption."
They also recognized limitations to their study. One was a relatively small sample size and the fact that all participants were recruited from a single university. Another is that they did not try to fully evaluate the effects of medication, other than to note the absence of significant differences in food choices between those who used medication regularly and those who used it only occasionally. An unrecognized limitation was the exclusive reliance on self-reporting, both for food consumption, weight, and height.
Despite these limitations, this study is an important first step toward understanding the eating habits of people with ADHD.  It suggests to me that those treating ADHD should promote healthy lifestyles, as that should reduce ADHD's known risks of obesity and adverse medical outcomes.

July 2, 2021

ADHD, High Blood Pressure, and Diabetes

ADHDIs A Risk Factor For Type Two Diabetes And High Blood Pressure, As Well As Other Psychiatric Disorders

All Swedish residents have their health records tracked through unique personal identity numbers. That makes it possible to identify psychiatric and medical disorders with great accuracy across an entire population, in this case encompassing more than five and a half million adults aged 18 to 64. A subgroup of more than 1.6 million persons between the ages of 50 and 64 enabled a separate examination of disorders in older adults.
Slightly over one percent of the entire population (about 61,000) was diagnosed with ADHD at some point as an adult. Individuals with ADHD were nine times as likely to suffer from depression as were adults not diagnosed with ADHD. They were also more than nine times as likely to suffer from anxiety or a substance use disorder, and twenty times as likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  These findings are very consistent with reports from clinical samples in the USA and Europe.
Adults with ADHD also had elevated levels of metabolic disorders, being almost twice as likely to have high blood pressure, and more than twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes. Persons with ADHD but without psychiatric comorbidities were also almost twice as likely to have high blood pressure, and more than twice as likely to have type2 diabetes.
Similar patterns were found in men and women with ADHD, although comorbid depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety were moderately more prevalent in females than in males, whereas substance use disorder, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension were more prevalent in males than in females.
ADHD was less than a third as prevalent in the over-50 population as in the general adult population. Nevertheless, individuals in this older group with ADHD were twelve times as likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or substance use disorders, and more than 23 times as likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder as their non-ADHD peers. They were also 63% more likely to have high blood pressure, and 72% more likely to have type 2 diabetes.
The authors noted, "Although the mechanisms underlying these associations are not well understood, we know from both epidemiologic and molecular genetic studies that a shared genetic predisposition might account for the coexistence of two or more psychiatric conditions. In addition, individuals with ADHD may experience increased difficulties as the demands of life increase, which may contribute to the development of depression and anxiety." As for associations with hypertension and type 2 diabetes, these "might reflect health risk behaviors among adult patients with comorbid ADHD in addition to a shared biological substrate. As others have noted, inattention, disinhibition, and disorganization associated with ADHD could make it difficult for patients to adhere to treatment regimens for metabolic disorders." They concluded that "Clinicians should remain vigilant for a wide range of psychiatric and metabolic problems in ADHD affected adults of all ages and both sexes."

June 30, 2021

CDC: Prescriptions for ADHD Medications in Reproductive Age Women on Rise

CDC Reports increase in prescriptions for ADHD Medications in Reproductive Age Women

The CDC recently reported that ADHD medication use in women ages 15 to 44 increased from 0.9 percent to 4 percent from 2003 to 2015.  The most commonly used medications were formulations of amphetamine or methylphenidate.   This increase in treatment for ADHD suggests that educational programs such as adhdinadults.com have been effective in teaching clinicians how to identify and treat the disorder.   The 4 percent rate reported by the CDC is encouraging because it is close to what Ron Kessler and colleagues reported as the prevalence of adult ADHD in the population.   CDC correctly points out that little is known about the effects of ADHD medications on pregnancies. Thus, caution is warranted.
Oei et al.'s review of amphetamines concluded: "There is little evidence of amphetamine-induced neurotoxicity and long-term neurodevelopmental impact, as data is scarce and difficult to extricate from the influence of other factors associated with children living in households where one or more parent uses drugs in terms of poverty and neglect. ... We suggest that exposed children may be at risk of ongoing developmental and behavioral impediment, and recommend that efforts be made to improve early detection of perinatal exposure and to increase the provision of early intervention services for affected children and their families"
Bolea-Alamanac et al.'s review of methylphenidate effects concluded: "There is a paucity of data regarding the use of methylphenidate in pregnancy and further studies are required. Although the default medical position is to interrupt any non-essential pharmacological treatment during pregnancy and lactation, in ADHD this may present a significant risk. Doctors need to evaluate each case carefully before interrupting treatment." These words of caution should be heeded by clinicians caring for women of reproductive age.

June 28, 2021

How reliable are subjective estimates of ADHD medication adherence?

How reliable are subjective estimates of ADHD medication adherence?

A study conducted at Auburn University in Alabama recruited 54 college students to address this question. All had previously been diagnosed with ADHD. All lived independently, and all were taking prescribed ADHD medication. Students with severe comorbid psychiatric conditions were excluded. Three students dropped out, leaving a final sample size of 51.
Each student completed a total of four half-hour assessments, scheduled at monthly intervals. At each first assessment, researchers counted the participant's ADHD medication pills and transferred them to an electronic monitoring bottle-a bottle with a microchip sensor in the cap that automatically tracks the date and time of every opening. This enabled them to compare students' subjective estimates at subsequent assessments with the objective evidence from pill counts and the data output from the electronic monitoring bottles.
Overall, students reported missing about one in four (25 percent) of their prescribed doses. But the objective measures showed they were skipping closer to half their doses. According to pill counts, they were missing 40 percent of their doses, and according to the electronic monitoring bottles, 43 percent. The odds of obtaining such a result due to chance with a sample of size were less than one in a hundred (p < 0.01).
In other words, college students with ADHD significantly overestimate their adherence rates to their medications. The authors concluded, "without additional strategies in place, expecting adolescents and young adults with ADHD to remember a daily task that requires no more than a few seconds to accomplish, such as medication taking, is unrealistic. They suggest using smartphone reminder applications ("apps") and text messaging services.
The authors caution that this was the first such study and that it had a small sample size. Moreover, the study was not randomized. Students responded to advertisements posted on campus, and thus self-selected.
Pending the outcome of larger studies with randomization, the authors suggest that wherever possible, prescribing physicians adopt objective measures of medication adherence, as an aid in ensuring greater efficacy of treatment.

June 20, 2021

How To Best Manage ADHD During Pregnancy to Minimize Risk to Offspring

How can women best manage ADHD during pregnancy to minimize risk to their babies?

Roughly one in thirty adult women have ADHD. Research results indicate that psychostimulants (methylphenidate and amphetamines) offer the most effective course of treatment in most instances. But during pregnancy, such treatment also exposes the fetus to these drugs. Several studies have set out to determine whether such exposure is harmful.

The largest comparison was 5,571 infants exposed to amphetamines and 2,072 exposed to methylphenidate with unexposed infants. It found no increased risks for adverse outcomes due to amphetamine or methylphenidate exposures. Another study studied 3,331 infants exposed to amphetamines, 1,515 exposed to methylphenidate, and 453 to atomoxetine. Comparing these infants to unexposed infants, it found a slightly increased risk of preeclampsia, with an adjusted risk ratio of 1.29 (95% CI 1.11-1.49), but no statistically significant effect for placental abruption, small gestational age, and preterm birth. When assessing the two stimulants, amphetamine, and methylphenidate, together, it found a small increased risk of preterm birth, with an adjusted risk ratio of 1.3 (95% CI 1.10-1.55). There was a statistically significant effect for preeclampsia, placental abruption, or small gestational age. Atomoxetine use was free of any indication of increased risk.

Another study involving 1,591 infants exposed to ADHD medication (mostly methylphenidate) during pregnancy, reported increased risks associated with exposure. The adjusted odds ratio for admission to a neonatal intensive care unit was 1.5 (95% CI 1.3-1.7), and for the central nervous system, disorders were 1.9 (95% CI 1.1-3.1). There was no increased risk for congenital malformations or perinatal death.

Six studies focused on methylphenidate exposure. Two, with a combined total of 402 exposed infants, found no increased risk for malformations. Another, with 208 exposed infants, found a slightly greater risk of cardiovascular malformations, but it was not statistically significant. A fourth, with 186 exposed infants, found no increased risk of malformations but did find a higher rate of miscarriage, with an adjusted hazard ratio of 1.98(95% CI 1.23-3.20). A fifth, with 480 exposed infants, also found a higher rate of miscarriage, with an odds ratio of 2.07 (95% CI 1.51-2.84). But although the sixth, with 382 exposed infants, likewise found an increased risk of miscarriage (adjusted relative risk 1.55 with 95% CI1.03-2.06), it also found an identical risk for women with ADHD who were not on medication during their pregnancies (adjusted relative risk 1.56with 95% CI 1.11-2.20). That finding suggests that all women with ADHD have a higher risk of miscarriage, and that methylphenidate exposure is not the causal factor.

Summing up, while some studies have shown increased adverse effects among infants exposed to maternal ADHD medications, most have not. There are indications that higher rates of miscarriage are associated with maternal ADHD rather than fetal exposure to psychostimulant medications. One study did find a small increased risk of central nervous system disorders and admission to a neonatal intensive care unit. But, again, we do not know whether that was due to exposure to psychostimulant medication or associated with maternal ADHD. If there is a risk, it appears to be a small one.

The question then becomes how to balance that as yet uncertain risk against the disadvantage of discontinuing the effective psychostimulant medication. As the authors of this review conclude. It [ADHD] is associated with significant psychiatric comorbidities for women, including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, driving safety impairment, and occupational impairment. The gold standard treatment includes behavioral therapy and stimulant medication, namely methylphenidate and amphetamine derivatives. Psychostimulant use during pregnancy continues to increase and has been associated with a small increased relative risk of a range of obstetric concerns. However, the absolute increases in risks are small, and many of the best studies to date are confounded by other medication use and medical comorbidities.

Thus, women with moderate-to-severe ADHD should not necessarily be counseled to suspend their ADHD treatment based on these findings. They advise that when functional impairment from ADHD is moderate to severe, the benefits of stimulant medications may outweigh the small known and unknown risks of medication exposure, and that "If a decision is made to take ADHD medication, women should be informed of the known risks and benefits of the medication use in pregnancy, and take the lowest therapeutic dose possible."

June 18, 2021

What Are The Barriers To Understanding ADHD in Primary Care?

What are the barriers to understanding ADHD in primary care?

A newly-published systematic review by a British team identified48 qualitative and quantitative studies that explored "ADHD in primary care, including beliefs, understanding, attitudes, and experiences." The studies described primary care experiences in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore, Iran, Pakistan, Brazil, and South Africa.

More than three out of four studies identified deficits in education about ADHD. Of particular concern was the training of primary care providers (PCPs), most of whom received no specific training on ADHD. In most places, a quarter or less of PCPs received such training. Even when such training was provided, PCPs often rated it as inadequate and said they did not feel they could adequately evaluate children with ADHD.

There was even less training for adult ADHD. A 2009 survey of 194 PCPs in Pakistan found that ADHD was not included at all in medical training there and that most learned from colleagues. Half readily admitted to having no competence, and less than one in five were shown to have adequate knowledge about ADHD. In a 2009 survey of 229South African PCPs, only 7 percent reported adequate training in childhood ADHD, and a scant one percent in adult ADHD.

These problems were by no means limited to fewer developed countries. A 2001 U.K. survey of 150 general practitioners found that only 6percent of them had received formal ADHD training. In a 2002 study of 499Finnish PCPs, only half felt confident in their ability to diagnose ADHD. A2005 survey of 405 Canadian PCPs likewise found that only half reported skill and comfort in diagnosis. In a 2009 survey of 400 U.S. primary care physicians, only 13 percent said they had received adequate training. A 2017 study of Swiss PCPs found that only five of the 75 physicians in the sample expressed competence in diagnosis.

Eight studies explored knowledge of DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria and clinical guidelines among PCPs. Only a quarter of PCPs were using DSM criteria, and only one in five were using published guidelines. In a 1999 survey of 401 pediatricians in the U.S.and Canada, only 38 percent reported using DSM criteria. A 2004 survey of 723U. S. PCPs found only 44 percent used DSM criteria. In a 2006 UK study of 40general practitioners, only 22 percent were aware of ADHD criteria. In the same year, a survey of 235 U.S. physicians found that only 22 percent were familiar with ADHD guidelines, and 70 percent used child behavior in the office to make a diagnosis. More encouragingly, a 2010 U.S. study reported that the use of APA (American Psychological Association) guidelines by PCPs had expanded markedly between1999 and 2005, from one in eight to one in two.

Given these facts, it is unsurprising that many PCPs expressed a lack of confidence in treating ADHD. In a 2003 survey of 143 South African general practitioners, two-thirds thought it was difficult to diagnose ADHD in college students. A 2012 U.S. study of 1,216 PCPs found that roughly a third lacked confidence in diagnosis and treatment. More than a third said they did not know how to manage adult ADHD. In a 2015 survey of 59 physicians and138 nurses in the U.S., half lacked confidence in their ability to recognize ADHD symptoms. This was especially pronounced among the nurses. A 2001 U.K.survey of 150 general practitioners found that nine out of ten wanted further training on drug treatment, and more than one out of ten were unwilling to prescribe due to insufficient knowledge.

Misconceptions about ADHD were widespread. In a survey of380 U.S. PCPs, almost half thought ADHD medications were addictive, one in five thought ADHD was "caused by poor diet," more than one in seven thought "the child does it on purpose," and one in ten thought medications can cure ADHD. Some studies reported that many PCPs believed ADHD was related to the consumption of sugary food and drink. Others reported a gender bias. A 2002 U.S. study of395 PCPs found that when presented with boys and girls with parent-reported problems, they were significantly more likely to diagnose ADHD in boys.

A 2010 Iranian study of 665 PCPs found that 82 percent believed children adopted ADHD behavior patterns as a strategy to avoid obeying rules and doing assignments. One-third believed sugary food and drink contributed to ADHD. Only 6 percent believed it could be a lifelong condition. Half blamed dysfunctional families. The aforementioned large 2012 U.S. study similarly found that almost half of PCPs believed ADHD was caused by absent or bad parenting. More than half of 399 Australian PCPs surveyed in 2002 believed inadequate parenting played a key role. In a 2003 study of 48 general practitioners in Singapore, a quarter blamed sugar for ADHD. A 2014 survey of 57French pediatricians found that a quarter thought ADHD was a foreign construct imported into France, and 15 percent attributed it to bad parenting. In all, ten studies reported a widespread belief that ADHD was due to bad parenting, with ratios varying from over one in seven PCPs to more than half. They were particularly likely to attribute hyperactivity to dysfunctional families and to dismiss parents' views of hyperactivity as a medical problem as a way to deflect attention from inadequate parenting. While a third of the studies reported on stigma, the surprise was that it did not seem to play as big a role as expected. A 2012study in the Netherlands found that 74 physicians and 154 non-medical professionals matched by age, sex, and education showed no differences in the level of stigmatization toward ADHD.

On the other hand, the studies identified significant resource constraints limiting more effective understanding, diagnosis, and treatment. Given the complex nature of ADHD, the time required to gain relevant information, especially in the context of competing demands on the attention of PCPs, was a limiting factor. Many studies identified a need for better assessment tools, especially for adults.

Another major constraint was PCP's uneasiness about medication. Studies found a widespread lack of knowledge about treatment options, and more specifically the pros and cons of medication relative to other options. This often led to an unwillingness to prescribe.

Yet another limitation was the difficulties PCPs had in communicating with mental health specialists. One study found that less than one in six PCPs received communications from psychiatrists. Much of this was ascribed to "system failure": discontinuity of care, no central accountability, limited resources, buck-passing. Many PCPs were unsure who to turn to. Another problem is often faulty interactions between schools, parents, children, and providers. Parents often fail to keep appointments. Schools and parents often are less than cooperative in providing information. In a 2004 survey of 786 U.S. school nurses, less than half reported good levels of communication between schools and physicians. Schools and parents often apply pressure on PCPs to issue a diagnosis. In the U.S. survey of 723 PCPs, more than half reported strong pressure from teachers to diagnose ADHD, and more than two-thirds said they were under pressure to prescribe medication.

The authors noted, "The need for education was the most highly endorsed factor overall, with PCPs reporting a general lack of education on ADHD. This need for education was observed on a worldwide scale; this factor was discussed in over 75% of our studies, in 12 different countries, suggesting that lack of education and inadequate education was the main barrier to the understanding of ADHD in primary care.

"In addition, "time and financial constraints affect the opportunities for PCPs to seek extra training and education but also affect the communication with other professionals such as secondary care workers, teachers, and parents." The authors cautioned that only eleven of the 48 studies were published since 2010. Also, because it was a systematic review and not a meta-analysis, there was no way to evaluate publication bias.

They concluded, "Better training of PCPs on ADHD is, therefore, necessary but to facilitate this, dedicated time and resources towards education needs to be put in place by the service providers and local authorities."

June 16, 2021

Screening, Diagnosing and Managing ADHD in Children with Epilepsy

Guidelines for screening, diagnosing, and managing ADHD in children with epilepsy

A working group of the International League Against Epilepsy(ILAE), consisting of twenty experts spanning the globe (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Japan, India, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil), recently published "consensus paper" summarizing and evaluating what is currently known about comorbid epilepsy with ADHD, and best practices.

ADHD is two to five times more prevalent among children with epilepsy. The authors suggest that ADHD is underdiagnosed in children with epilepsy because its symptoms are often attributed either to epilepsy itself or to the effects of antiepileptic drugs (AEDs).

The working group did a systematic search of the English-language research literature. It then reached a consensus on practice recommendations, graded on the strength of the evidence.

Three recommendations were graded A, indicating they are well-established by evidence:
·        Children with epilepsy with comorbid intellectual and developmental disabilities are at increased risk of ADHD.
·        There is no increased risk of ADHD in boys with epilepsy compared to girls with epilepsy.
·        The anticonvulsant valproate can exacerbate attentional issues in children with childhood absence epilepsy (absence seizures look like staring spells during which the child is not aware or responsive). Moreover, a single high-quality population-based study indicates that valproate use during pregnancy is associated with inattentiveness and hyperactivity in offspring.

Four more were graded B, meaning they are probably useful/predictive:
·        Poor seizure control is associated with an increased risk of ADHD.
·        Data support the ability of the Strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) to predict ADHD diagnosis in children with epilepsy: "Borderline or abnormal SDQ total scores are highly correlated with the presence of a validated psychiatric diagnosis (93.6%), of which ADHD is the most common (31.7%)." The SDQ can therefore be useful as a screening tool.
·        Evidence supports the efficacy of methylphenidate in children with epilepsy and comorbid ADHD.
·        Methylphenidate is tolerated in children with epilepsy.

At the C level of being possibly useful, there is limited evidence that supports that atomoxetine is tolerated in children with ADHD and epilepsy and that the combined use of drugs for ADHD and epilepsy (polytherapy) is more likely to be associated with behavioral problems than monotherapy. In the latter instance, "Studies are needed to elucidate whether the polytherapy itself has resulted in the behavioral problems, or the combination of polytherapy and the underlying brain problem reflects difficult-to-control epilepsy, which, in turn, has resulted in the prescription of polytherapy."

All other recommendations were graded U (for Unproven), "Data inadequate or conflicting; treatment, test or predictor unproven." These included three where the evidence is ambiguous or insufficient:
·        Evidence is conflicted on the impact of early seizure onset on the development of ADHD in children with epilepsy.
·        Tolerability for amphetamine in children with epilepsy is not defined.
·        Limited evidence exists for the efficacy of atomoxetine and amphetamines in children with epilepsy and ADHD.

There were also nine U-graded recommendations based solely on expert opinion. Most notable among these:
·        Screening of children with epilepsy for ADHD beginning at age 6.
·        Reevaluation of attention function after any change in antiepileptic drug.
·        Screening should not be done within 48 hours following a seizure.
·        ADHD should be distinguished from childhood absence epilepsy based on history and an EEG with hyperventilation.
·        Multidisciplinary involvement in transition and adult ADHD clinics is essential as many patients experience challenges with housing, employment, relationships, and psychosocial wellbeing.

June 14, 2021

The State of the Art on Identifying and Treating Persons with Comorbid ADHD and Substance Use Disorders

The State of the Art on Identifying and Treating Persons with Comorbid ADHD and Substance Use Disorders

An international group of twelve experts recently published a consensus report examining the state of the evidence and offering recommendations to guide the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of individuals with ADHD-SUD comorbidity.[1]

In a clear sign that we are still in the early stages of understanding this relationship, five of the thirteen recommendations received the lowest recommendation grade (D), eight received the next-lowest (C), and none received the highest (A and B). The lower grades reflected the absence of the highest level of evidence, obtained from meta-analyses or systematic reviews of relevant randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

Nevertheless, with these limitations in mind, the experts agreed on the following points:

Diagnosis

  •  The strongest recommendation, the only one based on a 2+ level of evidence (well-conducted case-control or cohort studies with allowing risk of confounding or bias and a moderate probability that the relationship is causal) is that the "Short Version of the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS-SV) screener is currently the most widely used and investigated screening tool in individuals with ADHD and comorbid SUD, with good sensitivity and specificity across studies."
  • Two other recommendations were graded C: The diagnostic process should include current and past substance abuse, and seek to involve patners and relatives in evaluating symptoms and functional impairments.
  • Four recommendations got the lowest grade, D. The experts suggested starting the diagnostic process as soon as possible and focusing on drug- and alcohol-free periods in the patient's life during history taking. They also recommended that physicians and clinical psychologists should only make diagnoses if they have extensive training in diagnosing ADHD, as well as experience with adults with ADHD and with addiction care, and that they should consider treating adults with sufficiently severe ADHD symptoms.

Treatment

  •  In general, evidence was stronger in this area, and only one of the six recommendations was graded D. The other five recommendations were graded C, with the highest level of evidence being 2(cohort or case and control studies with undetermined risk of bias), although in three cases it was level 3 (non-analytical studies, such as case reports and case series).
  • The grade D recommendation was to always consider a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.

The grade C recommendations included considering adequate medical treatment of both ADHD and SUD; integrating ADHD treatment with SUD treatment as soon as possible;

June 2, 2021

Assessing Undertreatment and Misuse of ADHD Medications on Four Continents

Assessing undertreatment and misuse of ADHD medications on four continents

To what extent are ADHD medications insufficiently used to address properly diagnosed ADHD? To what extent are they misused by persons who are either undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed?
In search of answers, an international team of researchers from Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature and a meta-analysis of studies from four continents - South America, North America, Europe, and Australia.

The benchmarks set for proper ADHD diagnosis were any of the following:
·        Criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), confirmed by validated diagnostic instruments or clinical interviews.
·        Use of validated ADHD symptom scales with pre-specified thresholds.
·        Participants or caregivers affirming ADHD diagnosis by a physician.

Medications reviewed were those recommended by the majority of the international guidelines-both stimulant(methylphenidate, dexmethylphenidate, amphetamines), and non-stimulant (atomoxetine).
The team excluded studies relying on the insurance health system and third-party reimbursement datasets because the focus was on rates of ADHD medication use in the entire population rather than among individuals searching for treatment.
A meta-analysis of18 studies with a total of 3,311 children and adolescents properly diagnosed with ADHD in seven countries on four continents (Canada, United States, Australia, Brazil, Netherlands, England, Venezuela) found an overall pharmacological treatment rate of only 19%. There was considerable variation, with the highest treatment rates in the United States (frequently over 40%) and the lowest treatment rates in Brazil, Venezuela, and Canada (under 10%). There was no sign of publication bias.
A second meta-analysis pooled 14 studies with a total of 29,559 children and adolescents without a proper diagnosis of ADHD in five countries on four continents (United States, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, Netherlands). Roughly 1% were using ADHD medications. Again, there was considerable variation, with the highest rates of medication misuse being reported in the United States and Venezuela (3-7%). Again, there was no sign of publication bias.
The authors cautioned, "it is important to note that even though the data collected constitute the most comprehensive evidence available in the literature and response/completion rates observed are acceptable, it does not constitute a world representative sample." Also, the predominance of samples from prosperous countries "most certainly inflates the treatment rates due to the exclusion of a large proportion of the world population with significant financial, cultural, and health access barriers to ADHD treatment."
They concluded, "Despite these limitations, our meta-analysis provides evidence for substantial undertreatment of children and adolescents affected by ADHD in different countries. This is a relevant public health issue worldwide since ADHD under treatment is associated with known negative outcomes in education, healthcare, and productivity systems. At the same time, we found evidence of overtreatment/misuse in individuals without a formal ADHD diagnosis. This practice might expose individuals to undesirable side effects of medications, increased risk of medication misuse, and unmeasured costs for the health care system."

May 31, 2021

Does the Age of Onset Matter When Diagnosing ADHD in Older Adults?

Psychotherapy and ADHD: How a Harvard Professor Helped his Patients

Professor Larry Seidman is world-renowned for his neuropsychology and neuroimaging research. In addition to all of his creative science, he has found the time to create what he calls "Neuropsychological Informed Strategic Psychotherapy (NISP)in Teenagers and Adults with ADHD."

Let's start with what NISP is not. NISP is not cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT emphasizes teaching patients to identify thinking patterns that lead to problem behaviors. NISP describes how the interpersonal interaction we call psychotherapy can help patients increase self-regulation and self-control. NISP treatments vary in duration from brief psycho-educational interventions of one to five sessions to much longer-term therapies of indefinite duration. The duration of therapy is tailored to the needs and goals of the individual. The methods of NISP can be adaptively applied to well-known therapy modalities such as CBT and family therapy.

By creating a solid therapeutic alliance, NISP improves adherence to medications and addresses ADHD's psychiatric comorbidities and functional disabilities. NISP is "neuropsychological informed" because it follows a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment of strengths and weaknesses. This leaves the therapist with an understanding of the patient's personal experience of ADHD, the meaning of the disorder, how it affects self-esteem, and how cognitive deficits limit the ability to self-regulate and adapt to changing circumstances. Attending to the patient's strengths is a key feature of Prof. Seidman's method.

ADHD is a serious disorder and it usually has serious consequences. But ADHD people also have strong points in their character and their neuropsychological skills. These sometimes get lost in assessments of ADHD but, as Dr. Seidman indicates, by addressing strengths, patient outcomes can be improved. A NISP assessment also seeks to learn about the psychological themes that underlie each patient's story. He gives the all too common example of the patients who view themselves as failed children who have not tried hard enough to succeed.

A frank discussion of neuropsychological test results can be the first step to helping patients reconceptualize their past and move on to an adaptive path of self-understanding and self-regulation. Prof. Seidman's approach seems sensible and promising. As he recognizes, it has not yet, however, been subject to the rigorous tests of evidenced-based medicine. With this in mind, I would not recommend using it as a replacement for evidence-based treatment. That said, if you are a psychotherapist who treats ADHD people, read Prof. Seidman's paper. It will give you useful insights that will help your patients.

May 23, 2021

Other Myths About ADHD

OTHER MYTHS ABOUT ADHD

Myth: ADHD is an American disorder.
Those who claim ADHD is an American disorder believe that ADHD is due to the pressures of living in a fast-paced, competitive American society.   Some argue that if we lived in a simpler world, ADHD would not exist.  

Fact:  ADHD occurs throughout the world.

Wherever scientists have searched for ADHD, they have found it.  They have done this by going to different countries, and speaking to people in the community to diagnose them with or without ADHD.   These studies show that ADHD occurs throughout the world and that the percentage of people having ADHD does not differ between the United States and the rest of the world.   Examples of where ADHD has been found include  Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, The Netherlands, and Ukraine.   ADHD is not an American disorder.

Myth: A child who sits still to watch TV or play video games cannot have ADHD.
Many parents are puzzled that their child can sit still to watch TV or play video games for hours, but that same child cannot sit still for dinner or stay at their desk for long to do homework.  Are these children faking ADHD symptoms to get out of homework?

Fact:  ADHD does not necessarily interfere with playing video games or watching TV.

Because children cannot turn their ADHD on and off to suit their needs, it does seem odd that a child who is typically hyperactive and inattentive can sit for hours playing a video game.  But this ability of ADHD children fits in very well with scientific facts about ADHD. First, you probably understand the effects of rewards and punishment on behavior.  If your behavior is rewarded, you are likely to do it again.  If it is punished, you will avoid that behavior in the future.  Rewards that have the strongest effect on our behavior are large and will occur soon. For example, consider these two choices:
a)      if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $100 immediately after the lecture
b)      if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $110 one year after the lecture
Choice (a) is more appealing than choice (b).  Most people will not think it is worthwhile to wait one year for $10.  We say they have 'discounted' the $10 to $0.
Now consider the choices:
c)      if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $100 immediately after the lecture
d)     if you listen to a boring one-hour lecture, I will pay you $2,000 one year after the lecture

Choice (d) is more appealing than choice (c).  Most people will wait one year for$2,000.   It is obvious here is that if I want the best chance of having you watch a lecture, I should offer you a large sum of money immediately after the lecture. What is not so obvious is that people vary a great deal in the degree to which they are affected by rewards that are either small or distant in the future.   For some people, getting $2,000in one year is almost like getting nothing at all.  We say that such people are not sensitive to distant rewards.

What does this have to do with ADHD and video games?  Well, people with ADHD are usually not very sensitive to weak or distant rewards.  To affect the behavior of a person with ADHD, the reward needs to be immediate and fairly large.  When a child with ADHD sits down to do homework, the potential reward is getting a good grade on their report card, but they won't receive that grade for weeks or months, so it is very distant.  Thus, it is not surprising that the possibility of that reward cannot control the child's behavior.  In contrast, video games are created so that players are rewarded very frequently by winning points or completing one of the many levels one must pass to finally complete the game.  Because playing well is also rewarded by friends, the video game rewards are strong and immediate, which makes it easy for people with ADHD to sit still and play for long periods.

 Myth: ADHD disappears in adulthood.
Until the 1990s, it was commonly believed that children grew out of ADHD.  The reason for this is not clear.  Some theories about ADHD suggested that ADHD children had a lag in brain development, and that they would make up for that lag during adolescence.  So ADHD was seen as a delay in brain development that could be overcome.   The idea that children routinely recovered from ADHD was so strong that many insurance companies would not pay for the ADHD treatment of adults.

Fact: In the majority of cases, ADHD persists into adulthood.
This myth about ADHD has been proven wrong by studies that diagnosed ADHD in children and then examined it many years later than in adults.  These studies showed that, although there was some recovery from ADHD, about two-thirds of cases persisted into adulthood. The studies also taught us that ADHD symptoms tend to change with age.  The extreme and disruptive hyperactivity of many ADHD children gets somewhat better by adulthood, as do some symptoms of impulsivity.   In contrast, inattentive symptoms do not decrease much with age.

 Myth: People with ADHD cannot do well in school or succeed in life.
This myth is based on several facts: 1) ADHD affects many aspects of life; 2) ADHD impairs thinking and behavior and 3) for most people, ADHD is a lifelong disorder.   Altogether, doesn't this mean that people with ADHD won't succeed in life?

Fact: People with ADHD can succeed and live productive lives.
There are two reasons why people with ADHD can succeed in life. The first is obvious.  Although treatments for ADHD are not perfect, they can eliminate many of the obstacles that would otherwise make it difficult for ADHD patients to do well in school or on the job.  But, more importantly, having ADHD is only one of many facts about a person's life.   Some ADHD people have other skills or traits that help them compensate for their ADHD.  For example, if you have a high level of intelligence, an engaging personality, or excellent athletic skills, you can do well despite having ADHD.   Consider Michael Phelps, who broke so many Olympic swimming records. He was diagnosed with ADHD at age 9 and took Ritalin to help his hyperactivity.   James Carville has ADHD, but he completed law school and helped Bill Clinton become President of the United States.  Cammi Granato's ADHD did not stop her from becoming captain of the United  States Olympic ice hockey team, and Ty Pennington's ADHD did not stop him from becoming a  star on TV.

 Myth: ADHD does not affect highly intelligent people
The mistake behind this myth is that it assumes that being very intelligent protects people from having ADHD.  It's true that if you are highly intelligent, you can use that intelligence to compensate for some ADHD' effects, but does high intelligence completely protect a person from ADHD?

Fact: People with ADHD can succeed and live productive lives.
When my colleagues and I studied this question, we found clear evidence that high intelligence does not completely protect people from ADHD. Like people who don't have ADHD, having high intelligence will help Alderpeople do better than ADHD people who are not smart.  But when we compared highly intelligent Alderpeople with highly intelligent non-ADHD people, we found that the highly intelligent ADHD people had many of the impairing problems that are known to be associated with ADHD.  For details about these problems, see Complications of ADHD.  In another study, we compared ADHD adults who had received straight A grades in high school, with non-ADHD people who had achieved the same grades.  Despite their good grades, these ADHD adults were not doing as well in their jobs and not earning as much income as the non-ADHD adults.  And ADHD also has an impact at every level of education.  As you can see from the figure, even for people with college degrees, having ADHD lowers your chances of being employed.

May 19, 2021

Are Nonpharmacologic Treatments for ADHD Useful?

Are Nonpharmacologic Treatments for ADHD Useful?

There are several very effective drugs for ADHD, and those treatment guidelines from professional organizations view these drugs as the first line of treatment for people with ADHD. The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first line of treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available. Despite these guidelines, some parents and patients have been persuaded by the media or the Internet that ADHD drugs are dangerous and that non-drug alternative are as good or even better. Parents and patients may also be influenced by media reports that doctors overprescribe ADHD drugs or that these drugs have serious side effects. Such reports typically simplify and/or exaggerate results from the scientific literature. Thus, many patients and parents of ADHD children are seeking non-drug treatments for ADHD. What are these non-pharmacologic treatments and do they work? My next series of blogs will discuss each of these treatments in detail. Here I'll give an overview of my evidenced-based taxonomy of non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD described in more detail in a book I recently edited (Faraone, S. V. &Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.). I use the term "evidence-based" in the strict sense applied by the Oxford Center for Evidenced Based Medicine (OCEBM; http://www.cebm.net/). Most of the non-drug treatments for ADHD fall into three categories: behavioral, dietary, and neurocognitive. Behavioral interventions include training parents to optimize methods of reward and punishment for their ADHD child, teaching ADHD children social skills, and helping teachers apply principles of behavior management in their classrooms. Cognitive behavior therapy is a method that teaches behavioral and cognitive skills to adolescent and adult ADHD patients. Dietary interventions include special diets that exclude food coloring or eliminate foods believed to cause ADHD symptoms. Other dietary interventions provide supplements such as iron, zinc, or omega-3 fatty acids.  The neurocognitive interventions typically use a computer-based learning setup to teach ADHD patients cognitive skills that will help reduce ADHD symptoms. There are two metrics to consider when thinking about the evidence base for these methods. The first is the quality of the evidence. For example, a study of 10 patients with no control group would be a low-quality study, but a study of 100 patients randomized to either a treatment or control group would be of high quality and the quality would be even higher if the people's rating patient outcomes did not know who was in each group. The second metric is the magnitude of the treatment effect. Does the treatment dramatically reduce ADHD symptoms, or does it have only a small effect? This metric is only available for high-quality studies that compare people treated with the method and people treated with a 'control' method that is not expected to affect ADHD. I used a statistical metric to quantify the magnitude of the effect. Zero means no effect, and larger numbers indicate better effects on treating ADHD symptoms. For comparison, the effect of stimulant drugs for ADHD is about 0.9, which is derived from a very strong evidence base.  The effects of dietary treatments are smaller, about 0.4 to 0.5, but because the quality of the evidence is not strong, these results are not certain and the studies of food color exclusions apply primarily to children who have high intakes of such colorants. In contrast to the dietary studies, the evidence base for behavioral treatments is excellent, but the effects of these treatments on ADHD symptoms are very small, less than 0.1.  Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids also has a strong evidence base, but the magnitude of the effect is also small (0.1 to 0.2). The neurocognitive treatments have modest effects on ADHD symptoms (0.2 to 0.4) but their evidence base is weak. This review of non-drug treatments explains why ADHD drug treatments are usually used first. The evidence base is stronger, and they are more effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. There is, however, a role for some non-drug treatments. I'll be discussing that in subsequent blog posts. See more evidence-based information about ADHD at www.adhdinadults.com

May 17, 2021

Myths About the Treatment of ADHD

Myths About The Treatment of ADHD

Myth:  ADHD medications "anesthetize" ADHD children.
 
The idea here is that the drug treatment of ADHD is no more than a chemical straightjacket intended to control a child's behavior to be less bothersome to parents and teachers. After all, everyone knows that if you shoot up a person with tranquilizers, they will calm down.

Fact:  ADHD medications are neither anesthetics nor tranquilizers.

The truth of the matter is that most ADHD medications are stimulants. They don't anesthetize the brain; they stimulate it. By speeding up the transmission of dopamine signals in the brain, ADHD medications improve brain functioning, which in turn leads to an increased ability to pay attention and control behavior.  The non-stimulant medications improve signaling by norepinephrine. They also improve the brain's ability to process signals. They are not sedatives or anesthetics. When taking their medication, ADHD patients can focus and control their behavior to be more effective in school, work, and relationships.  They are not "drugged" into submission.

Myth: ADHD medications cause drug and alcohol abuse
We know from many long-term studies of ADHD children that when they reach adolescence and adulthood, they are at high risk for alcohol and drug use disorders. Because of this fact, some media reports have implied that their drug use was caused by treatment of their ADHD with stimulant medications.

Fact: ADHD medications do not cause drug and alcohol abuse
Some ADHD medications indeed use the same chemicals that are found in street drugs, such as amphetamine.  But there is a very big difference between these medications and street drugs. When street drugs are injected or snorted, they can lead to addiction, but when they are taken in pill form as prescribed by a doctor, they do not cause addiction. When my colleagues and I examined the world literature on this topic, we found that rather than causing drug and alcohol abuse, stimulant medicine protected ADHD children from these problems later in life. One study from researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital found that the drug treatment of ADHD reduced the risk for illicit drug use by84 a percent. These findings make intuitive sense. These medicines reduce the symptoms of the disorder that lead to illicit drug use. For example, an impulsive ADHD teenager who acts without thinking is much more likely to use drugs than an ADHD teen whose symptoms are controlled by medical drug treatment. After we published our study, other work appeared. Some of these studies did not agree that ADHD medications protected ADHD people from drug abuse, but they did not find that they caused drug abuse.

Myth:  Psychological or behavioral therapies should be tried before medication.  
Many people are cautious about taking medications, and that caution is even stronger when parents consider treatment options for their children.  Because medications can have side effects, shouldn't people with ADHD try to talk therapy before taking medicine?

Fact:  Treatment guidelines suggest that medication is the first-line treatment.
The problem with trying talk or behavior therapy before medication is that medication works much better.  For ADHD adults, one type of talk therapy(cognitive behavioral therapy) is recommended, but only when the patient is also taking medication.  The multimodal treatment of ADHD (MTA) study examined this issue in ADHD children from several academic medical centers in the United States. That study found that treating ADHD with medication was better than treating it with behavior therapy. Importantly, behavior therapy plus medication was no more effective than medication alone. That is why treatment guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Children and Adolescents recommend medicine as a first-line treatment for ADHD, except for preschool children. ADHD medications indeed have side effects, but these are usually mild and typically do not interfere with treatment.  And don't forget about the risks that a patient faces when they do not use medications for ADHD.  These untreated patients are at risk for worsening ADHD symptoms and complications.

Myth: Brain abnormalities of ADHD patients are caused by psychiatric medications
A large scientific literature shows that ADHD people have subtle problems with the structure and function of their brains.  Scientists believe that these problems are the cause of ADHD symptoms. Critics of ADHD claim that these brain problems are caused by the medications used to treat ADHD.  Who is right?

Fact: Brain abnormalities are found in never medicated ADHD patients.
Alan Zametkin, a scientist at the US National Institute of Mental Health, was the first to show brain abnormalities in ADHD patients who had never been treated for their ADHD.  He found that some parts of the brains of ADHD patients were underactive. His findings could not be due to medication because the patients had never been medicated. Since his study, many other researchers have used neuroimaging to examine the brains of ADHD patients. This work confirmed Dr. Zametkin’s observation of abnormal brain findings in unmediated patients. Reviews of the brain imaging literature have concluded that the brain abnormalities seen in ADHD cannot be attributed to ADHD medications.

May 15, 2021

Myths About The Diagnosis of ADHD

MYTHS ABOUT THE DIAGNOSIS OF ADHD

Myth: The ADHD diagnosis is very much "in the eye of the beholder."
This is one of many ways in which the ADHD diagnosis has been ridiculed in the popular media. The idea here is that because we cannot diagnose ADHD with an objective brain scan or a blood test, the diagnosis is "subjective" and subject to the whim and fancy of the doctor making the diagnosis.

Fact:  The ADHD diagnosis is reliable and valid.
The usefulness of a diagnosis does not depend on whether it came from a blood test, a brain test, or from talking to a patient. A test is useful if it is reliable, which means that two doctors can agree on who does and does not have the disorder, and if it is valid, which means that the diagnosis predicts something important to the doctor and patient, such as whether the patient will respond to a specific treatment. Many research studies show that doctors usually agree about who does and does not have ADHD. This is because we have very strict rules that one must use to make a diagnosis. Much work over many decades has also shown ADHD to be a valid diagnosis. For details see: Faraone, S. V. (2005). The scientific foundation for understanding attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as a valid psychiatric disorder. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 14, 1-10. The short story is that the diagnosis of ADHD is very useful for predicting what treatments will be effective and what types of problems ADHD patients are likely to experience in the future.

Myth: ADHD is not a medical disorder.  It's just the extreme of normal childhood energy
Mental health professionals use the term "disorder" to describe ADHD, but others argue that what we view as a disorder named ADHD is simply the extreme of normal childhood energy. After all, most healthy children run around and don't always listen to their parents. Doesn't the ADHD child or adult simply have a higher dose of normal behavior?

Fact: Doctors have good reasons to describe ADHD as a disorder
The idea that the extreme of normal behavior cannot be a disorder is naïve. Consider hypertension(high blood pressure). Everyone has blood pressure, but when blood pressure exceeds a certain value, doctors get worried because people with high values are at risk for serious problems, such as heart attacks. Consider depression. Everyone gets sad from time to time, but people who are diagnosed with depression cannot function in normal activities and, in the extreme, are at risk of killing themselves. ADHD is not much different from hypertension or depression. Many people will show some signs of ADHD at some times, but not all have a "disorder." We call ADHD a disorder not only because the patient has many symptoms, but also because that patient is impaired, which means that they cannot carry out normal life activities. For example, the ADHD child cannot attend to homework or the ADHD adult cannot hold a job, despite adequate levels of intelligence. Like hypertension, untreated ADHD can lead to serious problems such as failing in school, accidents, or an inability to maintain friendships. These problems are so severe that the center for Disease Control described ADHD as  "serious public health problem."

Myth: The ADHD diagnosis was developed to justify the use of drugs to subdue the behaviors of children.
This is one of the more bizarre myths about ADHD. The theory here is that to sell more drugs, pharmaceutical companies invented the diagnosis of ADHD to describe normal children who were causing some problems in the past.

Fact: ADHD was discovered by doctors long before ADHD medications were discovered.
People who believe this myth do not know the history of ADHD. In 1798, long before there were any drugs for ADHD, Alexander Crichton, a Scottish doctor, described a "disease of attention," which we would not call ADHD.ADHD symptoms were described by a German doctor, Heinrich Hoffman, in1845 and by a British doctor, George Still, in 1902. Each of these doctors found that inattentive and overactive behaviors could lead to a problem that should be of concern to doctors. If they had had medications to treat ADHD, they probably would have prescribed them to their patients. But a medication for ADHD was not discovered until 1937 and even then, it was discovered by accident. Dr. Charles Bradley from Providence, Rhode Island had been doing brain scanning studies of troubled children in a hospital school. The scans left the children with headaches that Dr. Bradley thought would be relieved by an amphetamine drug. When he gave this drug to the children after the scan, it did not help their headaches. However, the next day, their teachers reported that the children were attending and behaving much better in the classroom. Dr. Bradley had accidentally discovered that amphetamine was very helpful in reducing ADHD symptoms, and amphetamine drugs are commonly used to treat ADHD today. So, as you can see, the diagnosis of ADHD was not "invented" by anyone; it was discovered by doctors long before drugs for ADHD were known.

Myth: Brain scans or computerized tests of brain function can diagnose ADHD.
Someday, this myth may become fact, but for now, and shortly it is a solid myth. You may think this is strange. After all, we know that ADHD is a brain disorder and that neuroimaging studies have documented structural and functional abnormalities in the brains of patients with ADHD. If ADHD is a biological disorder, why don’t we have a biological test for the diagnosis?

Fact:  No brain test has been shown to accurately diagnose ADHD.
ADHD is a biologically based disorder, but there are many biological changes and each of these is so small that they are not useful as diagnostic tests. We also think that there are several biological pathways to ADHD. That means that not all ADHD patients will show the same underlying biological problems. So for now, the only officially approved method of diagnosing ADHD is by asking patients and/or their parents about ADHD symptoms as described in the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual

May 13, 2021

Does ADHD Medication Improve the Parenting Skills of Adults with ADHD?

Does ADHD Medication Improve the Parenting Skills of Adults with ADHD?

Raising children is not easy. I should know.

As a clinical psychologist, I've helped parents learn the skills they need to be better parents. And my experience raising three children confirmed my clinical experience.

Parenting is a tough job under the best of circumstances, but it is even harder if the parent has ADHD.

For example, an effective parent establishes rules and enforces them systematically. This requires attention to detail, self-control, and good organizational skills. Given these requirements, it is easy to see how ADHD symptoms interfere with parenting. These observations have led some of my colleagues to test the theory that treating ADHD adults with medication would improve their parenting skills. I know about two studies that tested this idea.

In 2008, Dr. Chronis-Toscano and colleagues published a study using a sustained-release form of methylphenidate for mothers with ADHD. As expected, the medication decreased their symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. The medication also reduced the mother's use of inconsistent discipline and corporal punishment and improved their monitoring and supervision of their children.

In a 2014 study, Waxmonsky and colleagues observed ADHD adults and their children in a laboratory setting once when the adults were off medication and once when they were on medication. They used the same sustained-release form of amphetamine for all the patients. As expected, the medications reduced ADHD symptoms in the parents. This laboratory study is especially informative because the researchers made objective ratings of parent-child interactions, rather than relying on the parents' reports of those interactions. Twenty parents completed the study. The medication led to less negative talk and commands and more praise by parents. It also reduced negative and inappropriate behaviors in their children.

Both studies suggest that treating ADHD adults with medication will improve their parenting skills. That is good news. But they also found that not all parenting behaviors improved. That makes sense. Parenting is a skill that must be learned. Because ADHD interferes with learning, parents with the disorder need time to learn these skills. Medication can eliminate some of the worst behaviors, but doctors should also provide adjunct behavioral or cognitive-behavioral therapies that could help ADHD parents learn parenting skills and achieve their full potential as parents.

May 7, 2021

How to Avoid False Positives and False Negatives when Diagnosing Adult ADHD

How to Avoid False Positives and False Negatives when Diagnosing Adult ADHD?

A recent paper by Margaret Sibley and colleagues addresses a key issue in the diagnosis of adult ADHD. Is it sufficient to only collect data from the patient being diagnosed or are informants useful or, perhaps, essential, for diagnosing ADHD in adults? Dr. Sibley presented a systematic review of twelve studies that prospectively followed ADHD children into adulthood. Each of these studies asked a simple question: What fraction of ADHD youth continued to have ADHD in adulthood. Surprisingly, the estimates of ADHD's persistence ranged from a low of4% to a high of 77%. They found two study features that accounted for much of this wide range. The first was the nature of the informant; did the study rely only on the patient's report, or were other informants consulted. The second was the use of a strict diagnostic threshold of six symptoms. When they limited the analysis to studies that used informants and eliminated the six symptom threshold, the range of estimates was much narrower, 40% to 77%. From studies that computed multiple measures of persistence using different criteria, the authors concluded: "(1) requiring impairment to be present for diagnosis reduced persistence rates; (2) a norm-based symptom threshold led to higher persistence than a strict six-symptom DSM-based symptom count criterion; and (3) informant reports tended to show a higher number of symptoms than self-reports." These data have clear implications for what clinicians can do to avoid false positive and false negative diagnoses when diagnosing adult ADHD. It is reassuring that the self-reports of ADHD patients tend to underestimate the number and severity of ADHD symptoms. This means that your patients are not typically exaggerating their symptoms. Put differently, self-reports will not lead you to over-diagnose adult ADHD. Instead, reliance on self-reports can lead to false-negative diagnoses, i.e., concluding that someone does not have ADHD when, in fact, they do. You can avoid false negatives by doing a thorough assessment, which is facilitated by some tools available at www. ADHD in adults. Command described in CME videos there. If you think a patient might have ADHD but are not certain, it would be helpful to collect data from an informant, i.e., someone who knows the patient well such as a spouse, partner, roommate, or parent. You can collect such data by sending home a rating scale or by having the patient bring an informant to a subsequent visit. Dr. Sibley's paper also shows that you can avoid false-negative diagnoses by using a lower symptom threshold than what is required in the diagnostic manual. The new DSM 5 lowered the symptom threshold for adults from six to five. Can you go lower? Yes, but it is essential to show that these symptoms lead to clear impairments in living. Importantly, this symptom threshold refers to the number of symptoms documented in adulthood, not to the number of symptoms retrospectively reported in childhood. To be diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, one must document that the patient had at least six impairing symptoms of ADHD before the age of 12.

April 29, 2021

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Fact vs. Fiction

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Fact vs. Fiction

Many myths have been manufactured about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Facts that are clear and compelling to most scientists and doctors have been distorted or discarded from popular media discussions of the disorder.   Sometimes, the popular media seems motivated by the maxim "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."  That's fine for storytellers, but it is not acceptable for serious and useful discussions about ADHD.

Myths about ADHD are easy to find.  These myths have confused patients and parents and undermined the ability of professionals to appropriately treat the disorder.   When patients or parents get the idea that the diagnosis of ADHD is a subjective invention of doctors, or that ADHD medications cause drug abuse, that makes it less likely they will seek treatment and will increase their chances of having adverse outcomes. 

Fortunately, as John Adams famously said of the Boston Massacre, "Facts are stubborn things."  And science is a stubborn enterprise; it does not tolerate shoddy research or opinions not supported by fact.   ADHD scientists have addressed many of the myths about the disorder in the International Consensus Statement on ADHD, a published summary of scientific facts about ADHD endorsed by 75 international ADHD scientists in2002.  The statement describes evidence for the validity of ADHD, the existence of genetic and neurobiological causes for the disorder, and the range and severity of impairments caused by the disorder.   

The Statement makes several key points:

  • The     U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, the American     Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the     American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize ADHD as a valid disorder.
  • ADHD     involves a serious deficiency in a set of psychological abilities, and these deficiencies pose serious harm to most individuals possessing the disorder.
  • Many studies show that the psychological deficits in people with ADHD are associated with abnormalities in several specific brain regions.
  • The genetic contribution to ADHD is routinely found to be among the highest for any psychiatric disorder.
  • ADHD     is not a benign disorder. For those it afflicts, it can cause devastating problems.

The facts about ADHD will prevail if you take the time to learn about them. This can be difficult when faced with a media blitz of information and misinformation about the disorder. In future blogs, I'll separate the fact from the fiction by addressing several popular myths about ADHD.

April 25, 2021

What is Evidenced Based Medicine?

What is Evidenced Based Medicine?

With the growth of the Internet, we are flooded with information about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder from many sources, most of which aim to provide useful and compelling "facts" about the disorder.  But, for the cautious reader, separating fact from opinion can be difficult when writers have not spelled out how they have come to decide that the information they present is factual. 

My blog has several guidelines to reassure readers that the information they read about ADHD is up-to-date and dependable. They are as follows:

Nearly all the information presented is based on peer-reviewed publications in the scientific literature about ADHD. "Peer-reviewed" means that other scientists read the article and made suggestions for changes and approved that it was of sufficient quality for publication. I say "nearly all" because in some cases I've used books or other information published by colleagues who have a reputation for high-quality science.

When expressing certainty about putative facts, I am guided by the principles of evidence-based medicine, which recognizes that the degree to which we can be certain about the truth of scientific statements depends on several features of the scientific papers used to justify the statements, such as the number of studies available and the quality of the individual studies. For example, compare these two types of studies.  One study gives drug X to 10 ADHD patients and reported that 7 improved.  Another gave drug Y to 100 patients and a placebo to 100 other patients and used statistics to show that the rate of improvement was significantly greater in the drug-treated group. The second study is much better and much larger, so we should be more confident in its conclusions. The rules of evidence are fairly complex and can be viewed at the Oxford Center for Evidenced Based Medicine (OCEBM;http://www.cebm.net/).


The evidenced-based approach incorporates two types of information: a) the quality of the evidence and b) the magnitude of the treatment effect. The OCEBM levels of evidence quality are defined as follows (higher numbers are better:

  1. Mechanism-based reasoning.  For example, some data suggest that oxidative stress leads to ADHD, and we know that omega-3 fatty acids reduce oxidative stress. So there is a reasonable mechanism whereby omega-3 therapy might help ADHD people.
  2. Studies of one or a few people without a control group, or studies that compare treated patients to those that were not treated in the past.

Non-randomized, controlled studies.    In these studies, the treatment group is compared to a group that receives a placebo treatment, which is a fake treatment not expected to work.  

  1. Non-randomized means that the comparison might be confounded by having placed different types of patients in the treatment and control groups.
  2. A single randomized trial.  This type of study is not confounded.
  3. Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. This means that many randomized trials have been completed and someone has combined them to reach a more accurate conclusion.

It is possible to have high-quality evidence proving that a treatment works but the treatment might not work very well. So it is important to consider the magnitude of the treatment effect, also called the "effect size" by statisticians. For ADHD, it is easiest to think about ranking treatments on a ten-point scale. The stimulant medications have a quality rating of 5 and also have the strongest magnitude of effect, about 9 or 10.Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation 'works' with a quality rating of 5, but the score for the magnitude of the effect is only 2, so it doesn't work very well. We have to take into account patient or parent preferences, comorbid conditions, prior response to treatment, and other issues when choosing a treatment for a specific patient, but we can only use an evidence-based approach when deciding which treatments are well-supported as helpful for a disorder.

April 23, 2021

How do Stimulants Modulate the Brain to Improve ADHD Symptoms?

How do Stimulants Modulate the Brain to Improve ADHD Symptoms?

The stimulants methylphenidate and amphetamine are well known for their efficacy in treating symptoms of ADHD in both youth and adults.   Although these medications have been used for several decades, relatively little is known about the mechanisms of action that lead to their therapeutic effect.    

New data about the mechanism comes from a meta-analysis by Katya Rubia and colleagues. They analyzed 14 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data sets comprising 212 youth with ADHD.  Each of these data sets assessed the short-term effects of stimulants on fMRI-assessed brain activations. In the fMRI paradigm, ADHD and control participants are asked to do a neurocognitive task while the activity of their brains is being measured. Dr. Rubia and colleagues analyzed data from fMRI assessments of time discrimination, inhibition, and working memory, each of which is known to be deficient in ADHD patients.    

The meta-analysis found that the most consistent brain activations were seen in a region comprising the right inferior frontal cortex(IFC) and insula, even when the analysis was limited to previously medication-naïve patients. The implicated region of the brain is known to mediate cognitive control, time estimation, and attention.  Dr.Rubia also notes that other studies show that the IFC/Insula is needed for updating information and allocating attention to relevant stimuli.  

Another region implicate by the meta-analysis was the right putamen, a region that is rich in dopamine transporters. This finding is consistent with the fact that the dopamine transporter is the main target of stimulant medications.    

What is the potential clinical implication of these findings?  As Dr. Rubia and colleagues note, it is possible that the fMRI anomalies they identified could be used as a biomarker for ADHD or a biomarker to select patients who should respond optimally to stimulant medication. Although fMRI cannot be used as a clinical tool at this time, research of this sort is opening up new horizons for how we understand the etiology of ADHD and the mechanisms whereby medications exert their effects.

April 21, 2021

Can ADHD be a Deadly Disorder?

Can ADHD be a Deadly Disorder?

In the world of research, it is unusual for a single study to be definitive. A possible exception is a recent report in the highly esteemed Lancet, which concluded that people diagnosed with ADHD were about two times more likely to die early than people without ADHD. The data came from the medical registers of Denmark that include1.92 a million people, of which 32,061 have ADHD. The registers included the times and causes of deaths spanning 32 years.

It is a remarkable resource. We know that people with very severe ADHD are at high risk for substance use disorders and antisocial behaviors. In the Danish study, these disorders also increased the risk for premature death, but the risk was even higher if people with those disorders also had ADHD. ADHD also increased the risk for early death among people without these extra problems. This latter finding points to an ADHD-specific pathway to premature death. What is it?  Well, we know that ADHD people are at risk for injuries, traffic accidents, and traumatic brain injury.  We don't know for certain why, but two symptom clusters of ADHD, inattention, and impulsivity, would be expected to increase the risk for accidents and injuries. For example, adults who are distracted while driving are clearly at risk for accidents. Accidents accounted for most of the early deaths in the Danish study. But the study also found an increase in natural causes of death due to having ADHD. This may be due to the well-replicated association between ADHD and obesity, or the possibility that ADHD symptoms lead to poor health habits.

In the Danish study, the mean age at diagnosis was 12.3, which means that many of the ADHD people in the study were not treated for many years after the onset of symptoms. The risk for early death increased with the age at diagnosis. This suggests that failing to diagnose and treat ADHD early makes the disorder worse and increases the risk for the types of behaviors that lead to premature death. Will these data change public policy or clinician behavior? I hope so. Perhaps the media will stop trivializing ADHD and accept it as a bona fide disorder in need of early identification and treatment.  Policymakers should allocate ADHD people their fair share of healthcare and research resources. For clinicians, early identification and treatment should become the rule rather than the exception.

Talk of premature death will worry parents and patients. That is understandable, but such worries can be alleviated by focusing on two facts: the absolute risk for premature death is low, and this risk can be greatly reduced by seeking and adhering to evidence-based treatments for the disorder.

April 13, 2021

The Goal of ADHD Diagnosis? Safe and Effective Treatment

The Goal of ADHD Diagnosis? Safe and Effective Treatment

The diagnosis of ADHD should only be done by a licensed clinician, and that clinician should have one goal in mind: to plan a safe and effective course of evidence-based treatment. The infographic gives a summary of this diagnostic approach which my colleagues and I prepared for our "Primer" about ADHD,http://rdcu.be/gYyV.  A key point that parents of ADHD youth and adults with ADHD should keep in mind is that there is only one way to diagnose ADHD.An expert clinician must document the criteria for the disorder as specified by either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which is now in its fifth edition (DSM-5), or the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). The two sets of criteria are nearly identical. These criteria are most commonly applied by a clinician asking questions of the parent (for children) and/or patient (for adolescents and adults).For children, information from the teacher can be useful. Some clinicians get this information by having the parent ask the teacher to fill out a rating scale. This information can be very useful if it is available.  When diagnosing adults, it is also useful to collect information from a significant other, which can be a parent for young adults or a spouse for older adults. But when such informants are not available, diagnosing ADHD based on the patient's self-report is valid. As the infographic indicates, any diagnosis of ADHD should also assess for comorbid psychiatric disorders, as these have implications for which ADHD medications will be safe and effective. And because a prior history of cardiovascular disease or seizures frequently contraindicate stimulants. These must also be assessed.

April 9, 2021

Adult Onset ADHD: Does it Exist? Is it Distinct from Youth Onset ADHD?

Adult Onset ADHD: Does it Exist? Is it Distinct from Youth Onset ADHD?

There is a growing interest (and controversy) in 'adult-onset ADHD. No current diagnostic system allows for the diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood, yet clinicians sometimes face adults who meet all criteria for ADHD, except for age at onset. Although many of these clinically referred adult-onset cases may reflect poor recall, several recent longitudinal population studies have claimed to detect cases of adult-onset ADHD that showed no signs of ADHD as a youth (Agnew-Blais, Polanczyk et al. 2016, Caye, Rocha, et al. 2016). They conclude, not only that ADHD can onset in adulthood, but that childhood-onset and adult-onset ADHD may be distinct syndromes(Moffitt, Houts, et al. 2015)

In each study, the prevalence of adult-onset ADHD was much larger than the prevalence of childhood-onset adult ADHD). These estimates should be viewed with caution.  The adults in two of the studies were 18-19 years old.  That is too small a slice of adulthood to draw firm conclusions. As discussed elsewhere (Faraone and Biederman 2016), the claims for adult-onset ADHD are all based on population as opposed to clinical studies.
Population studies are plagued by the "false positive paradox", which states that, even when false positive rates are low, many or even most diagnoses in a population study can be false.  

Another problem is that the false positive rate is sensitive to the method of diagnosis. The child diagnoses in the studies claiming the existence of adult-onset ADHDused reports from parents and/or teachers but the adult diagnoses were based on self-report. Self-reports of ADHD in adults are less reliable than informant reports, which raises concerns about measurement error.   Another longitudinal study found that current symptoms of ADHD were under-reported by adults who had had ADHD in childhood and over-reported by adults who did not have ADHD in childhood(Sibley, Pelham, et al. 2012).   These issues strongly suggest that the studies claiming the existence of adult-onset ADHD underestimated the prevalence of persistent ADHD and overestimated the prevalence of adult-onset ADHD.  Thus, we cannot yet accept the conclusion that most adults referred to clinicians with ADHD symptoms will not have a history of ADHD in youth.

The new papers conclude that child and adult ADHD are "distinct syndromes", "that adult ADHD is more complex than a straightforward continuation of the childhood disorder" and that adult ADHD is "not a neurodevelopmental disorder". These conclusions are provocative, suggesting a paradigm shift in how we view adulthood and childhood ADHD.   Yet they seem premature.  In these studies, people were categorized as adult-onset ADHD if full-threshold add had not been diagnosed in childhood.  Yet, in all of these population studies, there was substantial evidence that the adult-onset cases were not neurotypical in adulthood (Faraone and Biederman 2016).  Notably, in a study of referred cases, one-third of late adolescent and adult-onset cases had childhood histories of ODD, CD, and school failure(Chandra, Biederman, et al. 2016).   Thus, many of the "adult onsets" of ADHD appear to have had neurodevelopmental roots. 

Looking through a more parsimonious lens, Faraone and Biederman(2016)proposed that the putative cases of adult-onset ADHD reflect the existence of subthreshold childhood ADHD that emerges with full threshold diagnostic criteria in adulthood.   Other work shows that subthreshold ADHD in childhood predicts onsets of full-threshold ADHD in adolescence(Lecendreux, Konofal, et al. 2015).   Why is onset delayed in subthreshold cases? One possibility is that intellectual and social supports help subthreshold ADHD youth compensate in early life, with decompensation occurring when supports are removed in adulthood or the challenges of life increase.  A related possibility is that the subthreshold cases are at the lower end of a dimensional liability spectrum that indexes risk for onset of ADHD symptoms and impairments.  This is consistent with the idea that ADHD is an extreme form of a dimensional trait, which is supported by twin and molecular genetic studies(Larsson, Anckarsater, et al. 2012, Lee, Ripke, et al. 2013).  These data suggest that disorders emerge when risk factors accumulate over time to exceed a threshold.  Those with lower levels of risk at birth will take longer to accumulate sufficient risk factors and longer to onset.

In conclusion, it is premature to accept the idea that there exists an adult-onset form of ADHD that does not have its roots in neurodevelopment and is not expressed in childhood.   It is, however, the right time to carefully study apparent cases of adult-onset ADHD to test the idea that they are late manifestations of a subthreshold childhood condition.

April 7, 2021

ADHD Treatment Decision Tree

ADHD Treatment Decision Tree

If you've ever wondered how experts make treatment recommendations for patients with ADHD, take a look at this ADHD treatment decision tree that my colleagues and I constructed for our "Primer" about ADHD,http://rdcu.be/gYyV.  Although a picture is worth a thousand words, keep in mind that this infographic only gives the bare bones of a complex process. That said, it is telling that one of the first questions an expert asks is if the patient has a comorbid condition that is more severe than ADHD. The rule of thumb is to treat the more severe disorder first and after that condition has been stabilized plan a treatment approach for the other condition. Stimulants are typically the first-line treatment due to their greater efficacy compared with non-stimulants. When considering any medication treatment for ADHD, safety is the first concern, which is why medical contraindications to stimulants, such as cardiovascular issues or concerns about substance abuse, must be considered. For very young children (preschoolers) family behavior therapy is typically used before medication. Clinicians also must deal with personal preferences.  Some parents and some adolescents and adults with ADHD simply don't want to take stimulant medications for the disorder. When that happens, clinicians should do their best to educate them about the costs and benefits of stimulant treatment.  If, as is the case for most patients, the doctor takes the stimulant arm of the decision tree, he or she must next decide if methylphenidate or amphetamine is more appropriate. Here there is very little guidance for doctors. Amphetamine compounds are a bit more effective, but can lead to greater side effects.  Genetic studies suggest that a person's genetic background provides some information about who will respond well to methylphenidate, but we are not yet able to make very accurate predictions. After choosing the type of stimulant, the doctor must next consider what duration of action is appropriate for each patient. There is no simple rule here; the choice will depend upon the specific needs of each patient. Many children benefit from longer-acting medications to get them through school, homework, and late afternoon/evening social activities. Likewise for adults. But many patients prefer shorter-acting medications, especially as these can be used to target specific times of day and can also lower the burden of side effects.  For patients taking down the non-stimulant arm of the decision tree, duration is not an issue but the patient and doctor must choose from among two classes of medications norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or alpha-2-agonists. There are not a lot of good data to guide this decision but, again, genetics can be useful in some cases. Regardless of whether the first treatment is a stimulant or a non-stimulant, the patient's response must be closely monitored as there is no guarantee that the first choice of medication will work out well. In some cases, efficacy is low or adverse events are high. Sometimes this can be fixed by changing the dose, and sometimes a trial of a new medication is indicated. If you are a parent of a child with ADHD or an adult with ADHD, this trial and error approach can be frustrating. But don't lose hope. In the end, most ADHD patients find a dose and a medication that works for them.Last but not least, when medication leads to a partial response, even after adjusting doses and trying different medication types, doctors should consider referring the patient for a non-pharmacologic ADHD treatment. You can read details about these in my other blogs, but here the main point is to find an evidence-based treatment. For children, the biggest evidence base is for behavioral family therapy. For adults, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is the best choice.  Except for preschoolers, the experts I worked with on this infographic did not recommend these therapies before medication treatment. The reason is that the medications are much more effective, and many non-pharmacologic treatments (such as CBT) have no data indicating they work well in the absence of medication.

April 3, 2021

What is Sluggish Cognitive Tempo and is it Relevant to ADHD?

What is Sluggish Cognitive Tempo and is it Relevant to ADHD?

Over the past few decades, a consensus has emerged among psychopathologists that some patients exhibit a well-defined syndrome referred to as sluggish cognitive tempo or SCT.

There are no diagnostic criteria for SCT because it has not yet been accepted as a separate disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. People with SCT are slow-moving, indolent, and mentally muddled. They often appear to be lost in thoughts, daydreaming, drowsy or listless. In reviewing these symptoms and the literature, Barkley suggested that SCT be referred to as Concentration Deficit Disorder (CDD). This term is less pejorative, but is not yet commonly used.

Becker and colleagues recently evaluated the internal and external validity of SCT via a meta-analysis of 73 studies. Internal validity addresses the consistency of SCT symptoms as a measure of an underlying construct. Based on factor analytic studies using more than 19,000 participants, the authors concluded that the items purported to measure SCT are sufficiently correlated with one another to justify the idea that they measure the same underlying construct. Further support for internal validity was found in studies reporting high test-retest and interrater reliability. As regards ADHD, the authors found that SCT correlated significantly with both inattentive (r = 0.72) and hyperactive-impulsive (r = 0.46) symptoms in adults. The greater correlation with inattentive symptoms makes sense given the nature of SCT symptoms. So these data confirm two key points about SCT: 1) it is associated with ADHD symptoms, and 2) it is a meaningful construct in its own right. Very little is known about the implications of SCT for the treatment of ADHD.  In a naturalistic study of 88 children and adolescents with ADHD, Ludwig and colleagues examined the effect of SCT on the response of ADHD symptoms to methylphenidate. They found no significant differences in treatment response between subjects with and without SCT. McBurnett and colleagues tested the effects of atomoxetine on SCT in children with ADHD and dyslexia (ADHD+D) or dyslexia only. Atomoxetine treatment led to significant reductions in both ADHD symptoms and SCT outcomes. Because controlling for changes in ADHD symptoms did not predict changes in SCT outcomes, the authors concluded that change in SCT in response to atomoxetine is mostly independent of change in ADHD. Although these data are preliminary and in need of replication, they do provide some guidance for clinicians dealing with ADHD patients who also have SCT.

March 26, 2021

Does Obesity Directly Contribute to Risk of ADHD in Offspring?

Does Acetaminophen use During Pregnancy Cause ADHD in Offspring?

Many media outlets have reported on a study suggesting that mothers who use acetaminophen during pregnancy may put their unborn child at risk for ADHD. Given that acetaminophen is used in many over-the-counter painkillers, correctly reporting such information is crucial. As usual, rather than relying on one study, looking at the big picture using all available studies is best. Because it is not possible to examine this issue with a randomized trial, we must rely on naturalistic studies.

One registry study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24566677)reported that fetal exposure to acetaminophen predicted an increased risk of ADHD with a risk ratio of 1.37. The risk was dose-dependent, in the sense that it increased with increased maternal use of acetaminophen. Of particular note, the authors made sure that their results were not accounted for by potential confounds (e.g., maternal fever, inflammation, and infection). Similar results were reported by another group (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251831), which also showed that the risk for ADHD was not predicted by maternal use of aspirin, antacids, or antibiotics. But that study only found an increased risk at age 7 (risk ratio = 2.0) not at age 11. In a Spanish study, (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27353198), children exposed prenatally to acetaminophen were more likely to show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity later in life. The risk ratio was small (1.1) but it increased with the frequency of prenatal acetaminophen use by their mothers.

We can draw a few conclusions from these studies. There does seem to be aweak, yet real, the association between maternal use of acetaminophen while pregnant and subsequent ADHD or ADHD symptoms in the exposed child. The association is weak in several ways: there are not many studies, they are all naturalistic, and the risk ratios are small. So mothers that have used acetaminophen during pregnancy and have an ADHD child should not conclude that their acetaminophen usecausedtheir child's ADHD. On the other hand, pregnant women who are considering the use of acetaminophen for fever or pain should discuss other options with their physician. As with many medical decisions, one must balance competing for risks to make an informed decision.

Find more evidence-based blogs at www.adhdinaduls.com.

March 14, 2021

Stigma: Public attitudes towards children and adults with ADHD

Stigma: Public attitudes towards children and adults with ADHD

To gauge the extent of stigma towards persons with ADHD, a European research team hired a company specialized in market and social research to conduct a poll of some five thousand randomly selected Germans. Just over a thousand completed the interview, representing a response rate of only one in five. The team acknowledged, "Although non-responder bias has to be considered to be important, ethical considerations prohibited the collection of any detailed information on non-respondents." The sample had slightly more women and elderly persons, and a higher average level of educational attainment relative to the German population as a whole. Sampling weights we reused to compensate for these discrepancies.

The poll relied on computer-assisted telephone interviews. Interviews began with prerecorded vignettes of either an a12-year-old child or a 35-year-old adult exhibiting core symptoms of ADHD (such as "careless mistakes in schoolwork," "does not follow through on instructions," easily distracted by extraneous stimuli, "loses things", "leaves his place in the classroom or when sitting at the dining table"). Half of those interviewed were presented with child vignettes and half with adult vignettes. The gender of the person described varied randomly.

On a scale of one to five, respondents were asked to indicate levels of agreement with two statements: 1. "Basically, we are all sometimes like this person. It's just a question of how pronounced this state is." 2. "All in all, the problems of Robert / Anne are abnormal." For both child and adult vignettes, two out of three respondents agreed that "we are all sometimes like this person." One in three respondents considered the problems depicted in the child vignettes as abnormal. That dropped to one in four in the adult vignettes.

Next, respondents were asked whether they ever had a problem like this and whether someone among their family or close friends ever had to deal with such a problem. For both vignettes, one in four acknowledged having had a problem like this, and half said a close friend or family member had such a problem.

On the assumption that "negative emotional reactions are an important consequence of negative stereotypes, leading to separation, discrimination and status loss," respondents were probed for their specific emotional reactions. "I feel annoyed," " react angrily," and" provokes my incomprehension" were interpreted as indicating varying levels of anger. "Provokes fear" and "Makes me feel insecure" were seen as indicating fear. "I feel uncomfortable" was viewed as indicating somewhere between fear and anger. On the other hand, "I feel the need to help," "I feel pity," and "I feel sympathy" were interpreted as "pro-social" responses.

Pro-social reactions were by far the most common. Over two-thirds felt a need to help a child, and over half to help an adult, in such a situation. In both instances, almost half felt sympathy, and a half or more felt pity. On the other hand, a quarter of respondents in each case felt annoyed, and just under one in five felt uncomfortable. Almost one in seven reacted angrily to the child vignette, and almost one in six to the adult vignette. Fear was the least frequent emotional reaction.

In the case of adults, respondents were also asked about their willingness to accept the person described in the vignette in seven social situations:

·      Working together
·      As a neighbor
·      Marrying into the family
·      Introducing to a friend
·      Renting a room
·      Recommending for a job
·      Taking care of children

While three out of four respondents were willing to accept such persons as co-workers, only one in three would recommend them for a job. Two out of three would accept such persons as neighbors, and almost as many to marry into the family. Three out of five would very willingly introduce such persons to friends. Slightly over half would rent a room to them. But less than one in three would be willing to have such individuals take care of their children.

Older respondents were more likely to see the problems as "abnormal" and to seek greater social distance. Women, and respondents with higher levels of education, were less likely to see the problems as abnormal and more likely to respond in pro-social ways.

Though showing most Germans to be accepting of persons with ADHD, these findings still indicate a significant degree of stigma, though less than for other psychiatric conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, or alcohol dependence.

March 10, 2021

Comorbidities and Risk of Premature Death in Individuals With ADHD

How do psychiatric comorbidities affect risk of premature death among children and adults with ADHD?

The Nordic countries maintain detailed registers of their inhabitants. This enables researchers to examine patterns over entire nations. An international research team used the Swedish national registers for a prospective cohort study of 2,675,615 persons in the Medical Birth Register born in Sweden over a 27-year period from January 1, 1983, through December 31, 2009. Follow-up was completed in December 2013, with the oldest cohort member aged 31. The mean age at study entry was 6, and the mean at follow-up was 11.

Using personal identification numbers, researchers were able to cross-reference with the National Patient Register and the National Drug Register. From this they determined that 86,670 members of the cohort (3.2 percent) had ADHD, based either on records of clinical diagnosis or of prescription of ADHD drugs. Psychiatric comorbidities were likewise identified in the National Patient Register.

These comorbidities were significantly more prevalent in the ADHD population than in the rest of the cohort. For example, whereas only 2.2% of the non-ADHD group was diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD), 13.3% of the ADHD group also had SUD, a six-fold difference. For depression, it was a seven-fold difference, for schizophrenia a nine-fold difference.

The ADHD group had a significantly higher risk of premature death from all causes than the non-ADHD group, with an adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of 3.94 (95% CI 3.51-4.43). Unintentional injury(36%) and suicide (31%) were the leading causes of death in the ADHD group. Those with ADHD were more than eight times more likely to die by suicide than non-ADHD individuals, and roughly four times more likely to die from unintentional injury.

The vast majority of the increased risk appears to be associated with comorbid psychiatric conditions. Those with ADHD but no diagnosed comorbidities had an adjusted HR of 1.41 (95% CI 1.01-1.97). With a single comorbidity, the HR more than doubled to 3.71 (95% CI 2.88-4.78). With four or more comorbidities, it rose to a staggering 25.22 (95% CI 19.6-32.46).

The comorbid condition with the greatest impact was SUD, which increased the risk eight-fold by comparison with those with only ADHD (HR = 8.01, 95% CI 6.16-10.41). Anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorder increased the risk about fourfold. Bipolar disorder, depression, and eating disorder increased risk by roughly two and a half times.

Co variate analysis helped tease out what portion of the risk was associated with ADHD alone versus comorbid conditions. Adjusting for the year of birth, sex, birth weight, maternal age at birth, parental educational level, and parental employment status, those with ADHD (including comorbid conditions) were 2.7 times more likely to prematurely die of natural causes than those without. Adjusting for comorbid psychiatric conditions completely eliminated the risk from ADHD alone (HR = 1.01, 95% CI .72-1.42).

Likewise, those with ADHD (including comorbid conditions) were six times as likely to die of unnatural causes. Adjusting for early-onset comorbid disorders(such as conduct disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disability) only modestly reduced the HR to 5.3, but further adjusting for later-onset comorbid disorders (including substance use disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, and eating disorders) reduced the HR to 1.57 (95% CI 1.35-1.83), and reduced it to insignificance in the case of suicide (HR = 1.13, 95% CI.88-1.45).

Summing up, the lion’s share of the greater risk of premature death in persons with ADHD is attributable to psychiatric comorbidities. Nevertheless, those with ADHD alone still face a 40 percent greater risk than those without ADHD.

The study did not examine effects of ADHD medication, which the authors state “should be analyzed because of documented potential benefits on ADHD symptoms and comorbid disorders.”

The authors concluded, “Among adults, early-onset psychiatric comorbidity contributed substantially to the premature mortality risks due to natural causes. On the other hand, later-onset psychiatric comorbidity, especially SUD, explained a substantial part of the risk for unnatural deaths, including all the risk of suicide deaths and most of the deaths due to unintentional injuries. These results suggest that overall health conditions and risk of psychiatric comorbidity should be evaluated clinically to identify high-risk groups among individuals with ADHD.”

March 8, 2021

Exploring The Long-term Effects of Treating ADHD with Methylphenidate

Are there adverse effects to long-term treatment of ADHD with methylphenidate?

Methylphenidate(MPH) is one of the most widely-prescribed medications for children. Given that ADHD frequently persists over a large part of an individual’s lifespan, any side effects of medication initiated during childhood may well be compounded over time. With funding from the European Union, a recently released review of the evidence looked for possible adverse neurological and psychiatric outcomes.

From the outset, the international team recognized a challenge: “ADHD severity may be an important potential confounder, as it may be associated with both the need for long-term MPH therapy and high levels of underlying neuropsychiatric comorbidity.” Their search found a higy heterogeneous evidence base, which made meta-analysis inadvisable. For example, only 25 of 39 groups studies reported the presence or absence of comorbid psychiatric conditions, and even among those, only one excluded participants with comorbidities. Moreover, in only 24 of 67 studies was the type of MPH used (immediate or extended-release)specified. The team, therefore, focused on laying out an “evidence map” to help determine priorities for further research.

The team found the following breakdown for specific types of adverse events:

·      Low mood/depression. All three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. Two large cohort studies, one with over 2,300 participants, and the other with 142,000, favored MPH over the non-stimulant atomoxetine . But many other studies, including a randomized controlled trial(RCT), had unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base regarding mood outcomes from long-term MPH treatment is relatively strong, includes two well-powered comparative studies, and tends to favor MPH.”

·      Anxiety. Here again, all three non-comparative studies found MPH safe. But only two of seven comparative studies favored MPH, with the other five having unclear results. Conclusion: “while the evidence about anxiety as an outcome of long-term MPH treatment tends to favor MPH, the evidence base is relatively weak.”

·      Irritability/emotional reactivity. A large cohort study with over 2,300 participants favored MPH over atomoxetine . Conclusion: “the evidence base … is limited, although it includes one well-powered study that found in favor of MPH over atomoxetine.”

·      Suicidal behavior/ideation. There were no non-comparative studies, but all five comparative studies favored MPH. That included three large cohort studies, with a combined total of over a hundred thousand participants, that favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is relatively strong, and tends to favor MPH.”

·      Bipolar disorder. A very large cohort study, with well over a quarter-million participants, favored MPH over atomoxetine. A much smaller cohort study comparing MPH with atomoxetine , with less than a tenth the number of participants, pointed toward caution. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is limited and unclear, although it includes two well-powered studies.”

·      Psychosis/psychotic-like symptoms. By far the largest study, with over 145,000 participants, compared MPH with no treatment, and pointed toward caution. A cohort study with over 2,300participants favored MPH over atomoxetine. Conclusion: “These findings indicate that more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD and psychosis, and into whether MPH moderates that risk, as well as research into individual risk factors for MPH-related psychosis in young people with ADHD.”

·      Substance use disorders. A cohort study with over 20,000 participants favored MPH over anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and no medication. Other studies looking at dosages and durations of treatment, age at treatment initiation, or comparing with no treatment or “alternative” treatment, all favored MPH except a single study with unclear results. Conclusion: “the evidence base … is relatively strong, includes one well-powered study that compared MPH with antipsychotic and antidepressant treatment, and tends to favor MPH.”

·      Tics and other dyskinesias. Of four noncomparative studies, three favored MPH, the other, with the smallest sample size, urged caution. In studies comparing with dexamphetamine, pemoline, Adderall, or no active treatment, three had unclear results and two pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “more research is needed regarding the safety and management of long-term MPH in those with comorbid tics or a tic disorder.”

·      Seizures or EEG abnormalities. With one exception, the studies had small sample sizes. The largest, with over 2,300 participants, compared MPH with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Two small studies found MPH safe, one had unclear results, and two others pointed towards caution. Conclusion: “While the evidence is limited and unclear, the studies do not indicate evidence for seizures as an AE of MPH treatment in children with no prior history … more research is needed into the safety of long-term MPH in children and young people at risk of seizures.”

·      Sleep Disorders. All three noncomparative studies found MPH safe, but the largest cohort study, with over 2,300 participants, clearly favored atomoxetine. Conclusion: “more research is needed into the relationship between ADHD, sleep, and long-term MPH treatment.”

·      Other notable psychiatric outcomes. Two noncomparative studies, with 118 and 289 participants, found MPH safe. A cohort study with over 700 participants compared with atomoxetine, with inconclusive results. Conclusion: “there is limited evidence regarding long-term MPH treatment and other neuropsychiatric outcomes, and that further research may be needed into the relationship between long-term MPH treatment and aggression/hostility.”

Although this landmark review points to several gaps in the evidence base, it mainly supports prior conclusions of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies (based on short-term randomized controlled trials) that MPH is safe for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults. Given that MPH has been used for ADHD for over fifty years and that the FDA monitors the emergence of rare adverse events, patients, parents and prescribers can feel confident that the medication is safe when used as prescribed.

March 6, 2021

The Economic Burden of ADHD

The Economic Burden of ADHD

ADHD , especially when untreated impairs patients and creates difficulties in families. Although these are the proximal targets of treatment, ADHD also burdens society due, for example, to underemployment and use of health resources.   A recent study assessed economic burden using the Danish population registries, researchers, which link medical information with employment, education, crime, and social care registers while maintaining confidentiality. They identified 5,269 adults with adult ADHD who had not been diagnosed with ADHD in childhood and, we can assume, were probably not treated for the disorder. They excluded patients with other psychiatric diagnoses, and cases without a same sex sibling free of any diagnosed psychiatric diagnoses. That left 460 pairs of same-sex siblings, one with adult ADHD and the other with no psychiatric diagnosis. They selected the non-ADHD sibling closest in age to the ADHD sibling. Using siblings mitigated effects of genetics and upbringing between the ADHD group and normally developing controls.

Looking at personal income (combining work income and public transfers), adults with ADHD on average brought home about 12,000 Euros less – almost a third less – than their sibling counterparts. They also paid 40% less tax. Balancing that out, their after-tax income was roughly 7,500 Euros less than their siblings. With the additional personal cost of prescribed medication (prescriptions are relatively inexpensive in Denmark, and copayments even more so) the net personal cost to adults with ADHD was 7,700 Euros.

The net public costs were considerably greater. That was primarily due to the reduction in taxes paid (about 4,500 Euros) and increase in income replacement transfers (just over 5,500 Euros).The cost of additional crimes committed by adults with ADHD added another 1,000 Euros. Additional primary and secondary health care costs contributed another 1,000 Euros. Subsidies for prescribed medicines added 661 Euros, but that was partly counterbalanced by a reduction of 344 Euros in education costs. There were no significant differences in costs from traffic accidents or adult continuation of foster care. Overall, the net per capita public cost of adults with ADHD was just over 12,400 Euros each year.

Combining public and private costs, the per capita economic burden of adult ADHD was just over 20,000 Euros each year.

The study could not evaluate the extent to which ADHD treatment may reduce economic burden but given many studies that show treatment for ADHD reduces impairments, we would expect treatment to have a positive impact on economic burden. These results are extremely important for policy makers and for those who control the allocation of treatment in health care systems.  Although treating ADHD incurs costs, not treating in incurs even greater costs in the long run

February 24, 2021

Driving, Safety, and ADHD

How to Improve Driving Safety for Teens and Adults With ADHD

Drivers with ADHD are far more likely to be involved in crashes, to be at fault in crashes,to be in severe crashes, and to be killed in crashes. The more severe the ADHD symptoms, the higher the risk. Moreover, ADHD is often accompanied by comorbid conditions such as oppositional-defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety that further increase the risk.

What can be done to reduce this risk? A group of experts has offered the following consensus recommendations:

·   Use stimulant medications. While there is no reliable evidence on whether non-stimulant medications are of any benefit for driving, there is solid evidence that stimulant medications are effective in reducing risk. But there is also a rebound effect in many individuals after the medication wears off, in which performance actually becomes worse than if had been prior to medication. It is therefore important to time the taking of medication so that its period of effectiveness corresponds with driving times. If one has to drive right after waking up, it makes sense to take a rapid acting form. The same holds for late night driving that may require a quick boost.

·   Use a stick shift vehicle wherever possible. Stick shifts make drivers pay closer attention than automatic transmissions. The benefits in alertness are most notable in city traffic. But using a stick shift is far less beneficial in highway driving, where shifting is less frequent.

·  Avoid cruise control. Highways can be monotonous, making drivers more prone to boredom and distraction. That is even more true for those with ADHD, so it is best to keep cruise control turned off.

·   Avoid alcohol. Drinking and driving is a bad idea for everyone, but, once again, it's even worse for those with ADHD. Parents should consider a no-questions-asked policy of either picking up their teenager anytime and anywhere, or setting up an account with a ride-sharing service.·   Place the smartphone out of reach and hearing. Cell phone use is as about as likely to impair as alcohol. Hands-free devices only reduce this risk moderately, because they continue to distract. Texting can be deadly. Sending a short text or emoticon can be the equivalent of driving 100 yards with one's eyes closed. Either turn on Do Not Disturb mode, or, for even greater effectiveness, place the smart phone in the trunk.

·   Make use of automotive performance monitors. These can keep track of maximum speeds and sudden acceleration and braking, to verify that a teenager is not engaging in risky behaviors.

·   Take advantage of graduated driver's licensing laws wherever available. These laws forbid the presence of peers in the vehicle for the first several (for example, six) months of driving. Parents can extend that period for teenagers with ADHD, or set it as a condition in states that lack such laws.

·  Encourage practicing after obtaining a learner's permit. Teenagers with ADHD generally require more practice than those without. A pre-drive checklist can be a good place to start. For example:check the gas, check the mirrors, make sure the view through the windows is unobstructed, put cell phone in Do Not Disturb mode and place it out of reach, put on seat belt, scan for obstacles.

·   Consider outsourcing. Look for a driving school with a professional to teach good driving skills and habits.

Experts do not agree on whether to delay licensing for those with ADHD. On the one hand, teenagers with ADHD are 3-4 years behind in the development of brain areas responsible for executive functions that help control impulses and better guide behavior. Delaying licensing can reduce risk by about 20 percent. On the other hand, teens with ADHD are more likely to drive without a license, and no one wants to encourage that, however inadvertently. Moreover, graduated driver's licensing laws only have legal effect on teens who get their licenses at the customary age.

February 22, 2021

Is Pharmacotherapy Effective for ADHD Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

How effective is pharmacotherapy of ADHD in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The team of researchers found that pharmacological treatment of adults with diagnoses of ADHD and ASD seem to be just as successful as the pharmacological treatment of adults with only ADHD.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is frequently comorbid with ADHD. Among adults with ADHD, as many as half are reported to also have ASD.

A Dutch team set out to answer two questions:

  • Do adults with ADHD and comorbid ASD experience less effectiveness of pharmacological treatment for ADHD than adults with only ADHD?
  • Do adults with ADHD and comorbid ASD experience different or more severe side effects of pharmacological treatment for ADHD than adults with only ADHD, as measured in side-effect scores, blood pressure, heart rate, and weight?

This was a retrospective study, using well-documented medical records, of the effects of drug treatment with methylphenidate (MPH), dexamphetamine (DEX), atomoxetine (ATX), bupropion, or modafinil.

The researchers compared 60 adults with comorbid ASD and ADHD to 226 adults with only ADHD. ADHD symptoms were scored using the Conner's ADHD Rating Scale: Self Report-Short Version (CAARS: S-S). Side effects of ADHD medication were measured using either a 13-item or 20-item checklist with 4-point scales for item response. Researchers also tracked changes in body weight, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Following treatment, ADHD symptoms among the comorbid group declined by a quarter, and among the ADHD-only group by almost a third. There was no significant difference between men and women. Controlling for age, gender, and ADHD subtype, a comorbid diagnosis of ASD also did not significantly affect ADHD symptom reduction.

Turning to side effects, in the ADHD+ASD group, there were significant increases in decreased appetite and weight loss, and decreases in agitation, anxiety, and sadness/unhappiness. In the ADHD-only group, there were significant increases in decreased appetite, weight loss, and dry mouth, and decreases in sleeping disorder, nervousness, agitation, anxiety, and sadness/unhappiness. Yet there were no significant differences between the two groups. Side effects increased and decreased similarly in both. Likewise, there were no significant differences between the groups in changes in heart rate and blood pressure. The only significant difference in medication dosage was for bupropion, which was higher in the ADHD+ASD group, though without any sign of difference in side effects.

The authors concluded that this retrospective study showed pharmacological treatment of adults with diagnoses of ADHD and ASD to be just as successful as the pharmacological treatment of adults with only ADHD, but cautioned that a randomized controlled trial should be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and possible side effects of pharmacological treatment for ADHD in patients with ASD more reliably.

February 2, 2021