A mental health disorder that has been given much attention in childhood is beginning to be noted in adulthood as well. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is most commonly called, is a condition which affects three to five percent of American children. However, increasingly the disorder is being recognized in adults and new research is revealing that the condition is more prevalent among one sex during childhood and the opposite sex during adulthood.
A decade of research is yielding interesting data about ADHD medications and who takes them. Medco Health Solutions recently released findings from its study of 2.5 million insured Americans and the medications they are consuming. Among other things, the study revealed that while boys are three times more often diagnosed with ADHD and take medications for the condition in childhood, once in adulthood, women are taking more of the medications used to treat ADHD. While it is true that women take more of the medications used to treat mental health issues overall, the study showed that women’s use of ADHD medications more than doubled over the ten year span (2001-2010).
Some have suggested that the disparity is due to the different ways in which ADHD manifests itself in boys and girls leaving many girls undiagnosed during youth. Most people who know anything about ADHD immediately associate the condition with hyperactivity. In boys, hyperactivity is a hallmark of the disorder. But girls tend to demonstrate less of the hyperactivity associated with ADHD and instead more often struggle with concentration and focus issues which are not as readily identified in childhood. Thus, as girls age and assume greater responsibility, the condition becomes simpler to recognize – or so goes the theory.
The exact causes of ADHD are uncertain. Genes appear to play a significant role in developing the condition with the disorder appearing most often in a family history. Those who look at genetic causes point to lower dopamine levels in the brains of ADHD sufferers. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure. Some suggest that as girls grow up and seek treatment for depression, they wind up with an ADHD diagnosis and this explains why more female adults than males are consuming the ADHD medications. According to the Medco results, the use of these medications is up 250 percent in women overall since 2001 and for women ages 20-44 years, use has risen by 264 percent!
There are three symptoms which are useful in identifying ADHD. The first is trouble with concentration and focus/inattention. Also to look for is difficulty sitting still and controlling movement/ hyperactivity and last blurting out or interrupting/impulsive behavior is a symptom of ADHD. What sometimes may occur is that a woman recognizes ADHD symptoms in her child and takes him/her to the doctor for diagnosis. As the mother learns about ADHD, she may begin to suspect that she herself needs to submit for diagnosis. This could also explain the gender disparity between childhood and adult instances of ADHD.
While many children with ADHD outgrow the condition, somewhere between 30-60 percent of cases will carry over into adulthood. The disorder is usually treated with the same stimulant medications and/or anti-depressants regardless of age. However, as the person ages, they are also able to comprehend the disorder and can learn techniques useful in countering the most troubling effects of the disorder. This learning process can prove empowering to the person with an ADHD diagnosis. Minor changes such as creating highly organized calendars and lists and developing useful routines to be followed are non-pharmaceutical means of treating the disorder from young adulthood and onward.