THE number of drugs prescribed to treat adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in Scotland has more than doubled in the past four years.
While ADHD has traditionally been a condition associated with young children and teenagers, a growing number of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s are now being diagnosed.
Campaigners believe many more adults with the disorder remain unidentified, because of a lack of awareness and services to support them.
According to Information Services Division Scotland, the number of prescriptions for ADHD drugs handed out to patients over the age of 20 increased from 6,065 in 2009-10 to 12,793 in 2012-13,
In terms of the number of patients receiving treatment, large increases were seen in those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, the number of people using drugs for ADHD aged 20 to 29 increased from 391 to 929 – a rise of 138 per cent.
Among those in their 30s, patient numbers jumped from 157 to 238, up 52 per cent. And in those aged 40 to 49, the number using drug therapies went up from 106 to 172, an increase of 62 per cent.
Overall, the number of patients receiving treatment for ADHD in Scotland increased by 18 per cent in the last four years, to 7,918, the majority of them aged ten to 14.
While the number of adults receiving treatment has increased significantly, estimates have suggested that as many as 60,000 in Scotland could have ADHD.
Symptoms of the condition include poor short-term memory, problems controlling emotions, swinging quickly between feeling happy and depressed, and difficulties focusing on specific tasks.
But many believe ADHD can also have a positive impact in their lives, bringing out people’s creative qualities, enthusiasm and drive to succeed.
Gordon Brown, a child and adolescent mental health nurse, works full-time for the NHS in Falkirk, but also runs a service helping both children and adults with ADHD.
He said the condition was now being recognised as something which could persist from childhood into adulthood.
Brown said in some cases people did not come forward with symptoms of ADHD until their 40s and even older, but treatments could be as effective in these groups as they were in children. He said: “This is a group I am seeing more and more of on a day-to-day basis in my private clinic.
“I think one of the reasons why so many people are coming forward now is that they have better insight into the condition now.
“Also, many of the adults I see will also have children with ADHD and they can see a lot of themselves in their children. ADHD is highly hereditary so if we see a young person with ADHD, you will often see a mother or father with the condition.”
Brown said there were very few dedicated services in the NHS to deal with adults with ADHD, which was why people paid for private assessments.
He said: “There is also a limited understanding of adult ADHD within the adult services currently available. We need a programme of education for adult colleagues to have a better understanding of the condition.”
Andrea Bilbow, chief executive for charity the Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service (ADDISS), said psychiatrists were now increasingly starting to recognise and treat ADHD in adults.
She said there was no doubt that drugs helped, but other forms of support were needed.
“In adults, the medication will make them a bit more motivated and organised. It will certainly make them realise how much help they do need,” she said.
“The medication makes them motivated to get the help, so something like CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] or some kind of coaching strategies, skills building, money management and relationship management.
“The medication is like putting the fuel in the tank but you’ve still got to teach them how to drive, and there is no money for that.”
Richard Jones, chairman of the Scottish charity Addressing the Balance, which supports adults with ADHD, said he expected diagnoses to increase further.
Jones, who was diagnosed at the age of 53, said it took a year from seeing his GP to having his ADHD identified, but he believes he has been affected all his life.
He said:“I’m an architect, with a professional qualification and career. The ADHD has given me that drive in life to achieve a professional career, but it has not been easy.”