Study Finds 1-in-9 U.S. Children Diagnosed with ADHD

More than half of U.S. children diagnosed with ADHD are currently taking drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, CDC researchers found.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition with symptoms that include difficulty concentrating, impulsivity, inattention, trouble finishing tasks, and, in young children, hyperactivity. Although it has been one of the most commonly diagnosed neurodevelopment disorders among children for decades, new research suggests that the number of children in the U.S. receiving the diagnosis in recent years has increased dramatically, resulting in even higher use of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall.

New data indicates more than 7 million children have received a diagnosis for ADHD, an increase of more than one million teens and children since 2016, according to findings published on May 22 in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

For the new study, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers examined data from the 2022 National Survey of Children’s Health. The study included survey information from more than 45,000 children, which was then used to estimate diagnoses.

The data indicated more than 7.1 million children and teens had ever received an ADHD diagnosis in the U.S. More so, 6.5 million were diagnosed with ADHD in 2022 alone. The 2022 numbers were up from 5.4 million youth diagnosed in 2016.

Among the teens and children diagnosed in 2022, nearly 60% were determined to have moderate or severe forms of ADHD, which can lead to significant impairment to social and daily functioning.

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Researchers said 78% of youth diagnosed with ADHD were also diagnosed with other conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder. More than half (54%) of those diagnosed were currently taking ADHD medication.

About 45% of teens and children reported receiving behavioral treatment over the past year. But another 30% said they hadn’t received any type of treatment; behavioral or medical. Comparatively, about 23% of youth reported not receiving treatment in 2016.

The CDC researchers indicate the increase in ADHD diagnoses is linked to several factors, including greater awareness of the condition and the symptoms, so caregivers are more likely to know what to look for. There are also more medical treatments available for ADHD now compared to years past, making it easier to get a diagnosis, medication, and treatment.

ADHD Drug Use on the Rise

As more youth are diagnosed with the condition, more teens are using ADHD medications like Ritalin, which increases the potential for misuse and abuse. A 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found many teens are abusing ADHD drugs like Adderall.

As a result, in 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated drug labels for ADHD drugs to include the risk of overuse and abuse.

Additionally, a study published earlier this year in the journal JAMA Network Open highlighted the potential side effects of using ADHD drugs, including an increase in the likelihood of heart problems and heart failure in children and teens who use the medications.

Study authors said the new data should be used to help lawmakers, healthcare systems, and government agencies implement more access to medication and treatment to help patients diagnosed with ADHD. More so, steps should be taken to “plan for the needs of children with ADHD.”

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