July 8, 2021

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.

Dan Edvinsson and Lisa Ekselius, "Long-Term Tolerability and safety of Pharmacological Treatment of Adult Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity disorder," Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, vol. 38, no. 4(2018).

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News Tuesday: Fidgeting and ADHD

A recent study delved into the connection between fidgeting and cognitive performance in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Recognizing that hyperactivity often manifests as fidgeting, the researchers sought to understand its role in attention and performance during cognitively demanding tasks. They designed a framework to quantify meaningful fidgeting variables using actigraphy devices.

(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

July 16, 2024

Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

NEWS TUESDAY: Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

The research involved 43 school-age children divided into two groups:

  • ADHD Group (25 children): Initially referred for ASD symptoms but later diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ASD Group (18 children): Children diagnosed with ASD.

Researchers used ADOS-2 to evaluate differences in communication deficits, social interaction challenges, and repetitive behaviors between the two groups. The study also compared IQ, age, ADOS-2 domain scores, and externalizing/internalizing problems.

Key Findings:

  • Significant differences were found between the ADHD and ASD groups in ADOS-2 domain scores, including Social Affect, Restricted and Repetitive Behavior, and Total Score.
  • On an individual item level, children with ADHD displayed similar atypical behaviors as those with ASD in social-communication areas such as "Pointing" and "Gestures".
  • Both groups showed comparable frequencies in behaviors like "Stereotyped/idiosyncratic words or phrases", "Mannerisms", and "Repetitive interests and behaviors".

The study highlights the importance of identifying transdiagnostic domains that overlap between ADHD and ASD. The transdiagnostic domain refers to a set of symptoms or behaviors that are common across multiple diagnostic categories rather than being specific to just one. Identifying these domains in mental health practice and in psychological research is crucial to understanding, properly diagnosing, and treating conditions with overlapping features. This understanding could pave the way for tailored treatments addressing the specific needs of children with ADHD, particularly those exhibiting autistic-like symptoms.

July 9, 2024

Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

NEW STUDY: Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults is commonly treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, not all patients respond well to these stimulants or tolerate them effectively. For such cases, non-stimulant medications provide an alternative treatment approach.

Recent research by Brancati et al. reviews the efficacy and safety of non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD. Atomoxetine, a well-studied non-stimulant, has shown significant effectiveness in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. The review highlights the importance of considering dosage, treatment duration, safety, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities when prescribing atomoxetine.

Additionally, certain antidepressants, including tricyclic compounds, bupropion, and viloxazine, which possess noradrenergic or dopaminergic properties, have demonstrated efficacy in managing adult ADHD. Antihypertensive medications, especially guanfacine, have also been found effective. Other medications like memantine, metadoxine, and mood stabilizers show promise, whereas treatments like galantamine, antipsychotics, and cannabinoids have not yielded positive results.

The expert opinion section of the review emphasizes that while clinical guidelines primarily recommend atomoxetine as a second-line treatment, several other non-stimulant options can be utilized to tailor treatments based on individual patient needs and comorbid conditions. Despite these advancements, the authors call for further research to develop and refine more personalized treatment strategies for adults with ADHD.

This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

June 25, 2024