A study by Australia's Bond University in conjunction with scientists in the Netherlands found that there was a significant risk of "over-diagnosis" and therefore over-medication.
Researchers said the wider classification of symptoms for ADHD – attention deficit hyperactive disorder – in the psychiatric manual used in the profession has led to a steep rise in diagnosis and prescriptions for medication.
This "over-diagnosis" has a duel effect, with some children taking medication unnecessarily while stretched resources see others who really need help unable to access it.
In the past few years, ADHD has grown to include a collection of behavioural problems linked to poor attention span, restlessness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
This broadening of symptoms has led to a 73 per cent increase in ADHD medication prescriptions in Australia between 2000 and 2011.
This is an alarming statistic as the medications can cause weight loss, liver toxicity and suicidal thoughts and can ever suppress puberty.
But lead researcher Dr Rae Thomas says the implications of over-diagnosis are even more wide-ranging.
She says having a "diagnostic label" means teachers and parents have low academic expectations of affected children, potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dr Thomas also says over-diagnosis also risks the entire condition, which is real and can be very serious, being viewed with scepticism.
"Severe cases of ADHD are obvious, but in mild and moderate cases – which constitute the bulk of all ADHD diagnoses – subjective opinions of clinicians differ," Dr Thomas says.
"The broadening of the diagnostic criteria is likely to increase what is already a significant concern about over-diagnosis.
"It risks resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD being regarded with scepticism to the harm of those with severe problems who unquestionably need sensitive, skilled specialist help and support."
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