Can response to medication be used to confirm the ADD diagnosis?
No, an individual’s response to medication should never be used to confirm the ADD diagnosis. In fact, relying on medication response for diagnostic information is a set up for trouble.
Use of medication is complicated and an individual’s response to medication is impacted upon by many variables. The severity of the individual’s attention weakness as well as the particular medication and dose selected interact to determine a patient’s responsiveness. Many, many, times patients come to my office after having been told that because they did not respond to the medication, they do not have ADD. When we conduct a systematic, comprehensive evaluation, however, the patient clearly meets all of the diagnostic criteria for ADD. As a consequence of using medication responsiveness as a diagnostic tool, I find that these patients have unnecessarily experienced more failure, more stress, and oftentimes, feelings of hopelessness about the future.
Sometimes, use of medications to treat ADD can be problematic for individuals who don’t actually have ADD but another disorder that shares some of its characteristics. Use of these medications in an individual who has bipolar disorder, for example, has the potential for setting off a manic episode. So by using medication as a diagnostic tool, rather than systematically evaluating the individual, we run the risk of creating a significant problem for him.
Finally, as we all fall somewhere along the continuum from strong to weak attention, it is possible for each of us to experience an improvement in attention after taking a medication for ADD. So clearly, concluding that, “because I feel more focused on this medication, I must have ADD” is unwise. This thinking, however, is inherent in using medication as a diagnostic tool to confirm the ADD and likely to result in inaccurately applying the label to people who do not have ADD.
How can you be sure your ADD/ADHD diagnosis is accurate? One sure-fire way is to book a Discovery Session with Dr. Liden at The Being Well Center! Another great way is to download Dr. Liden’s book, ADD Basics 101, currently offered as a free ebook.
Our current blog series is excerpted from Dr. Liden’s best-selling book, Pay Attention!: Answers to Common Questions About the Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder.