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Attention Deficit Disorder Association

Is ADHD Real?
By Linda Anderson, MA, MCC

Ronald Kessler, PhD, professor of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School, and several leading researchers were tasked with determining the status of Americans’ health. They were asked to give special attention to the subject of ADHD in adults, since this subject was completely neglected in the two previous major epidemiological studies. The results of this research, conducted from 2001 to 2003, were presented in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication published in 2005.* 

Of the 9000 Americans, aged 18-44, initially interviewed, a smaller subset, representing an over-sampling of adults, was selected for further study. From this sampling, it was found that 4.4 % of adults In the United States meet the criteria for having Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD). The researchers believe this was a conservative figure. (Refer to a summary of data in "The Worldwide Prevalence of ADHD” section that follows.)

It was also found that the diagnosis of ADHD was frequently accompanied by co-existing conditions, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or intermittent explosive disorder. Adults identified as meeting the criteria for ADHD were more often male than female and were frequently unemployed.  Many were no longer married. It was also found that only 10 percent of adults diagnosed with ADHD were ever treated. 

Untreated ADHD increases the likelihood of individuals having experienced repeated struggle and failure in multiple environments.  A lifetime of struggle, without diagnosis and treatment, accompanied by depression and anxiety, might easily lead one to adopt self-medicating behaviors (smoking, alcohol, drugs). Based upon their research the researchers posed a reasonable question: If treatment had been available at an earlier age, would these adults likely have experienced fewer co-existing conditions?

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication was funded by organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the John W. Alden Trust.

The Prevalence and Correlates of Adult ADHD in the United States: Results From the National Comorbidity Survey Replication
Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., Lenard Adler, M.D., Russell Barkley, Ph.D., Joseph Biederman, M.D., C. Keith Conners, Ph.D., Olga Demler, M.A., M.P.H., Stephen V. Faraone, Ph.D., Laurence L. Greenhill, M.D., Mary J. Howes, Ph.D., Kristina Secnik, Ph.D., Thomas Spencer, M.D., T. Bedirhan Ustun, M.D., Ellen E. Walters, M.S., and Alan M. Zaslavsky, Ph.D.
Am J Psychiatry 163:716-723, April 2006
doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.163.4.716
© 2006
American Psychiatric Association

Comorbid Psychiatric Illness Often Found in Adults With ADHD
Joan Arehart-Treichel
Psychiatric News May 5, 2006
Volume 41 Number 9 Page 22
© American Psychiatric Association

The Worldwide Prevalence of ADHD

In "The Worldwide Prevalence of ADHD: A Systematic Review and Metaregression Analysis,” researchers reviewed MEDLINE and PsychINFO databases covering a period from 1978 to 2005. One hundred and two studies comprising 171,756 subjects from all world regions were included. The researchers reviewed textbooks and reference lists from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. The prevalence of ADD/ADHD worldwide was determined to be 5.29%. 

The Worldwide Prevalence of ADHD:
A Systematic Review and Metaregression Analysis
Am J Psychiatry 164:942-948, June 2007
doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.164.6.942
© 2007
American Psychiatric Association


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