What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is a psychiatric condition involving developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD is most often diagnosed for the first time in childhood, although about half of individuals who have ADHD will continue to experience difficulties into adulthood.
How does ADHD get diagnosed?
A diagnosis of ADHD can only be made through careful psychiatric/psychological evaluation, including clinical interviewing and gathering information about developmental history. There is no blood test or computer test that can definitively diagnose ADHD. A diagnosis of ADHD is based on specific criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), which include:
- Symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that occur more than is appropriate for a person’s age
- Symptoms occur in multiple settings (ie., not just school)
- Symptoms are chronic and have been present since at least age 12
- Symptoms cause significant problems in areas of daily functioning (e.g., at school, at home, with friends, etc.)
- Symptoms are not better explained by another psychiatric or medical condition
Why is there so much controversy about ADHD diagnosis and treatment?
There are a number of reasons there has been controversy over the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. One issue is that the numbers of people receiving the diagnosis have risen dramatically over the last 10-15 years. This increase is not likely to be related to increases in the true rates of the disorder, but rather to more individuals being misdiagnosed when they do not actually meet the above criteria. This may be due, in part, to clinicians not adhering to recommended guidelines for assessing ADHD. A related issue is that the medications used to treat ADHD are being prescribed at much higher rates than ever before. It is likely that many individuals who do not have a true diagnosis of ADHD receive a prescription for medicine to treat it. This can result in many problems. There is also controversy over the misuse, abuse, and diversion of the medications used to treat ADHD.
What should I do if I am concerned about ADHD in a family member, or in myself?
If possible, start a conversation with your primary care provider. Describe the concerns and find out if they recommend a referral for more thorough assessment. If possible, try to arrange a formal assessment with a qualified mental health professional with experience in diagnosing ADHD.