I thought of my daughter the other day when I heard the NPR report stating that the biggest surge in new prescriptions for Ritalin and other ADHD drugs has been in those written for young women, aged 19 to 34. When my daughter was in high school and college, she told me she thought she had ADHD, but I downplayed that idea: she had no trouble paying attention to things she wanted to, I said, and besides she was a good student and we all knew she was very very smart.
Now I see that I did what parents of girls with ADHD often do. We assume that, just because they don't look like boys with ADHD -- disrupting classrooms and climbing the walls in school and at home -- everything must be fine.
According to the NPR report by Patti Neighmond, and an accompanying blog post by Nancy Shute, that's exactly the trouble: girls with ADHD don't act out, so their problems often go undiagnosed. Then when they get to college, all hell breaks loose. And then life gets even more complicated: the young women finish college, get jobs, marry and have kids, and try to juggle everything. According to a report by Express Scripts that was the subject of the blog post, when undiagnosed ADHD bumps up against this frenetic lifestyle, things might get so bad that the attention problem finally gets recognized and treated. That helps explain one rather astounding statistic: the percentage of women aged 26 to 34 who are taking Ritalin and other ADHD drugs has, in the past five years, shot up 85 percent.
The part I worry about now is whether these young women are going to feel they need to be on these meds for the rest of their lives. And what happens when they get pregnant; do these medications hurt the fetus? Will the women with ADHD be quicker to see it in their own children, and if they do, will it create a new generation, boys and girls alike, vulnerable to overdiagnosis? These are still open questions, of course, and they can't be answered until these Millennial women move into their 30s and 40s. I just think we need to be watching.