Lenard A Adler, MDGray et al. (2014), The Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS): utility in college students with attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder. PeerJ 2:e324; DOI 10.7717/peerj.324

There has been ongoing interest in the identification of ADHD in college students; many transitional adults will present with ADHD related symptoms and problems with the transition to post-secondary education and the related demands on attention and executive function. This investigation examined the utility of the World Health Organization (WHO) Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) in identifying college students at risk for ADHD.

135 college students (mean age 24 years) who were enrolled in disability service programs at their respective institutions were surveyed; all students had received a prior diagnosis of ADHD and were asked to complete all scales as if they were not on ADHD medication (59% of the students were on medication at the time of the evaluation). Students first completed the six item ASRS screener by telephone and then, several weeks later, the completed a paper version of the 18 item ASRS symptom checklist. A collateral version “other-report” of the 18 item ASRS symptom checklist, and a self-report measure of executive function (BDEFS), were also collected.

There was a modest correlation of the other-report and self-report of ASRS symptoms (r(59) = .46, p < .001) and other-report scores were significantly lower than self-report scores (F(1,57) = 8.92, p = .004). There was a moderately high correlation of student self-report of symptoms on the ASRS Screener (telephonic) and the identical six items when completed on the 18 item ASRS Symptom Checklist several weeks later (r (131) = .66, p < .001), indicating some stability of self-report of ADHD symptoms. There were moderate correlations between the total score on the ASRS screener and total executive function (BDEFS summary) scores (r (129) = .40, p < .001); correlations between total scores on 18 item ASRS symptom checklist and summary score on BDEFs were higher than seen with the screener (r (131) = .62, p < .001), indicating that a total symptom inventory of ADHD symptoms better correlates with executive function than the screening subset (which is not surprising). This study has several limitations including: 1) the subjects being asked to complete scales in the hypothetical sense of when they were not on medication (and with 3/5 students being treated for ADHD), creating the possibility of reporter bias, and 2) the study utilized a non-validated version of the other report version of the ASRS symptom checklist which was not sanctioned by WHO.

The study does highlight the utility of the ASRS symptom checklist as a self-report measure in college students; this instrument carries the advantages of being easy to use and being in the public domain. It also indicates that gathering collateral information can be helpful, but as seen in other reports, collateral reports of symptoms are often lower than self and clinician symptom scores as the informant only sees the patient for a portion of their day (home vs. work vs. social).


Adult ADHD is a Risk Factor for Broken Bones

Although some people view the impulsivity and inattentiveness of ADHD adults as a normal trait, these symptoms have adverse consequences, which is why doctors consider ADHD to be a disorder. The list of adverse consequences is long and now we can add another: broken bones.   A recent study by Komurcu and colleagues examined 40 patients who were seen by doctors because of broken bones and 40 people who had not broken a bone.  After measuring ADHD symptoms in these patients, the study found that the patients with broken bones were more impulsive and inattentive than those without broken bones.

These data suggest that, compared with others, adults with ADHD symptoms put themselves in situations that lead to broken bones.  What could those situations be?  Well, we know for starters that ADHD adults are more likely to have traffic accidents.   They are also more likely to get into fights due to their impulsivity.   As a general observation, it makes sense that people who are inattentive are more likely to have accidents that lead to injuries.  When we don’t pay attention, we can put ourselves in dangerous situations. 

Who should care about these results?  ADHD adult patients need to know about this so that they understand the potential consequences of their disorder.  They are exposed to so much media attention to the dangers of drug treatment that it can be easy to forget that non-treatment also has consequences.  Cognitive behavior therapy is CBT_treats_Executive_Dysfunction_Free_ADHD_CME_CJkZtualso useful for helping patients learn how to avoid situations that might lead to accidents and broken bones.

This study also has an important message for insurance administrators and how they make decisions about subsidizing or reimbursing treatment for ADHD.  They need to know that treating ADHD can prevent outcomes that are costly to the healthcare system, such as broken bones.   For example, in a study of children and adolescents, Leibson and colleagues showed that healthcare costs for ADHD patients were twice the cost for other youth, partly due to more hospitalizations and more emergency room visits. 

Do these data mean that every ADHD patient is doomed to a life of injury and hospital visits?   Certainly not.  But they do mean that patients and their loved ones need to be cautious and need to seek treatments that can limit the possibility of accidents and injury.


Komurcu, E., Bilgic, A. & Herguner, S. (2014). Relationship between extremity fractures and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology in adults. Int J Psychiatry Med 47, 55-63.

Leibson, C. L., S. K. Katusic, et al. (2001). “Use and Costs of Medical Care for Children and Adolescents With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Journal of the American Medical Association 285(1): 60-66.

Lenard A. Adler, MD, ADHD in Adults
Ettinger AB1, Ottman R, Lipton RB, Cramer JA, Fanning KM, Reed ML. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Len_Adler_AIAdisorder symptoms in adults with self-reported epilepsy: Results from a national epidemiologic survey of epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2015 Jan 15. doi: 10.1111/epi.12897. [Epub ahead of print]

The purpose of this study was to examine symptoms of ADHD and resulting functional consequences in a large community cohort of individuals with epilepsy. There is a somewhat higher rate of ADHD observed in pediatric samples of ADHD, but little data exists in terms of the comparative rates of ADHD, co-morbidity and quality of life in adults with epilepsy.

This study is important because it extends the observation of higher rates of ADHD seen in studies of pediatric ADHD to adult ADHD; the observed prevalence rate of ADHD (using a proxy of being screen positive on the ASRS v1.1) was nearly three times in this population of adults with epilepsy as compared to the general population, with substantial functional consequences in these individuals. The study also highlights the need to examine adults with epilepsy for the possibility of co-morbid ADHD.

ASRS Professional Screener Download

This study examined through telephone survey as part of The Epilepsy Comorbidities and Health Study (EPIC), 1361 respondents who had been told they had epilepsy and were receiving anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). The group was divided into a likelihood of having ADHD via the ASRS v1.1 Screener, if they had a total score on these six items > 14 (ASRS v1.1 Screen positive and ASRS v1.1 Screen negative). Measures of co-morbidity included depression: the Physicians Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), and generalized anxiety disorder: the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Assessment 7 (GAD-7).

Quality of life and disability were assessed with the Quality of Life in Epilepsy Inventory 10 (QOLIE-10), Quality of Life and Satisfaction Questionnaire (Q-LES-Q) and the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS). 251 of the 1361 (18.4%) respondents were found to be at risk for having adult ADHD (ADHD+). ASRS v1.1 Screener positive vs. negative cases were significantly more likely to have seizures and AED use, along with significantly higher depression and anxiety symptom scores. The ASRS v1.1 Screen positive cohort (controlling for covariates) had lower QoL and social functioning (Q-LES-Q) and increased family and occupational disability (SDS).

Potential confounds in the data include: 1) that a formal diagnosis of adult ADHD was not obtained (just individuals at risk for the disorder, but prior trials have found that a substantial proportion of screen positive individuals when assessed, actually have adult ADHD) and 2) the possible presentation of ADHD-like symptoms from epilepsy or treatment with AEDs.

Graziano PA, Reid A, Slavec J, Paneto A, McNamara JP, Geffken GR.  “ADHD Symptomatology andTony_Rostain_AIA-5Risky Health, Driving, and Financial Behaviors in College: The Mediating Role of Sensation Seeking and Effortful Control” Journal of Attention Disorders (2014) Epub ahead of print April. DOI: 10.1177/1087054714527792.

This study explores the relative contributions of “top-down” (i.e. effortful control) and “bottom up” (i.e. sensation seeking) mental processes to maladaptive risky behaviors in college students with ADHD.  The authors review these constructs by pointing out that effortful aspects of self-regulation involve intact prefrontal circuits underlying executive functions whereas reactive behaviors not requiring conscious mental resources are influenced by emotional stimuli and are mediated by subcortical brain structures.  Given that ADHD involves difficulties in both these domains of psychological functioning, it makes sense to explore which contribute to the onset of maladaptive risk-taking in college students with ADHD.

The authors studied 555 college students attending a southeastern university using an online survey for which they received class credit.   Participants filled out standardized rating scales to assess outcomes.  Of the total sample, 5.7% reported a history of an ADHD diagnosis and 10.8% reported elevated ADHD symptoms (> 1.5 SD above the mean) on an ADHD rating scale. There were two distinct patterns of risk behaviors: risky driving/financial behaviors and risky health behaviors.  ADHD symptoms were highly correlated with these two factors as well as with sensation seeking and effortful control.   More ADHD symptoms were associated with risky behaviors ONLY when effortful control was low.   Sensation seeking was more highly associated with risky health behaviors but not risky driving/financial behaviors. 

The authors note that the study’s reliance on self-report scales and measures limits its validity.  ADHD individuals are known to underreport severity of symptoms.  Moreover, it was not possible to detect the presence of antisocial behaviors (e.g. Conduct Disorder) that might have a greater impact on risky behaviors than ADHD symptoms.  Finally, the fact that the study was conducted on a single campus may limit the generalizability of its findings to the entire population of US college students.  (Note: Watch our Ask the ADHD Experts Session on ADHD and College Students.)

Despite these limitations, this paper reports interesting results suggesting that ADHD symptoms may not be as important as effortful control deficits and as high stimulus seeking in mediating the onset of risk behaviors in this population.    These could be important targets for psychological therapies.  It also points to the relevance of these two aspects of psychological functioning for preventive health efforts to reduce health, driving and financial risk behaviors, and for clinical approaches to dealing with patients presenting with maladaptive coping mechanisms.  

Stephen_Faraone_PhD_ADHD_in_AdultsIt sounds like science fiction, but scientists have been testing computerized methods to train the brains of ADHD people with the goal of reducing both ADHD symptoms and cognitive deficits such as difficulties with memory or attention.   Two main approaches have been used: cognitive training and neurofeedback.  This of course is in addition to, not a replacement for, ADHD medications.

Cognitive training methods ask patients to practice tasks aimed at teaching specific skills such as retaining information in memory or inhibiting impulsive responses.  Currently, results from ADHD brain studies suggests that the ADHD brain is not very different from the non-ADHD brain, but that ADHD leads to small differences in the structure, organization and functioning of the brain.  CBT_rubricThe idea behind cognitive training is that the brain can be reorganized to accomplish tasks through a structured learning process.  Cognitive retraining helps people who have suffered brain damage, so was logical to think it might help the types of brain differences seen in ADHD people.  Several software packages have been created  to deliver cognitive training sessions to ADHD people.  You can read more about these methods here: Sonuga-Barke, E., D. Brandeis, et al. (2014). “Computer-based cognitive training for ADHD: a review of current evidence.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23(4): 807-824.

Neurofeedback was applied to ADHD after it had been observed, in many studies, that people with ADHD have unusual brain waves as measured by the electroencephalogram (EEG).  We believe that these unusual brain waves are caused by the different way that the ADHD brain processes information. 

Because these differences lead to problems with memory, attention, inhibiting responses and other areas of cognition and behavior, it was believed that normalizing the brain waves might reduce ADHD symptoms.  In a neurofeedback session, patients sit with a computer that reads their brain waves via wires connected to their head.  The patient is asked to do a task on the computer that is known to produce a specific type of brain wave.   The computer gives feedback via sound or a visual on the computer screen that tells the patient how ‘normal’ their brain waves are.  By modifying their behavior, patients learn to change their brain waves.  The method is called neurofeedback because it gives patients direct feedback about how their brains are processing information.

Both cognitive training and neurofeedback have been extensively studied.  If you’ve been reading my blogs about ADHD, you know that I play by the rules of evidenced based medicine.  My view is that the only way to be sure that a treatment ‘works’ is to see what researchers have published in scientific journals.   The highest level of evidence is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.   For my lay readers, that means that many rigorous studies have been conducted and summarized with a sophisticated mathematical method.   Although both cognitive training and neurofeedback are rational methods based on good science, meta-analyses suggest that they are not helpful for reducing ADHD symptoms.  They may be helpful for specific problems such as problems with memory, but more work is needed to be certain if that is true.

The future may bring better news about these methods if they are modified and become more effective.  You can learn more about non-pharmacologic treatments for ADHD from a book I recently edited: Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

As a reminder, adult ADHD tests can be administered easily and effectively to measure the effect of various approaches on ADHD symptoms in adults.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy treats Executive Dysfunction




J Atten Disord. 2014 Feb 24. [Epub ahead of print] The Neuropsychological Profile of Comorbid Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Adult ADHD. Antshel KM, Biederman J, Spencer TJ, Faraone SV.

This article describes an examination of potential differences in neuropsychological functioning between a cohort of adults with ADHD (n=186), ADHD and PTSD (n=20) and a non-ADHD control group (n=123) who received psychiatric evaluations and neuropsychological tests (including WAIS intelligence, tests of frontal executive function (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Stroop Color and Word Test) the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure Test (ROCF) and an auditory working memory continuous performance task (CPT). 

CME LEARN HERE  Improving Executive Function   in Adult ADHD

Overall the group with ADHD (whether they had PTSD or not) had significantly lower scores on the battery of neuro-psychological tests than the non-ADHD controls. However, the group with ADHD and PTSD had lower neuropsychological test scores on a number of measures versus the group with ADHD alone (WAIS full scale IQ and block design, ROCF copy accuracy and copy time and Stroop Color T-score). 

Measures of quality of life were not shown to be predictors of PTSD status. Additionally, in this study, the group with ADHD had lower socio-economic status and were more likely to be of non-Caucausian ethnicity.

Interpretation of the findings of this trial is somewhat limited by the small cohort of ADHD and PTSD patients.  Never the less, this study is important as it is the first investigation to examine neuropsychological deficits in individuals with ADHD and PTSD; it also adds to our increasing understanding of the increased burden of having ADHD and PTSD. Prior studies have shown that PTSD may be a vulnerability factor for developing future ADHD. 

These studies indicate that clinicians should be careful in screening individuals with ADHD for co-morbid PTSD and that the combination of disorders may carry a higher neuropsychological burden that should be accounted for in making the adult ADHD diagnosis.


Are Nonpharmacologic Treatments for ADHD Useful?

There are several very effective ADHD medications, and treatment guidelines from professional organizations view these drugs as the first line of treatment for people with ADHD symptoms.  (The only exception is for preschool children where medication is only the first line treatment for severe ADHD; the guidelines recommend that other preschoolers with ADHD be treated with non-pharmacologic treatments, when available.)

Despite these guidelines, some parents and patients have been persuaded by the media or the Internet that ADHD drugs are dangerous and that non-drug alternatives are as good or even better. Parents and patients may also be influenced by media reports that doctors overprescribe ADHD drugs or that these drugs have serious side effects. Such reports typically simplify and/or exaggerate results from the scientific literature.  Thus, many patients and parents of ADHD children are seeking “natural remedies for ADHD.” 

What are these non-pharmacologic treatments and do they work?  

My upcoming series of blogs will discuss each of these treatments in detail.  Here I’ll give an overview of my evidenced-based taxonomy of nonpharmacologic treatments for ADHD described in more detail in a book I recently edited (Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). “ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions.” Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.).  I use the term “evidenced-based” in the strict sense applied by the Oxford Center for Evidenced Based Medicine (OCEBM; http://www.cebm.net/). 

Most of the non-drug treatments for ADHD fall into three categories: behavioral, dietary, and neurocognitive.

Behavioral interventions include training parents to optimize methods of reward and punishment for their ADHD child, teaching ADHD children social skills and helping teachers apply principles of behavior management in their classrooms.  Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a method that teaches behavioral and cognitive skills to adolescent and adult ADHD patients.

Dietary interventions include special diets that exclude food colorings or eliminate foods believed to cause ADHD symptoms.  Other dietary interventions provide supplements such as iron, zinc or omega-3 fatty acids.

Neurocognitive interventions typically use a computer based learning setup to teach ADHD patients cognitive skills that will help reduce ADHD symptoms.

There are two metrics to consider when thinking about the evidence-base for these methods.  The first is the quality of the evidence.   For example, a study of 10 patients with no control group would be a low quality study, but a study of 100 patients randomized to either a treatment or control group would be of high quality, and the quality would be even higher if the people rating patient outcomes did not know who was in each group. 

The second metric is the magnitude of the treatment effect.  Does the treatment dramatically reduce ADHD symptoms or does it have only a small effect?  This metric is only available for high quality studies that compare people treated with the method and people treated with a ‘control’ method that is not expected to affect ADHD.

I used a statistical metric to quantify the magnitude of effect. Zero means no effect and larger numbers indicate better effects on treating ADHD symptoms.  For comparison, the effect of is about 0.9, which is derived from a very strong evidence base.     The effects of dietary treatments on symptoms of adult ADHD are smaller, about 0.4 to 0.5, but because the quality of the evidence is not strong, these results are not certain and the studies of food color exclusions apply primarily to children who have high intakes of such colorants.

In contrast to the dietary studies, the evidence base for behavioral treatments is excellent but the effects of these treatments of ADHD symptoms is very small, less than 0.1.    Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids also has a strong evidence base but the magnitude of effect is also small (0.1 to 0.2).    The neurocognitive treatments have modest effects on ADHD symptoms (0.2 to 0.4) but their evidence base is weak.

This review of non-drug treatments explains why ADHD drug treatments are usually used first.  Their evidence base is stronger and they are more effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.  There is, however, a role for some non-drug treatments. I’ll be discussing that in subsequent blog posts.

If you are health professional, you can learn more about screening, diagnosing and treating ADHD with the latest evidence-based medicine.  Earn FREE CME on Adult ADHD.

If you are a member of the public, you can download a FREE SCREENER and take it to your healthcare professional for a discussion.  If you provider does not know about ADHD, and many don’t, them please send him or her to ADHD in Adults.com

References :

Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). ADHD: Non-Pharmacologic Interventions. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, xiii-xiv.

Faraone, S. V. & Antshel, K. M. (2014). Towards an evidence-based taxonomy of nonpharmacologic treatments for ADHD. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 23, 965-72.

Editor’s Note: We interviewed several leading ADHD experts on treating ADHD in primary care and acquired some very interesting insights into how clinicians can learn about and treat ADHD in their practices.

Anthony_L_Rostain_MD_MA_-_ADHD_in_AdultsAnthony Rostain, MD MA: Physicians are often afraid about prescribing stimulant medications because they’re not familiar with the diagnosis of ADHD and they’re not sure whether they’re legitimately correct in prescribing these medications. Let’s start first by examining ADHD as a diagnosis. It is a legitimate diagnosis.

There is a medical procedure for making the diagnosis that includes taking careful history, getting the patient to fill out scales, getting collateral information from important others who understand something about the patient’s behavior. In addition you have to gather developmental history and educational history. You have to be aware of all of the different facets of the patient’s functioning and understand that ADHD is impacting and impairing that individual.

Brendan Montano AIA jZJbzOBrendan Montano MD: With familiarity and use of stimulant medications in ADHD I know I became much more willing and able to use them. Also many pediatricians have no problem with stimulants and I feel that that will also occur when the primary care network begins to treat ADHD more vigorously, diagnose it and treat it. Our pediatric allies had been used to treating ADHD in childhood and they’d been familiarized and become comfortable with the use of stimulant medications. I believe the same thing will occur with our adult primary care providers. Familiarity and seeing the beneficial effect will give comfort to those who treat with stimulant medications. Remembering again there are some non-stimulants that are also quite effective. Now, it is important to be aware of the fact that stimulant medications can be diverted, they can be misused, they can be abused.

Stephen Faraone, PhD:
And that’s a reasonable concern. However, today that concern is mitigated by several factors. First, we have new formulations of stimulants that are much less abusable than the immediate-release Ritalin many of you are used to. Second, there are now FDA-approved non-stimulant alternatives for ADHD. So you really do have a very large toolbox of therapies to use for adultswith ADHD.

Brendan Montano, MD: The more you become familiarized and screen for this illness, the more you become familiarized with treating the illness. So I became comfortable by seeing the beneficial effects and the outcomes which were otherwise not going to occur in my ADHD patients. The lack of training of primary care practitioners has created a shortage of treatment for adults with ADHD. We have methodological studies that prove there are 10 million undiagnosed adults with ADHD in the United States. I think the 10 million people who have this disorder really deserve for us to become familiarized not only with how to diagnose ADHD but how to treat it.

Anthony Rostain, MD: It’s important to keep in mind that if you follow sound clinical practice and document what you’re doing, including how you made the diagnosis of ADHD, that you informed the patient about treatment options and that you gave the patient all kinds of patient education materials to warn them about the danger of misusing the medication, then you’re following standard medical practice and you won’t be in any medical or legal difficulty.

Eva O’Malley, ADHD Adult: My son’s ADHD was diagnosed when he was six and I call it his gift to me because it eventually got me to where I am now. After so many years of researching and looking for answers and going to doctors, I started to become very clear about some of these behaviors that are existing in my world as well.

Adults with ADHD often get labeled with some very mean things like “lazy”, “rude”, “crazy” – things that you know are attributable to some of their symptoms, and it hurts. I’m guilty of doing this to my children because my daughter was diagnosed when she was 20.

I couldn’t understand why a 20-year old could not do these basic things. 

ADHD Success Story Evas Story cW8ZuA

After I was diagnosed it was easier for me to be aware that people’s behavior is not necessarily all that’s going on. And just to look past the behavior and to look into what’s driving the behavior is more important. So those labels then fall off of the people that are “rude” and the people that are “lazy.”

My daughter’s issues all of a sudden became crystal clear once I was diagnosed. It wasn’t selfishness, it wasn’t laziness. It was ADHD.

Editor’s note: Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for frequent video updates.

In two separate interviews, a clinician and an ADHD adult describe the two sides of ADHD symptoms and ADHD diagonsis.

Lenard Adler, MD:
I can think of an adult in their forties, a male, who came in after having their seven year old child diagnoses with ADHD, and in fact identify that, as he’s having his symptoms, he coped with them not all that well, was in a managerial position but not functioning optimally, had been passed over for promotions on numerous occasions mainly because he didn’t met his deadlines.

Robert Tudisco, Esq, ADHD Adult: I had to keep track of my time, I had to bill my clients, I had to run an office. It was all of those administrative tasks that were really a problem. At the same time, I thought I was setting a bad example for my son and I was having some difficulty in my marriage. And so, I sought some help, I found out about ADHD.

Lenard Adler, MD: In discussing things with the patient and his wife, she described lots of instances around at home where he didn’t listen to her, to do lists just weren’t completed, things weren’t being done on the weekend and she kind of felt that she was not only taking care of their seven-year-old son but also taking care of the husband. So the diagnosis of ADHD became clear after thorough evaluation and, in fact, this individual went on to treatment with a non-stimulating medicine and actually did quite well.

Robert Tudisco improved family relationships UMPwSv

Robert Tudisco, Esq:
There have been so many benefits since I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD. I think I’m a better father. I’m certainly a better husband. My relationship with my wife is much more relaxed because we understand each other a lot better. We also understand that ADHD is not an excuse for what happens and we understand where the behaviors come from so we can kind of work around them in the future. And I really think that a lot of adults would benefit from a diagnosis and it’s just one of the barriers, I think, to a lot of adults getting diagnosed is that there aren’t more clinicians that are diagnosing adults with ADHD.