The Nordic countries maintain detailed registers of their inhabitants. This enables researchers to examine patterns over entire nations. An international research team used the Swedish national registers for a prospective cohort study of 2,675,615 persons in the Medical Birth Register born in Sweden over a 27-year period from January 1, 1983 through December 31, 2009. Follow-up was completed in December 2013, with the oldest cohort member aged 31. The mean age at study entry was 6, and the mean at follow-up was 11.

Using personal identification numbers, researchers were able to cross-reference with the National Patient Register and the National Drug Register. From this they determined that 86,670 members of the cohort (3.2 percent) had ADHD, based either on records of clinical diagnosis or of prescription of ADHD drugs. Psychiatric comorbidities were likewise identified in the National Patient Register.

These comorbidities were significantly more prevalent in the ADHD population than in the rest of the cohort. For example, whereas only 2.2% of the non-ADHD group was diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD), 13.3% of the ADHD group also had SUD, a six-fold difference. For depression it was a seven-fold difference, for schizophrenia a nine-fold difference.

The ADHD group had a significantly higher risk of premature death from all causes than the non-ADHD group, with an adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of 3.94 (95% CI 3.51-4.43). Unintentional injury (36%) and suicide (31%) were the leading causes of death in the ADHD group. Those with ADHD were more than eight times more likely to die by suicide than non-ADHD individuals, and roughly four times more likely to die from unintentional injury.

The vast majority of the increased risk appears to be associated with comorbid psychiatric conditions. Those with ADHD but no diagnosed comorbidities had an adjusted HR of 1.41 (95% CI 1.01-1.97). With a single comorbidity, the HR more than doubled to 3.71 (95% CI 2.88-4.78). With four or more comorbidities, it rose to a staggering 25.22 (95% CI 19.6-32.46).

The comorbid condition with the greatest impact was SUD, which increased the risk eight-fold by comparison with those with only ADHD (HR = 8.01, 95% CI 6.16-10.41). Anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorder increased the risk about fourfold. Bipolar disorder, depression, and eating disorder increased risk roughly two and a half times.

Covariate analysis helped tease out what portion of the risk was associated with ADHD alone versus comorbid conditions. Adjusting for year of birth, sex, birth weight, maternal age at birth, parental educational level, and parental employment status, those with ADHD (including comorbid conditions) were 2.7 times more likely to prematurely die of natural causes than those without. Adjusting for comorbid psychiatric conditions completely eliminated the risk from ADHD alone (HR = 1.01, 95% CI .72-1.42).

Likewise, those with ADHD (including comorbid conditions) were six times as likely to die of unnatural causes. Adjusting for early-onset comorbid disorders (such as conduct disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disability) only modestly reduced the HR to 5.3, but further adjusting for later-onset comorbid disorders (including substance use disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, and eating disorders) reduced the HR to 1.57 (95% CI 1.35-1.83), and reduced it to insignificance in the case of suicide (HR = 1.13, 95% CI .88-1.45).

Summing up, the lion’s share of the greater risk of premature death in persons with ADHD is attributable to psychiatric comorbidities. Nevertheless, those with ADHD alone still face a 40 percent greater risk than those without ADHD.

The study did not examine effects of ADHD medication, which the authors state “should be analyzed because of documented potential benefits on ADHD symptoms and comorbid disorders.”

The authors concluded, “Among adults, early-onset psychiatric comorbidity contributed substantially to the premature mortality risks due to natural causes. On the other hand, later-onset psychiatric comorbidity, especially SUD, explained a substantial part of the risk for unnatural deaths, including all the risk of suicide deaths and most of the deaths due to unintentional injuries. These results suggest that overall health conditions and risk of psychiatric comorbidity should be evaluated clinically to identify high-risk groups among individuals with ADHD.”

Shihua Sun, MD; Ralf Kuja-Halkola, PhD; Stephen V. Faraone, PhD; Brian M. D’Onofrio, PhD; Søren Dalsgaard, PhD; Zheng Chang, PhD; Henrik Larsson, PhD, “Association of Psychiatric Comorbidity With the Risk of Premature Death Among Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” JAMA Psychiatry doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.1944 Published online August 7, 2019.

ADHD, especially when untreated impairs patients and creates difficulties in families. Although these are the proximal targets of treatment, ADHD also burdens society due, for example, to underemployment and use of health resources. A recent study assessed economic burden using the Danish population registries, researchers, which link medical information with employment, education, crime, and social care registers while maintaining confidentiality. They identified 5,269 adults with adult ADHD who had not been diagnosed with ADHD in childhood and, we can assume, were probably not treated for the disorder. They excluded patients with other psychiatric diagnoses, and cases without a same sex sibling free of any diagnosed psychiatric diagnoses. That left 460 pairs of same-sex siblings, one with adult ADHD and the other with no psychiatric diagnosis. They selected the non-ADHD sibling closest in age to the ADHD sibling. Using siblings mitigated effects of genetics and upbringing between the ADHD group and normally developing controls.

Looking at personal income (combining work income and public transfers), adults with ADHD on average brought home about 12,000 Euros less – almost a third less – than their sibling counterparts. They also paid 40% less tax. Balancing that out, their after-tax income was roughly 7,500 Euros less than their siblings. With the additional personal cost of prescribed medication (prescriptions are relatively inexpensive in Denmark, and copayments even more so) the net personal cost to adults with ADHD was 7,700 Euros.

The net public costs were considerably greater. That was primarily due to the reduction in taxes paid (about 4,500 Euros) and increase in income replacement transfers (just over 5,500 Euros). The cost of additional crimes committed by adults with ADHD added another 1,000 Euros. Additional primary and secondary health care costs contributed another 1,000 Euros. Subsidies for prescribed medicines added 661 Euros, but that was partly counterbalanced by a reduction of 344 Euros in education costs. There were no significant differences in costs from traffic accidents or adult continuation of foster care. Overall, the net per capita public cost of adults with ADHD was just over 12,400 Euros each year.

Combining public and private costs, the per capita economic burden of adult ADHD was just over 20,000 Euros each year.

The study could not evaluate the extent to which ADHD treatment may reduce economic burden but given many studies that show treatment for ADHD reduces impairments, we would expect treatment to have a positive impact on economic burden. These results are extremely important for policy makers and for those who control the allocation of treatment in health care systems. Although treating ADHD incurs costs, not treating in incurs even greater costs in the long run

D. Daley, R.H. Jacobsen, A.-M. Lange, A. Sørensen, J. Walldorf, “The economic burden of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A sibling comparison cost analysis,” European Psychiatry 61 (2019) 41–48.

A newly published meta-analysis of 57 studies encompassing almost a third of a million participants has uncovered a very strong association between ADHD and suicide, a strong association with suicidal ideation, and a small-to-medium association with suicide attempts.

The population examined included children, adolescents, and adults. Only persons formally diagnosed were considered to have ADHD. Studies that included self-injuries without suicidal intent were excluded. Most of the studies focused on European and American populations, with one in six from other locations, mostly Asian.

The most striking result was for actual suicides. The odds ratio (OR) for four datasets encompassing roughly one hundred forty thousand participants was 6.69 (95% CI 3.24 to 17.39, p < .0001). As a frame of reference, an OR of 1.5 is a small effect size, 2.5 a medium one, and 4.3 a large one. That means the effect size in this case is very large.

For suicidal ideation, 23 datasets with a combined total of just over 73,000 participants produced a medium-to-large OR of 3.5 (95% CI 2.94 to 4.25, p < .0001). In three datasets with more than nine thousand participants that adjusted for confounders, the adjusted OR was 4.5 (95% CI 1.72 to 11.63, p < .0001), indicating a large effect size.

For suicide attempts, 44 datasets encompassing over 228,000 participants produced an OR of 2.4 (95% CI 1.64 to 3.43, p < .0001). In six datasets with over 65,000 participants that adjusted for confounders, the adjusted OR dropped to 2.1 (95% CI 1.27 to 3.47, p = .005).

There was no evidence of publication bias for studies on suicides or suicidal ideation, but significant evidence of bias for studies on suicide attempts (Egger’s p = .03). This means that studies with positive findings were more likely to be published than negative studies.

There was, however, strong statistical evidence for differences between studies in the size of their ORs. This indicates that the pooled OR cannot summarize results from all datasets and more work is needed to clarify why the ORs differ among studies.

The authors appropriately caution that their meta-analysis is “not informative on cause-effect relationships,” but offer as a hypothesis that ADHD contributes to suicidal spectrum behaviors (SSBs) through “Impulsivity, a core symptom of ADHD, along with impaired decision-making and risk taking, that characterize a number of individuals with ADHD … Additionally, a sizeable portion of individuals with ADHD present with deficits in executive functions. As executive functions are implicated in the regulation of impulse control and emotions, executive dysfunctions may contribute to SSBs.”

In view of the large to very large effect sizes for suicide and suicidal ideation, the authors advise: “Awareness of this association should prompt practitioners to systematically screen for SSBs in patients with ADHD at the first assessment and at each follow-up, which in turns should contribute to decrease the risk of SSBs. This is particularly noteworthy considering that questionnaires/scales commonly used to screen/assess ADHD symptoms generally do not include suicide related items.”

Septier M, Stordeur C, Zhang J, Delorme R, Cortese S, Association between suicidal spectrum behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews (2019),

A Canadian team has published a systematic review examining the effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) for treating adults with ADHD. MBIs usually involve three forms of meditation – body scan, sitting meditation, and mindful yoga – that are intended to cultivate nonjudgmental awareness of present-moment experience. The team reviewed thirteen studies.

Three were single-group studies with no control group. One used dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It reported mild to moderate improvements in ADHD symptoms, and substantial improvements in neurocognitive function (with standardized mean difference effect sizes from .99 to 2.22). A second enrolled both adults and adolescents in a mindful awareness program (MAP) which included a psychoeducational component. It found improvements in self-reported ADHD symptoms with standardized mean difference (SMD) effect sizes running from .50 to.93. Following training, it also reported improvement in attentional conflict (.93) set-shifting (.43). The third study also used DBT, focused on acceptance, mindfulness, functional behavioral analysis, and psychoeducation. ADHD symptoms showed mild improvement (.22), and functional impairment was slightly reduced (.15) and remained stable at 3-month follow-up.

The other ten studies used control groups. One used MAP and carefully stratified participants based on their ADHD medication status, then randomly assigned them to mindfulness treatment or waitlist. It reported large effect sizes in improvement of self-reported and clinician ratings of ADHD symptoms (1.35 to 3.14), executive functioning (1.45 to 2.67), and self-reported emotion regulation (1.27 to 1.63). Another study nonrandomly assigned adults to either mindfulness-based training (MBT) or skills training. Effect sizes were small to medium (.06 to .49), with 31% of MBT participants showing some improvement, versus only 11% of skills training participants.

Another study involved a controlled trial of college students with ADHD, randomized to receive either MBT or skills treatments. Treatment response rates were higher for MBT (59-65%, vs. 19-25%). At follow-up, the effect size for MBT on ADHD symptoms was large (.84), and similarly large on executive functioning (.81).

Another study tried a year’s worth of mindfulness training on poor responders to medication. Participants who received the treatment were compared to others who were waitlisted. The study reported a medium effect size (.63) in reducing the severity of ADHD.
Another looked at the impact of MAP on affective problems and impaired attention. It compared adults with ADHD and healthy controls who participated in MAP sessions with similar patients and controls who did not. The authors reported that MAP improved sustained attention and mood with medium to large effect sizes (.50 to .80).

A recent study explored the impact of MAP on neurocognitive performance with a randomized controlled trial. Following an 8-week mindfulness training, researchers “found a significant decrease in ADHD symptoms and significant improvement in task performance in both the MAP and the psychoeducation comparison group post- versus preintervention but did not find evidence for a significant main effect of treatment or a significant interaction effect on any ADHD symptoms (self- and observer-rated) nor on task performance (WM).”

Another study randomly assigned adults with ADHD either to a waitlist or to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). It found that MBCT led to a medium-to-large reduction in self-reported ADHD symptoms (.64) and a large reduction in investigator-reported symptoms (.78). It also found large (.93) improvements in executive functioning.

An 11th study looked at the effects of MBCT on neurophysiological correlates (event-related potentials (ERPs)) of performance monitoring in adults with ADHD. Half the patients were randomly assigned to MBCT, the other half to waitlist. MBCT produced reduced inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, and global ADHD index symptoms with medium to large effect sizes (.49 to .93).

A 12th study randomly assigned college students to MBCT or waitlist. At follow-up, participants who had received MBCT exhibited large (1.26) reductions in ADHD symptoms as well as greater treatment response rates (57%-71% vs. 23%-31%) versus waitlist. They also registered greater improvement on most neuropsychological performance and attentional scores.

Finally, another study compared the efficacy of MBCT plus treatment as usual (TAU) versus TAU only in reducing core symptoms in adults with ADHD. Participants were randomly assigned to an 8-weekly group therapy including meditation exercises, psychoeducation, and group discussions, or to TAU only, including pharmacotherapy and/or psychoeducation. At 6-month follow-up, MBCT+TAU patients reported large (SMD = .79) improvements in ADHD symptoms relative to TAU patients.

Overall, these are promising results for mindfulness-based interventions, and all the more so for those who do not respond well to drug therapy. Nevertheless, they must be seen as tentative. The sum total of participants over all thirteen studies was just 753, or an average of only 58 per study. There was too much variation in the studies to perform a meta-analysis. Only one of the studies included a healthy (non-ADHD) control group. And only one study received a perfect score by Cochrane Collaboration standards. Most studies did not use a suitable control group, i.e., in which there was an expectation of benefit from participating. As the authors noted, “Attrition bias was found to have high or unclear risk in more than a half of the studies. The reason for dropout of participants was not always clearly specified in those studies, so it is difficult to decide if it might be related to adverse effects or to some discomfort with treatment or instead to some incidental reasons.”

Hélène Poissant, Adrianna Mendrek, Nadine Talbot, Bassam Khoury, and Jennifer Nolan, “Behavioral and Cognitive Impacts of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review,” Behavioural Neurology, Vol. 2019, Article ID 5682050, 16 pages,

The study team began with a representative sample of 69,972 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older who completed the 2012 and 2013 U.S. National Health and Wellness Survey. These adults were invited to complete the Validate Attitudes and Lifestyle Issues in Depression, ADHD and Troubles with Eating (VALIDATE) study, which included 1) a customized questionnaire designed to collect data on sociodemographic and clinical characteristics and lifestyle, and 2) several validated work productivity, daily functioning, self-esteem, and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) questionnaires. Of the 22,937 respondents, 444 had been previously diagnosed with ADHD, and 1,055 reported ADHD-like symptoms but had no previous clinical diagnosis.

There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of age, education, income, health insurance, and most comorbid disorders. But those who had not been previously diagnosed were significantly more likely to be first-generation Americans (p<.001), nonwhite (p<.001), unemployed (p=.024), or suffer from depression, insomnia, or hypertension.

After matching the two groups for sociodemographic characteristics and comorbid conditions, covariate comparisons were made between 436 respondents diagnosed with ADHD and 867 previously undiagnosed respondents. Among respondents who were employed, diagnosed individuals registered a mean work productivity loss of 29% as opposed to 49% for the previously undiagnosed (p<.001). They also registered a 37% level of activity impairment versus a 53% level among the undiagnosed (p<.001). On the Sheehan Disability Scale, which ranges from 0 (no impairment) to 30 (highly impaired), the diagnosed group had a mean of 10, as opposed to a mean of 15 for the undiagnosed (p<.001). Diagnosed respondents also significantly outperformed undiagnosed ones on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (19 versus 15, on a scale of 0 to 30, p<.001), and on two quality-of-life scales (p<.001).

Applying a linear regression mixed model to the matched sets, the diagnosed still scored 16 points better than the undiagnosed on the WPAI:GH Productivity Loss scale (p<.001), 14 points better on the WPAI:GH Activity Impairment scale (p<.001), 4.5 points better on the Sheehan Disability Scale (p<.001), almost 4 points on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (p<.0001), with comparable gains on the two quality-of-life scales (p<.001 and p<.0001).

The authors concluded, “This comparison revealed that individuals who had been diagnosed with ADHD were more likely to experience better functioning, HRQoL [health related quality-of-life], and self-esteem than those with symptomatic ADHD. This result appears to be robust, withstanding several levels of increasingly rigorous statistical adjustment.” That points to substantial benefits from the treatment that follows diagnosis of adult ADHD.

Manjiri Pawaskar, Moshe Fridman, Regina Grebla, and Manisha Madhoo, “Comparison of Quality of Life, Productivity, Functioning and Self-Esteem in Adults Diagnosed With ADHD and With Symptomatic ADH,” Journal of Attention Disorders, Published online May 2, 2019

The ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group published their second large study on the brains of people with ADHD in the American Journal of Psychiatry this month. In this second study, the focus was on the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.

ADHD symptoms include inattention and/or hyperactivity and acting impulsively. The disorder affects more than one in 20 (5.3%) children, and two-thirds of those diagnosed continue to experience symptoms as adults.

In this study, researchers found subtle differences in the brain’s outer layer – the cortex – when they combined brain imaging data on almost 4,000 participants from 37 research groups worldwide. The differences were only significant for children; and did not hold for adolescents or adults. The childhood effects were most prominent and widespread for the surface area of the cortex. More focal changes were found for thickness of the cortex. All differences were subtle and detected only at a group level, and thus these brain images cannot be used to diagnose ADHD or guide its treatment.

These subtle differences in the brain’s cortex were not limited to people with the clinical diagnosis of ADHD: they were also present – in a less marked form – in youth with some ADHD symptoms. This second finding results from a collaboration between the ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group and the Generation-R study from Rotterdam, which has brain images on 2700 children aged 9-11 years from the general population. The researchers found more symptoms of inattention to be associated with a decrease in cortical surface area. Furthermore, siblings of those with ADHD showed changes to their cortical surface area that resembled their affected sibling. This suggests that familial factors such as genetics or shared environment may play a role in brain cortical characteristics.

This is the largest study to date to look at the cortex of people with ADHD. It included 2246 people with a diagnosis of ADHD and 1713 people without, aged between four and 63 years old. This is the second study published by the ENIGMA-ADHD Working Group; the first examined structures that are deep in the brain. The ADHD Working Group is one of over 50 working groups of the ENIGMA Consortium, in which international researchers pull together to understand the brain alterations associated with different disorders and the role of genetic and environmental factors in those alterations.

The authors say the findings could help improve understanding of the disorder. ‘We identify cortical differences that are consistently associated with ADHD combining data from many different research groups internationally. We find that the differences extend beyond narrowly-defined clinical diagnoses and are seen, in a less marked manner, in those with some ADHD symptoms and in unaffected siblings of people with ADHD. This finding supports the idea that the symptoms underlying ADHD may be a continuous trait in the population, which has already been reported by other behavioural and genetic studies.’. In the future, the ADHD Working Group hopes to look at additional key features in the brain- such as the structural connections between brain areas – and to increase the representation of adults affected by ADHD, in whom limited research has been performed to date.


A team at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has just reported on the first-ever, double-blinded, sham-controlled study of trigeminal nerve stimulation (TNS) for treating ADHD. The trigeminal nerve is the largest cranial nerve. It enables facial sensation, as well as biting and chewing.

Over a four-week period, researchers fitted 62 eight-to-twelve-year-old children with electrodes while they slept; 32 got an active low current, the rest none at all. The active and sham setups were identical in appearance. The children were told, “pulses may come so fast or so slowly that the nerves in the forehead might or might not detect a sensation.” At the conclusion of the four weeks, there was an additional blinded week without intervention.

The primary efficacy outcome measure was the clinician-completed ADHD-RS total score, derived from parent interviews and available clinical information. It was completed at the onset of the study, and repeated over subsequent weeks. The Clinical Global Impression (CGI) score was used as a secondary outcome measure.

Both groups of children showed significant reductions in ADHD symptoms over the first week. But scores leveled off during the remaining three weeks for the group with sham treatment, while scores continued to decline for those in the group with actual stimulation. The standardized mean difference (SMD) between groups was 0.5.

By the conclusion of week 4, 52 percent for those in active treatment were improved or very much improved as indicated by CGI scores; only 14 percent did as well with the sham treatment. The number needed to treat was just 3.

After discontinuation of treatment, total scores in both groups rose at similar rates. At the end of week 5, CGI ratings for active treatment showed 13 percent improvement over baseline, versus 7 percent for sham treatment. The SMD was 0.46, once again indicating persistence of a medium effect size a week after treatment cessation.

The effect sizes computed for TNS are roughly comparable to effect sizes for nonstimulant medication, but less than those for stimulants.

Though the active group had significant gains in weight and pulse over the sham group, there were no serious adverse events in either group.

The authors concluded: “Results from the Early Impressions Questionnaire showed no differences in outcome expectations between treatment groups after 1 week using the randomized device, suggesting that our sham procedures successfully accomplished double blinding of group assignment. Improvements seen in the active and sham groups at week 1 likely reflect some placebo response secondary to the high level of parental involvement in administering treatment. Nonetheless, further improvement over subsequent weeks with active TNS suggests the emergence of true treatment effects … TNS is a non-medication minimal risk intervention with proven efficacy in alleviating ADHD symptoms. Although the present study finds that only slightly more than half of those receiving therapy have clinically meaningful improvement, the virtual lack of significant side effects should make it a popular treatment choice for many patients with ADHD, particularly for parents who prefer to avoid psychotropic medication.”

Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that this is a single un-replicated study with a small sample size. Further studies with larger numbers of participants are needed, both to confirm efficacy and to further explore the weight gains and higher pulse rates in the treatment group.

James J. McGough, MD, Alexandra Sturm, PhD, Jennifer Cowen, PhD, Kelly Tung, BS, Giulia C. Salgari, MS, Andrew F. Leuchter, MD, Ian A. Cook, MD, Catherine A. Sugar, PhD, Sandra K. Loo, PhD, “Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled, Pilot Study of Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation for Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder,” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 58, No. 4 (April 2019), 403-411.

Many college students truly have ADHD and deserve to be treated but some attempt to fake ADHD symptoms with the goal of getting stimulant medications for non-medical uses such as studying and getting high. Some students who fake ADHD also seek to gain accommodations that would give them additional time to complete exams. To address this issue, two psychologists examined data from 514 university students being assessed for ADHD to evaluate the ability of assessment tools to detect students who fake ADHD symptoms.

All participants had asked to be assessed to determine whether they could qualify for disability services. This was therefore by no means a random sample of university students, and could be expected to include some non-ADHD individuals seeking the benefits of an ADHD diagnosis. But this offered a good opportunity to explore which combination of tools would yield the best accuracy, and be best at excluding malingerers.

That was achieved by using both multiple informants and multiple assessment tools, and comparing results. Self-assessment was supplemented by assessment by other informants (e.g. parent, partner, friend, or other relative). These were supplemented with symptom validity tests to check for telltale highly inconsistent symptom reporting, or symptom exaggeration, which could signal false positives.

On the other hand, some individuals with ADHD have executive functioning problems that may make it difficult for them to reliably appraise their own symptoms on self-assessment tests, which can lead to false negatives. Performance validity tests were therefore also administered, in order to detect poor effort during evaluation, which could lead to false negatives.

Observer reporting was found to be more reliable than self-reporting, with significantly lower inconsistency scores (p < .001), and significantly higher exaggeration scores (p < .001). More than twice as many self-reports showed evidence of symptom exaggeration as did observer reports. This probably understates the problem when one considers that the observer reports were performed not by clinicians but by parents and partners who may themselves have had reasons to game the tests in favor of an ADHD diagnosis.

Even so, the authors noted, “External incentives such as procurement of a desired controlled substance or eligibility for a desired disability accommodation are likely to be of more perceived value to those who directly obtain them.” They suggested compensating for this by making ADHD diagnoses only on the basis of positive observer tests in addition to self-reports: “Applying an ‘and’ rule—one where both self- and observer reports were required to meet the diagnostic threshold— generally cut the proportions meeting various thresholds at least in half and washed out the differences between the adequate and inadequate symptom validity groups.”

They also recommended including formal tests of response validity, using both symptom validity tests and performance validity tests. Overall, they found that just over half the subsample of 410 students administered performance validity tests demonstrated either inadequate symptom or performance validity.

Finally, they recommended “that clinicians give considerable weight to direct, objective evidence of functional impairment when making decisions about the presence of ADHD in adults. The degree to which symptoms cause significant difficulty functioning in day-to-day life is a core element of the ADHD diagnostic criteria (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), and it cannot be assumed that significant symptoms cause such difficulty, as symptoms are only moderately associated with functional impairment. … we urge clinicians to procure objective records (e.g., grade transcripts, work performance evaluations, disciplinary and legal records) to aid in determining functional impairment in adults assessed for ADHD.”

Jason M. Nelson and Benjamin J. Lovett, “Assessing ADHD in College Students: Integrating Multiple Evidence Sources With Symptom and Performance Validity Data,” Psychological Assessment, published online January 31, 2019

Behavioral disinhibition is a trait associated with both ADHD and several genes that affect dopamine signaling. A new study by three American medical researchers set out to examine how these ADHD risk genes – DRD4 (dopamine 4 receptor density), DAT1 (dopamine 1 transporter), and DBH (dopamine beta-hydroxylase) – affect estimated life expectancy in young adulthood.

The method used was a longitudinal study of 131 hyperactive children and 71 matched controls through early adulthood. The original evaluations were done in 1979-1980, when both groups were children in the 4 to 12 age range. They were reevaluated in 1987-1988 as adolescents aged 12 to 20. The next follow-up was in 1992-1996 in early adulthood, aged 19 to 25. The final follow-up was in 1998-2004, as adults aged 24 to 32. All agreed to physical examinations that formed the basis for calculating estimated life expectancy using actuarial tables that factor in the effects of smoking, body mass index, alcohol, and other risk factors on expected longevity. Participants also provided blood samples that enabled gene typing.

For the DAT1 gene, participants who had the homozygous nine-repeat allele (9/9) had a five-year reduction in estimated life expectancy relative to those with the ten-repeat allele (10/10). Those with the intermediate (9/10) configuration had a three-year reduction in estimated life expectancy.

For the DBH Taq1 gene, those with a heterozygous (A1/A2) combination had almost a three-year reduction in estimated life expectancy relative to those with homozygous (A1/A1 or A2/A2) configurations.

For DRD4, on the other hand, no significant differences were found for estimated life expectancy.

In a related study, several background traits were found to be significantly predictive of variance in estimated life expectancy. The largest of these was behavioral disinhibition, followed by verbal IQ, self-rated hostility, and a nonverbal fluency test. But no significant differences were found between any of the gene polymorphisms on any of these four measures, indicating that the present gene associations were independent of the background traits.

The researchers next sought to determine which variables used in the estimated life expectancy calculations were associated with the two significant genes. For DBH, one variable stood out. Those with the A1/A2 heterozygous pairings had almost twice the alcohol consumption of those with homozygous pairings (p = 0.023).

For DAT1, two variables stood out. Overall, the 9/9 pairings smoked two and a half times as much as the 10/10 pairings, with the 9/10 pairings midway between the extremes (p = 0.036). They were also 73 percent more likely to be smokers relative to the 10/10 pairings, and 61 percent more likely relative to the 9/10 pairings. They also had significantly less education than the 10/10 pairings, with the 9/10 pairings again being intermediate (p = 0.027).

An obvious limitation of the study was its small sample size. The authors cautioned, “our findings should be considered quite preliminary and in need of much greater research before being given much weight in the literature or in public policy.”

“With these limitations in mind,” they concluded, “the present study demonstrated that two ADHD risk genes (DBH and DAT1) independently contributed to a reduction in ELE [estimated life expectancy] beyond the second order variables of behavioral disinhibition, IQ, hostility, and nonverbal fluency that contributed in the related study to variation in ELE. The gene polymorphisms seemed to be influencing ELE through their affiliation with first-order or more proximal factors related to ELE such as education, smoking, alcohol use, and possibly exercise.”

Russell A. Barkley, Karen Müller Smith, and Mariellen Fischer, “ADHD risk genes involved in dopamine signaling and metabolism are associated with reduced estimated life expectancy at young adult follow-up in hyperactive and control children,” American Journal of Medical Genetics (2019), DOI: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32711.

ADHD is far more prevalent among persons with AUD (roughly 20 percent) than it is in the general population. The most accurate way of identifying ADHD is through structured clinical interviews. Given that this is not feasible in routine clinical settings, ADHD self-report scales offer a less reliable but much less resource-intensive alternative. Could the latter be calibrated in a way that would yield diagnoses that better correspond with the former?

A German team compared the outcomes of both methods on 404 adults undergoing residential treatment for AUD. All were abstinent while undergoing evaluations. First, to obtain reliable ADHD diagnoses, each underwent the Diagnostic Interview for ADHD in Adults, DIVA. If DIVA indicated probable ADHD, two expert clinicians conducted successive follow-up interviews. ADHD was only diagnosed when both experts concurred with the DIVA outcome.

Participants were then asked to use two adult ADHD self-report scales, the six-item Adult ADHD Self Report Scale v1.1 (ASRS) and the 30-item Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scale (CAARS-S-SR). The outcomes were then compared with the expert interview diagnoses.

Using established cut-off values for the ASRS, less than two-thirds of patients known to have ADHD were scored as having ADHD by the test. In other words, there was a very high rate of false negatives. Lowering the cut-off to a sum score ≥ 11 resulted in correct diagnosis of more than seven out of eight. But the rate of false positives soared to almost two in five. Similarly, the CAARS-S-SR had its greatest sensitivity (ability to accurately identify those with ADHD) at the lowest threshold of ≥ 60, but at a similarly high cost in false positives (more than a third).

The authors found it was impossible to come anywhere near the precision of the expert clinical interviews. Nevertheless, they judged the best compromise to be to use the lowest thresholds on both tests, and then require positive determinations from both. That led to successfully diagnosing more than three out of four individuals known to have ADHD, with a false positive rate of just over one in five.

Using this combination of the two self-reporting questionnaires with lower thresholds, they suggest, could substantially reduce the under-diagnosis of ADHD in alcohol dependent patients.

Mathias Luderer, Nurcihan Kaplan-Wickel, Agnes Richter, Iris Reinhard, Falk Kiefer, Tillmann Weber, “Screening for adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in alcohol dependent patients: Underreporting of ADHD symptoms in self-report scales,” Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2019), 195:52-58.