Is ADHD being over-diagnosed?

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The number of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is exploding, raising concerns that doctors are overprescribing powerful drugs to kids and teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The diagnosis rate of the disorder has soared 41 percent in the U.S. over the past decade.


More than one in 10 school-age children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and nearly one in five high-school-age boys has. “Those are astronomical numbers,” Yale School of Medicine pediatrician William Graf tells The New York Times. He and other experts say the increase is largely the fault of doctors yielding to pressure from parents to medicate kids who have only mild behavioral problems or trouble concentrating.


Stimulants used to treat ADHD, like Ritalin and Adderall, have become popular “study drugs” among college and high school students with negligible symptoms; those who have prescriptions distribute as many as 30 percent of their pills to friends who don’t. The criteria doctors use to diagnose ADHD rely solely on patients’ or their parents’ descriptions of symptoms, yet medical authorities are further loosening those criteria even as evidence mounts that ADHD medications can be addictive. “We have kids out there getting these drugs to use them as mental steroids,” says child psychiatrist Ned Hallowell. “That’s dangerous.”