The number of young, adult women medicated for ADHD has skyrocketed over the last decade – jumping by 344%, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report points out that these women are of reproductive age, and that there is almost no research on the safety of medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder during pregnancy.
The report does not explain why the number rose so much, but experts in the field note that the public’s understanding of ADHD has been transformed since the early 2000s.
“The good news is that adult women are finally getting diagnosed,” said Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist who has written a half-dozen books on ADHD. “I see women go from struggling and feeling so bad about themselves to – they burst into tears when they see how much better their life becomes.”
The percentage of young women who filled at least one prescription for ADHD medication climbed from just under 1% of the population in 2003 to 4% in 2015, according to the report, which looked at women ages 15-44 with private insurance.
Roughly 5% of the adult population is considered to have ADHD, so the increase among women suggests a rightsizing rather than over diagnosis, said Dr. Patricia Quinn, a developmental pediatrician in Washington, DC, who specializes in ADHD in women and girls.
“We’re kind of catching up now,” Quinn said, noting that ADHD used to be diagnosed 10-times more often in men than women. Now, there’s growing recognition in the field that both genders have it at nearly equal rates.
The rise in childhood diagnoses is also likely driving the spike among adult women, said Melissa Orlov, a marriage counselor who specializes in relationship issues in ADHD. As children with ADHD age into adulthood, they are taking their prescriptions with them, she said, citing her own daughter who was in fifth grade in 2001 when she was diagnosed with ADHD and is now 26 and still medicated.