Health Information Specialists at the National Resource Center on ADHD, a Program of CHADD, receive thousands of inquiries each year about ADHD. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers, as well as links for more information.
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurodevelopmental disorder affecting 11 percent of school-age children. Symptoms continue into adulthood in more than three-quarters of cases. ADHD is characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Read more at About ADHD.
What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?
In 1994, the name of the disorder was changed in a way that is confusing for many people. Since that time all forms of attention deficit disorder are officially called “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” regardless of whether the individual has symptoms of hyperactivity or not. Even though these are the official labels, a lot of professionals and lay people still use both terms: ADD and ADHD. Some use those terms to designate the old subtypes; others use ADD just as a shorter way to refer to any presentation. Read more at About ADHD.
What is executive function?
Executive Function (EF) refers to brain functions that activate, organize, integrate and manage other functions. It enables individuals to account for short and long term consequences of their actions and to plan for those results. It also allows individuals to make real time evaluations of their actions and make necessary adjustments if those actions are not achieving the desired result. Read more at About Executive Function.
How is ADHD diagnosed?
There is no single test to diagnose ADHD. Therefore, a comprehensive evaluation is necessary to establish a diagnosis, rule out other causes, and determine the presence or absence of co-existing conditions. Such an evaluation requires time and effort and should include a careful history and a clinical assessment of the individual’s academic, social, and emotional functioning and developmental level. Read more at Diagnosing ADHD.
How do I find a doctor or mental health professional?
When seeking an evaluation or treatment for ADHD, it is important to see a qualified, licensed healthcare professional. In addition to ensuring that a particular professional has the required training, it is also important to work with a professional who has experience in dealing with this disorder.
There are several types of professionals who typically diagnose ADHD. These include: physicians (especially psychiatrists, pediatricians, neurologists), psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and other licensed counselors or therapists (e.g. professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, etc.). Read more at Professional Who Diagnose and Treat ADHD.
Obesity and ADHD: What’s the connection?
For adults with ADHD, the challenges of healthy weight management appear to be greater than for those without ADHD. For example, one study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that adults with ADHD are 1.58 times more likely to be overweight and 1.81 times more likely to be obese than adults who do not have ADHD.
Children with ADHD also appear to have higher rates of overweight and obesity than their peers without the disorder. However, whether or not a child's ADHD is being treated is also an important factor. Data from the 2003–2004 National Survey of Children's Health found that children whose ADHD treatment plan did not include medication were approximately one and a half times more likely to be overweight than children who received medication as part of their ADHD treatment.
For more information on conditions that frequently co-occur with ADHD, see Coexisting Conditions.
What other conditions can occur with ADHD?
More than two-thirds of individuals with ADHD have at least one other coexisting condition. The symptoms of ADHD—constant motion and fidgetiness, interrupting and blurting out, difficulty sitting still and need for constant reminders, etc.—may overshadow these other disorders. But just as untreated ADHD can present challenges in everyday life, other disorders can also cause unnecessary suffering in individuals with ADHD and their families if left untreated. Any disorder can coexist with ADHD, but certain disorders tend to occur more commonly with ADHD. The most common conditions found in individuals with ADHD are disruptive behavior disorders, mood disorders, anxiety, tics or Tourette Syndrome, learning disorders, sleep disorders and substance abuse. Read more at Coexisting Conditions
How is ADHD treated?
Treating ADHD often requires medical, educational, behavioral and psychological intervention. This comprehensive approach to treatment is sometimes called “multimodal” and, depending on the age of the individual with ADHD, may include the following:
Read more at Treatment of ADHD
What do I need to know about carrying my medication?
Law enforcement officers pay attention to possible drug abuse, especially among teenagers and young adults. If the police stop you for something such as a traffic violation or disorderly conduct and you are carrying ADHD medication in an unmarked container, you may be at greater risk of being suspected of illegal drug use.
Read more at Carrying Your Medications.
Is it legal for me to take stimulant medication for ADHD and still drive?
Stimulant medication for ADHD significantly improves the driver’s ability to pay attention to traffic on the road and to better follow traffic laws. Experts in ADHD strongly recommend that drivers who have ADHD take their medication as directed before driving.
Unfortunately, laws regarding ADHD medications and driving are not uniform across the United States, and are not always based on sound science or the advice of experts. Some states will allow a driver who carries a doctor’s note to drive while taking stimulant medication as prescribed. Some states leave it to the discretion of police officers conducting traffic stops to determine if medication has impaired a driver’s ability.
If taking your stimulant medication and driving would put you in violation of the law in your particular state, discuss treatment options with your doctor. If you are stopped by the police, always be truthful with the officer but you do not need to volunteer information about your medical treatment. When you travel, keep your medication safely tucked away in your purse, luggage, or other travel bags—see Carrying Your Medication for more information. If you receive a traffic ticket for driving while taking your medication, it’s best to hire an attorney familiar with ADHD treatment to represent you in court. For additional information visit Driving When You Are Taking Medications.
Are cannabis or marijuana products helpful for ADHD symptoms?
There are several states that have legalized medical marijuana or recreational marijuana. Some people have suggested marijuana, including THC and cannabis products as a possible treatment for ADHD. Some older adolescents and adults with ADHD even state that in their experience it helps to improve their symptoms. However, there is currently no research supporting marijuana in any form, or any product derived from it, as a treatment for ADHD or specific ADHD symptoms. THC, the active compound, does not increase attention or the ability to focus. It is known to relieve physical pain for some other medical conditions and may temporarily alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety by producing a feeling of being high or relaxed. Due to its sedative effect, it may calm hyperactivity in some people. The claims of helping ADHD probably result from suppression of anxiety and worry as the user loses motivation and stops caring about things. It further impairs decision-making and increases disorganization. When it is smoked, it also carries the same risks as cigarette smoking and can damage a person’s lungs.
In addition, it carries specific risks for teenagers and young adults. Recent research shows using marijuana increases the risks of mental illness and can worsen depression. Marijuana use has also been linked to lower IQ and physical changes to the brain. These changes can actually increase the symptoms of inattention while the person has a false feeling of improvement. For more information on this topic, please visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
My child was just diagnosed with ADHD. Is she eligible for Social Security Insurance (SSI)? What are her educational rights?
For children with ADHD to be considered disabled for SSI purposes, their ADHD must very seriously limit their daily functioning and be present (or be expected to last) for at least 12 months. Most children with ADHD who qualify as having a disability for SSI usually have co-existing conditions along with their ADHD. In addition, children and their families must have very low incomes and few resources. Therefore, the majority of children with ADHD will not qualify for SSI. Read more at Disability Benefits.
My child has ADHD but doesn't qualify for an IEP; can she still qualify under Section 504?
Maybe. A child who was denied coverage under IDEA may qualify for coverage under Section 504. The key is whether or not the student’s ADHD substantially impacts a major life activity. Read more at Education and ADHD
My child started taking medication and has developed tics. What should I do?
A possible side effect of stimulant medications for some people is the unmasking of hidden tics—involuntary motor movements such as eye blinking, shrugging, and clearing of the throat. Most often, but not always, the tic will disappear when the person stops taking the stimulant. Sometimes one type of stimulant (methylphenidate vs. amphetamine) will cause or worsen tics while the other does not. So if only one stimulant has been tried, your child’s doctor may recommend trying the opposite kind.
Experts estimate that 7 percent of children with ADHD also have tics. For many children and teens, with or without ADHD, vocal tics (throat clearing, sniffing, or coughing beyond what is normal) or motor tics (blinking, facial grimacing, shrugging, or head-turning) will occur as a time-limited behavior, before going away on their own. Stimulants may make these tics noticeable earlier or make them more bothersome than they would be without medication. The tics often eventually go away, even for some people who continue to take the stimulant.
Tourette Syndrome is a chronic tic disorder that involves vocal and motor tics. Over half of children with Tourette Syndrome also have ADHD, and in those cases the ADHD typically precedes the tics. Thus, ADHD is a risk factor for Tourette’s. Research suggests the development of Tourette Syndrome in children with ADHD is not related to stimulant medication. However, a cautious approach to treatment is recommended when there is a family history of tics or Tourette Syndrome.
If tics continue to be a problem, you should talk with your doctor about possibly switching to guanfacine, which has FDA approval for ADHD and some evidence for helping tics.
I’m an adult; doesn’t ADHD only affect children?
No. Approximately 10 million adults have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About one-third of children with ADHD continue to meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis as adults. In early adulthood, ADHD may be associated with depression, mood or conduct disorders and substance abuse. Adults with ADHD often cope with difficulties at work and in their personal and family lives related to ADHD symptoms. Many have inconsistent performance at work or in their careers; have difficulties with day-to-day responsibilities; experience relationship problems; and may have chronic feelings of frustration, guilt or blame. Read more at For Adults
Smoking and ADHD: what’s the connection?
Research suggests that youth with ADHD are at increased risk for very early cigarette use. Cigarette smoking is more common in adolescents with ADHD, and adults with ADHD have elevated rates of smoking and report particular difficulty in quitting. Youth with ADHD are twice as likely to become addicted to nicotine as individuals without ADHD. Read more at Co-existing Conditions and ADHD and Coexisting Conditions in Children
Can someone with ADHD join the military?
We often receive questions from parents or teenagers who want to know whether a diagnosis of ADHD or taking medication to treat ADHD disqualifies someone from entering the military service. This challenge is compounded by the fact that military recruiters who have monthly recruitment quotas they must meet, often give incomplete, contradictory, or inaccurate information.
So, the simple answer to this question is...maybe.
Enlistment in the military is a multi-faceted process and there are numerous eligibility criteria which a potential soldier, sailor, airman, or marine must meet. These criteria fall into two main categories: (1) skills and aptitude for military service; and (2) physical standards for military service. These criteria are evaluated at the Military Entrance and Processing Station (MEPS) when an applicant seeks to enter the military. Read more at ADHD and the Military
Is it safe for a woman with ADHD to take stimulant medication when she is pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant?
The safety of stimulant medications on the developing baby during pregnancy is unknown because pregnant women are often excluded from clinical trials that study the effects of medication on them. Stimulant medications, such as amphetamines like Adderall or methylphenidates like Concerta, Ritalin LA and Metadate CD, are all considered "Category C" medications. This means that studies of animals exposed to these medications have shown a negative effect on their developing pups, but there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans to allow healthcare providers to make conclusions about the effects of these medications on human pregnancies. A Category C label also means that the benefits of using these medications during pregnancy may be acceptable despite its potential risks.
This is why it's important for all women to talk with their doctor if they are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy and are using any medications. Together you can weigh the risks and benefits of managing your ADHD with the potential risks of using the medication during pregnancy. Read more at ADHD Medication and Pregnancy
Should I tell my employer that I have ADHD?
The decision to disclose a disability to an employer or not can be a difficult one. On the one hand, an employer is not required to make accommodations unless the employee has disclosed the disability. On the other hand, discrimination often begins when the employee makes the disclosure. These factors must be weighed before making the decision to disclose.
Reasons for not disclosing:
Reasons for disclosing:
Read more at Workplace Issues