From hyperactive children to ADHD adults: Observations on the expansion of medical categories

P. Conrad, D. Potter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    203 Citations (Scopus)


    Medicalization is by definition, about the extension of medical boundaries. Analogous to "domain expansion," extant medicalized categories can expand to become broader and more inclusive. This paper examines the emergence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults. ADHD, commonly known as Hyperactivity, became established in the 1970s as a diagnosis for children; it expanded first to include "adult hyperactives" and, in the 1990s, "ADHD Adults." This allowed for the inclusion of an entire population of people and their problems that were excluded by the original conception of hyperactive children. We show how lay, professional, and media claims help establish the expanded diagnostic category. We identify particular aspects of the social context that contributed to the rise of adult ADHD and outline some of the social implications of ADHD in adults, especially the medicalization of underperformance and the availability of new disability rights. Adult ADHD serves as an exemplar of several cases of diagnostic expansion, an important avenue of increasing medicalization.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)559-582
    Number of pages24
    JournalSocial Problems
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2000

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright 2004 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam. All rights reserved.


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