August 9, 2021

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."

Jason M. Nelson and Benjamin J. Lovett, "Assessing ADHD inCollege Students: Integrating Multiple Evidence Sources With Symptom and performance Validity Data," Psychological Assessment, published online January 31, 2019 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pas0000702.

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Swedish Population Study Confirms Association Between ADHD and Height

Nationwide population study in Sweden confirms association between ADHD and shorter height in children and adolescents, suggests stimulant medications are not a factor

A commonly reported risk associated with ADHD medication is reduced growth in height. But studies to date have generally not adequately described or measured possible confounders, such as genetic factors, prenatal factors, or socioeconomic factors. What if ADHD were associated with reduced height even in the absence of medications? 

An international study team explored this question by performing a nationwide population study comparing data from before (1968-1991) and after (1992-2020) the adoption of stimulant therapy for ADHD in Sweden. 

The country’s single-payer health insurance system that connects patient records with all other national registers through unique personal identification numbers makes such analysis possible. Sweden also has military service conscription, which records the heights of 18-year-old males.

The participants were all 14,268 Swedish males with a diagnosis of ADHD who were drafted into military service at any time from 1968 through 2020. 

Up to five non-ADHD controls were identified for each ADHD case, matched by sex (they had to be male), birth year, and county. The total number of controls was 71,339.

Among 34,586 participants in the period before adoption of stimulant medications (1968-1991), those diagnosed with ADHD had roughly 30% greater odds of being shorter than normal (166-172 vs. 173-185 cm) than typically developing controls. That dropped to 20% greater odds among the 34,714 participants in the cohort following adoption of stimulant medications.

The odds of those diagnosed with ADHD being much shorter than normal (150-165 vs. 173-185 cm) remained identical (about 55% greater) among the almost 30,000 participants in both cohorts.

In other words, there was no increase in the odds of ADHD individuals being shorter than normal after adoption of stimulant therapy in Sweden compared with before such adoption.

Furthermore, after adjusting for known confounders, including birth weight, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, hypothyroidism, anxiety disorders, depression, substance use disorder, and highest parental education, the odds of those diagnosed with ADHD being shorter than normal or much shorter than normal in the 1992-2020 cohort dropped to roughly 10% and 30% greater, respectively.

Could it be the disorder itself rather than stimulant treatment that is associated with reduced height in individuals diagnosed with ADHD?

To address effects of environmental and familial/genetic confounding, the team then compared the entire cohort of males diagnosed with ADHD from 1968 through 2020 with typically developing male relatives, ranging from first cousins to full siblings.

Among full siblings, the odds of those with ADHD diagnoses being shorter (over 90,000 participants) or much shorter (over 77,000 participants) were a statistically significant 14% and 18%, respectively.

The authors concluded, “Our findings suggest that ADHD is associated with shorter height. On a population level, this association was present both before and after ADHD-medications were available in Sweden. The association between ADHD and height was partly explained by prenatal factors, psychiatric comorbidity, low SES [socioeconomic status] and a shared familial liability for ADHD.”

January 9, 2024

Swedish nationwide population study finds mothers with ADHD have elevated risk of depression and anxiety disorders after childbirth

Swedish nationwide population study finds mothers with ADHD have elevated risk of depression and anxiety disorders after childbirth

In the general population, most mothers experience mood disturbances right after childbirth, commonly known as postpartum blues, baby blues, or maternity blues. Yet only about one in six develop symptoms with a duration and magnitude that require treatment for depressive disorder, and one in ten for anxiety disorder.

To what extent does ADHD contribute to the risk of such disorders following childbirth? A Swedish study team used the country’s single-payer health insurance database and other national registers to conduct the first nationwide population study to explore this question.

They used the medical birth register to identify all 420,513 women above 15 years of age who gave birth to their first child, and all 352,534 who gave birth to their second child, between 2005 and 2013. They excluded miscarriages. They then looked for diagnoses of depression and/or anxiety disorders up to a year following childbirth.

In the study population, 3,515 mothers had been diagnosed with ADHD, and the other 769,532 had no such diagnosis. 

Following childbirth, depression disorders were five times more prevalent among mothers with ADHD than among their non-ADHD peers. Excluding individuals with a prior history of depression made little difference, lowering the prevalence ratio to just under 5. Among women under 25, the prevalence ratio was still above 3, while for those 25 and older it was above 6.

Similarly, anxiety disorders were over five times more prevalent among mothers with ADHD than among their non-ADHD peers. Once again, excluding individuals with a prior history of depression made little difference, lowering the prevalence ratio to just under 5. Among women under 25, the prevalence ratio was still above 3, while for those 25 and older it was above 6.

The team cautioned, “There is a potential risk of surveillance bias as women diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have repeated visits to psychiatric care and might have an enhanced likelihood of also being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders postpartum, compared to women without ADHD.”

Nevertheless, they concluded, “ADHD is an important risk factor for both depression and anxiety disorders in the postpartum period and should be considered in the post- pregnancy maternal care, regardless of sociodemographic factors and the presence of other psychiatric disorders. Parental education prior to conception, psychological surveillance during, and social support after childbirth should be provided to women diagnosed with ADHD.”

December 22, 2023

Meta-analysis suggests acupuncture might offer effective treatment for ADHD, but suffers from methodological flaws

Meta-analysis suggests acupuncture might offer effective treatment for ADHD, but suffers from methodological flaws

Noting that previous “systematic reviews concluded that currently available data on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for treating ADHD are yet to be sufficient to support its routine use,” a South Korean study team conducted an updated systematic search of the medical literature for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with drug treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD. There were no restrictions on language or publication type.

Only two of the meta-analyses involved more than two RCTs. 

One of them, of six RCTs with a combined 541 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of acupuncture to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines. 

Another, of five RCTs with a total of 351 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of combined acupuncture and ADHD drugs to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines.

Two RCTs with a Noting that previous “systematic reviews concluded that currently available data on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture for treating ADHD are yet to be sufficient to support its routine use,” a South Korean study team conducted an updated systematic search of the medical literature for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with drug treatment for children and adolescents with ADHD. There were no restrictions on language or publication type.

Only two of the meta-analyses involved more than two RCTs. 

One of them, of six RCTs with a combined 541 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of acupuncture to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines. 

Another, of five RCTs with a total of 351 participants, reported total treatment efficacy of combined acupuncture and ADHD drugs to be at least equal to that of conventional treatment with ADHD medicines.

Two RCTs with a combined 152 participants reported a large effect size improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms from acupuncture treatment versus conventional drug treatment.

From this one could superficially conclude that acupuncture is at least as effective for treating ADHD as the medicines currently considered to be the standard of care, and that there is no need to combine acupuncture with drug treatment.

However, there were numerous methodological shortcomings:

  • No effort was made to look for publication bias.
  • There were few RCTs, and the combined number of participants was relatively small.
  • Only one of the six RCTs in the first meta-analysis and none of the five RCTs in the second meta-analysis was rated “low risk of bias.”
  • Though nowhere stated in the journal article, there may have been cultural bias as well. All studies included in the meta-analyses were conducted in China. As China has emerged as a global superpower, it has been eager to portray its traditional medicine as at least equal if not superior to forms of medicine originating elsewhere.
  • The authors noted, “the quality of the studies included in this systematic review was poor. Assessing the blinding of studies is a major aspect in determining the risk of bias of a study, but most of the studies did not provide any relevant information.” 

The authors concluded, “The current evidence on AT [acupuncture treatment] is still too limited to support its routine use in treating ADHD.”

152 participants reported a large effect size improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms from acupuncture treatment versus conventional drug treatment.

From this one could superficially conclude that acupuncture is at least as effective for treating ADHD as the medicines currently considered to be the standard of care, and furthermore that there is no need to combine acupuncture with drug treatment.

However, there were numerous methodological shortcomings:

  • No effort was made to look for publication bias.
  • There were few RCTs, and the combined number of participants was relatively small.
  • Only one of the six RCTs in the first meta-analysis and none of the five RCTs in the second meta-analysis was rated “low risk of bias.”
  • Though nowhere stated in the journal article, there may have been cultural bias as well. All studies included in the meta-analyses were conducted in China. As China has emerged as a global superpower, it has been eager to portray its traditional medicine as at least equal if not superior to forms of medicine originating elsewhere.
  • The authors noted, “the quality of the studies included in this systematic review was poor. Assessing the blinding of studies is a major aspect in determining the risk of bias of a study, but most of the studies did not provide any relevant information.” 

The authors concluded, “The current evidence on AT [acupuncture treatment] is still too limited to support its routine use in treating ADHD.”

January 4, 2024