Adult ADHD: 1 in 4 Patients May be Faking

Apr 26, 2011, 14:05 by Greg Stacy

Adult ADHD patients may be faking their symptoms as much as 1/4th of the time, a new study reveals.

A study published in the journal The Clinical Neuropsychologist looked at the medical records of 268 patients who supposedly suffered from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The study found that 22% of adults in the study had exaggerated their symptoms to make them look worse.

Paul Marshall, the study's lead author, is a clinical neuropsychologist with Hennepin Faculty Associates, a medical group treating patients at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. Marshall says that some of the patients in the study actually had ADHD, but they exaggerated their symptoms to make sure they were diagnosed with the condition.

Others didn't have the disorder at all, Marshall says, but were simply having difficulty coping with the stress in their lives.

"A lot of people think they have it because they are struggling, but it's not because of ADHD," Marshall told MSNBC. "Often times, it's simply depression, anxiety or lack of sleep."

Marshall said that certain patients were probably faking symptoms to gain access to stimulant medications, and some college and graduate school students want to be diagnosed with ADHD so they can have access to medications that help to increase concentration and focus.

In the US, between 2-4% of the adult population, or 4 million to 8 million people, are estimated to have ADHD. Many adults are originally diagnosed as children, with up to 60% continuing to show symptoms into adulthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 5.4 million children ages 4-17 have ever been diagnosed with ADHD.

In a poll of 100 primary care physicians conducted by the group Truth On Call, 38% of doctors said that they had suspected their patients were exaggerating or even faking their symptoms in order to get prescriptions for ADHD drugs.

"Patients try to describe typical symptoms with a request for specific ADHD drugs," one physician wrote. "With standard symptom questionnaires, they will push the responses to the extreme and try to request specific medications when prescribed alternatives."