Express Scripts, which processes pharmaceutical claims for members via a network of retail pharmacies, analyzed pharmacy claims data from 2008 to 2012 and found the greatest increase in ADHD medication during the five-year study period was among adults. The biggest gain in ADHD medication use was among women ages 26 to 34, which rose 85 percent.
Children are still the primary users of ADHD medications but the number of U.S. adults on these medications increased at a much faster pace, up 53.4 percent in adults versus up 18.9 percent in children, from 2008 to 2012.
Among adults, women far outnumber men in their use of ADHD treatments -- the reverse of childhood trends where only half as many girls as boys take ADHD medications.
The number of males using ADHD drugs plummeted after age 18 while women ages 19 to 25 surpass younger girls' use of these medications.
The percentage of boys ages 12 to 18 using ADHD medications reached 9 percent in 2012, an 18 percent increase from 2008.
The southern region of the United States had the highest concentration of ADHD medication use, with South Carolina showing the greatest prevalence overall: 14 percent of teens ages 12 to 18 were on an ADHD medication treatment in 2012.
The rapid increase in adult use of these medications is striking, especially because there is little research on how these treatments affect an older population, Express Scripts said.
Since females tend to present the inattentive form of ADHD and do not display disruptive behavior in school, their symptoms may be overlooked in childhood, but less appropriate uses of the medication may be behind the increase in use among women.
Stimulant medications are known to decrease a person's appetite and are sometimes used as a weight-loss aid, Express Scripts said.