Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Myths and Facts

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Summary & Participants

There's been a lot of talk in recent years about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD. And with all the talk has come a lot of misinformation. Is this a real disease? If so, what are the causes? And how is it diagnosed? Join our panel as they help us separate fact from fiction.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript

LISA CLARK: Thanks for joining us. I'm Lisa Clark. There's been a lot of talk in recent years about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. And with all the talk, there's come a lot of misinformation. Here today to help us separate fact from fiction, are two experts: Dr. Patrician Quinn, a Developmental Pediatrician from Washington, D.C. in private practice. And also Dr. Peter Jensen, who is a Professor of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University. Let's get right to it. Is ADHD a real disease?

DR. PATRICIA QUINN: Absolutely. And we now know it occurs in approximately 3-5 percent of the population. It is replicable. We have certain symptoms with diagnostic criteria that a group of professionals who deal in this field can accurately diagnose the disorder.

LISA CLARK: Dr. Jensen, is ADHD over-diagnosed or over-treated?

DR. PETER JENSEN: Well it's probably under-diagnosed more than it's over-diagnosed. Only about half of the children with ADHD are actually identified and treated. There are probably some who don't really have the condition who are presumably treated. But the biggest problem is under-diagnosis and misdiagnosis.

LISA CLARK: Dr. Quinn, many ADHD patients are treated with stimulants, leading to questions about whether this sets someone up for future problems with drug abuse or addiction. Is that true?

DR. PATRICIA QUINN: Absolutely not. And what we're finding is that treating a child who has ADHD with stimulants causes an eightfold decrease in the substance abuse or alcohol abuse later in life. So we want to get them diagnosed and treated properly so they don't abuse drugs and alcohol.

LISA CLARK: Dr. Jensen, should children who have ADHD who are on medication stop taking that medication when they hit adolescence? Is there a turnoff point for this disease?

DR. PETER JENSEN: Many children, most actually adolescents, will continue to benefit from the medication into adolescence. There's a small number that might be able to do well without. But by and large, most children, most adolescents will continue to need the medication.

LISA CLARK: This is a hard question for me to even ask, but some people might feel this way. Does a diagnosis of ADHD mean that you're set up for a lifetime of disappointments or failures?

DR. PATRICIA QUINN: Absolutely not. When we diagnose the disorder, one of the most common reactions, from adults particularly, is hope. "Now I know what's really wrong with me. I'm not stupid, lazy or crazy. I have this disorder." And we now have effective treatments and ways to deal with it. And I find it really is a very treatable disorder.

LISA CLARK: And there are many doctors out there who can help. Dr. Jensen, where can people start if they're looking for treatment?

DR. PETER JENSEN: Well, your primary care provider should be trained in this area, but it's not always the case. And so often you turn to other parents or others who may be knowledgeable in the area, who've had experience in their own families. They'll often know the ropes and can point you in the right direction. But a well-trained pediatrician, a child psychiatrist or psychiatrist, psychologist, these are some of the professionals that should be able to do the diagnosis and treatment.

LISA CLARK: Thanks so much for the good advice and for the quick overview on ADHD. Thanks for joining us.