More People Are Looking for ADHD Medication in 2023 Than Ever Before—Here’s Why

  • The last decade has seen a consistent increase in ADHD diagnoses.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic saw an even more dramatic spike in ADHD diagnoses, in both children and adults.
  • Information about ADHD has become more accessible, expanding the public's education and perspective of the diagnosis.

The ongoing Adderall shortage divulges a variety of information about the healthcare landscape of the United States. Perhaps most interestingly, a noticeable uptick in ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) diagnoses.

In October, the Food & Drug Administration confirmed a limited supply of Adderall, a commonly prescribed ADHD medication. Consequently, alternative ADHD medications became more scarce as well.

The reason for the shortage in medication is not supply chain related, as many previously assumed. Instead, it’s the increase in diagnoses, which have led to a greater demand for the medication than manufacturers can produce.

To understand the steep rise in ADHD diagnoses, a detailed look at public awareness, social media impact, and side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is required.

Man talking to doctor on phone

Getty Images / andresr

Increased ADHD Awareness

There are a few contributing factors to the surge of ADHD diagnoses, but awareness and accessibility to information are the main changes the public has experienced in recent years.

“The primary reason we believe ADHD diagnoses have gone up is simply due to overall better recognition of the symptoms and improved evaluation methods in the last 20 years or so,” said Yamalis Diaz, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor and Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone.

Normalizing ADHD—making it something that’s less stigmatized to talk about—has helped bring it to the forefront. This is largely thanks to social media’s ability to increase access to information.

“Social media loves ADHD,” noted Shawna Newman, MD, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with Northwell Health. “We have this whole outlet that didn’t exist 20 years ago as a way to share information and be part of a great world. For many people, despite the downsides and dangers of the internet in general, there are a lot of good things. Sharing information overall benefits humans.”

ADHD and Social Media

While social media has played a large role in destigmatizing mental illness—ADHD included—it brings with it a lack of credibility. Meaning that not every Instagram post, Facebook comment, or TikTok video is guaranteed to be correct. Yet, even if the information is wrong it still has the potential to reach millions of individuals.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto surveyed the 100 most popular ADHD videos on TikTok. Out of these 100, 52% were classified as misleading, 27% as personal experience, and 21% as helpful. The research found that misleading videos were often created by non-healthcare professionals, while content uploaded by healthcare professionals maintained a higher quality of information.

All of the aforementioned videos, whether helpful or misleading, were still wildly popular. This goes to show that confirmed quality—in this case, truth—is not required for virality. A surplus of false or misleading information, as predominantly seen on TikTok, may lead individuals to incorrectly self-diagnose ADHD, or mismanage the treatment that their personal situation requires.

ADHD and the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the last decade, there has been an overall increase in adults diagnosed with ADHD. But since the pandemic, that number has seen an even more intense spike. According to a survey conducted by ADDitude, of 2,365 adult survey respondents, 26.5% said that they had received a formal ADHD diagnosis in the last year.

Rise in Adult ADHD Diagnoses

Nearly 75% of newly diagnosed adults said that the pandemic played a role in prompting them to explore an ADHD diagnosis. The most common factors were:

  • Working from home without external motivators for focus
  • Stress and anxiety related to the pandemic, lockdown measures, employment, politics, etc
  • Unending time at home with family members living with ADHD, seeing symptom similarities in a new light
  • More time on social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter, and other channels with a high volume of ADHD content

The rise in telehealth, most notably during the pandemic, played a role in the increase of diagnoses as well. The overall ease of access helped get people in front of a doctor to discuss their symptoms, but it also could have contributed to the rise in misdiagnoses.

“The telemedicine phenomenon happened pre-COVID, but with the advent of social media and telemedicine platforms, there has been an opportunity to access care in a different way,” explained Dr. Newman. “But as clinicians and professionals, it is our job to try to understand what the standard diagnosis of ADHD is...can you be diagnosed in 15 minutes online? I would argue absolutely not.”

Increase of Children with ADHD Amidst COVID-19

Properly diagnosing ADHD requires a lot of work, time, and attention. If you’re diagnosing a child, the clinician will have to spend sufficient time with both the child and the parent.

“Unfortunately, providers may not always conduct a full best practices evaluation that includes clinical and developmental history interviews with parents and child, standardized rating scales from parents/teachers/other reporters, direct observation when possible, and essentially full consideration of other diagnoses,” said Dr. Diaz. “If the ‘evaluation’ only includes one of these, the child may be misdiagnosed with ADHD when it could be something else—or nothing developmentally atypical at all.”

Rise in Child ADHD Diagnoses

For children diagnosed with ADHD, the triggers were:

  • Dramatically increased screen time, thanks to online learning, canceled activities, and home quarantines
  • Emotional dysregulation exacerbated by frustration, boredom, and stress
  • Learning remotely
  • Social isolation

During the pandemic, many adults had firsthand experience of observing kids in an online learning environment. This put many parents in a position to better observe those challenges, which may have led to more kids and teens being identified as potentially having difficulty with attention and focus.

“The effects of online learning and time out of the classroom remain to be seen, but the initial impact of the pandemic certainly may have brought both kids who genuinely have ADHD and kids who look like they have ADHD, but may have been struggling for a variety of other reasons, to light,” said Dr. Newman.

Ensuring a Proper ADHD Diagnosis

While increased information or the circumstances of COVID-19 may have influenced you or a loved one to explore an ADHD diagnosis, it’s important to prioritize the proper means of finding an answer for each personal situation. Talk to a healthcare provider, explain your symptoms, and understand that the next steps may require some time. The proper channels will help you find out how to manage your specific symptoms far before a social media video or secondhand story will.

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  1. Food and Drug Administration. FDA announces shortage of Adderall.

  2. Chung W, Jiang SF, Paksarian D, et al. Trends in the prevalence and incidence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adults and children of different racial and ethnic groupsJAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(11):e1914344. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14344

  3. Yeung A, Ng E, Abi-Jaoude E. Tiktok and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a cross-sectional study of social media content qualityCan J Psychiatry. 2022;67(12):899-906. doi:10.1177/07067437221082854

  4. Additude Magazine. ADHD symptoms unmasked by the pandemic: diagnoses spike among adults, children.

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