Study: More Young Adults Abusing ADHD Diagnosis

By Bill Hudson, WCCO-TV

— Ninety-five percent of those battling Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are children. However, it’s the 5 percent that is raising new concerns among medical professionals.

An increasing number of young adults, ages 17 to 30 , are now frequently seeking the same diagnosis, according to a new study. There’s growing evidence that ADHD is quickly making its way onto the nation’s college campuses.

Dr. Paul Marshall is a Neuropsychologist with the Hennepin County Medical Center.

“When you have the diagnosis, you get accommodations,” said Marshall, concerning the growing trend among young adults. “For instance, in the classroom setting you might have more time to take a test.”

Perhaps more alarming is the fact that getting diagnosed with ADHD means the patient now has access to powerful stimulants, inclusing Ritalin, Adderall and Dexadrine, which are used to treat the disorder.

Pharmacist Ann Brigino works in the hospital setting and senses a growing level of abuse.

“Especially for students in college or even high school. Students who need to stay up for hours, this agent can help them to do that,” said Brigino.

One such student who chose not to be identified said, “it makes you focus and keeps you up!”

However, taking the tightly controlled medications is also illegal and dangerous if given to someone without a legitimate prescription.

To determine the level of exaggerated symptoms and faulty diagnosis, Marshall and his HCMC colleagues spent five years looking at the cases of hundreds of patients. The data revealed that 22 percent of those evaluated for ADHD exaggerate answers to cognitive and behavioral tests in order to qualify for the diagnosis.

The study’s data will now help clinicians better identify potential cheaters by placing parameters on the test results. The study found those with exaggerated claims were often far slower in their testing reaction times and made far too many errors.

“(Doctors) will know whether they can trust the test results and behavior rating scales that have been completed by the patient,” said Marshall.

More from Bill Hudson
  • Anon

    The usual test for it is the MMPI, which already measures how the patient approaches the test and whether they are being open and honest. And exaggerating symptoms doesn’t mean a person doesn’t have it. They may legitimately fear being turned away because they know they need help. It can be a very painful disorder emotionally and can really harm a person’s life. Reports like this don’t help with the stigma and misunderstanding of the condition. I’m disappointed, Bill. I’d have liked to have seen at least some mention of patients with legitimate need.

  • Pavel

    I knew one adult who talked the doctor into giving him the prescription. He would fill it at the pharmacy, then sell it to drug users.

  • Lizette Balsdon

    The thing is that in many of the kids with ADHD I work with, I see dishonesty. However, if they really had ADHD, they would have been diagnosed before age 17 and if not, it can’t affect their lives badly enough to warrant special treatment at college.

  • Wade Balsdon

    This is silly as it is harmful to take drugs if you do not need them. In terms of kids with ADHD there are many biomedical options that do a better job without the harmful side effects..

  • Andrew Kinsella

    Firstly – the rate of persistence of ADHD from childhood to adulthood is about 70%- ( and this is well supported by the evidence base) so the starting figures on which this article is based are deeply flawed..

    Secondly- many of us are missed as children- especially if we are a little brighter than the average- then we are usually just seen as talented but lazy.

    Thirdly- in terms of side effects- stimulants are amongst the safest medications available.

    I struggled for 47 years with undiagnosed ADHD, and the stress just about killed me and nearly wrecked my marriage. my improvement on medication was obvious on day one, and continued to gain momentum over time. Within 14 months I was stable enough to learn to meditate- and now am easily able to manage attention trough diet, exercise and meditation.
    I could not have done that without stimulants.

    It seems that everybody believes they are qualified to have an opinion about ADHD. i don’t know why- I have no opinions about the construction of box girder bridges or of many other specialist areas of knowledge

    It is disappointing though that such unqualified opinions abound. I listened to these opinions for many years and compromised my own health and the happiness of my family by doing so. I would be please to see more people consider the potential harms before they make sweeping statements outside their area of expertise.

    My expertise is a lifetime of living with the condition, about 3000 hours reviewing the literature, and now an active practice in dealing with it in my work.

    What should scare you all is that for most of my professional life I was undiagnosed – and there are a good many undiagnosed ADHD sufferers out there in all the professions. It remains to be in all of our interests to see informed discussion of this problem.

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