Debate over drug safety makes some take another look at ADHD.

Good article in today’s New York Times (registration required) on how the growing debate about the safety of drugs used to offset the effects of ADHD are causing some folks to reconsider exactly what the problem is. Among a lot of counselors and psychologists who specialize in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder there’s a growing consensus that calling it a “disorder” may not be an accurate label:

The term attention-deficit disorder turns out to be a misnomer. Most people who have it actually have remarkably good attention spans as long as they are doing activities that they enjoy or find stimulating. As Martha B. Denckla of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore has noted, we should probably be calling the condition something like “intention-inhibition disorder,” because it is a condition in which one’s best intentions — say, reading 50 pages in a dense textbook or writing a 10-page paper in a timely fashion — go awry.

Essentially, A.D.H.D. is a problem dealing with the menial work of daily life, the tedium involved in many school situations and 9-to-5 jobs.

Another hallmark, impulsivity, or its more positive variant, spontaneity, appears to be a vestige from lower animals forced to survive in the wild. Wild animals cannot survive without an extraordinary ability to react. If predators lurk, they need to act quickly.

This vestige underscores the fact that human genetic variability, the fact that we are not all simply clones of one another, has allowed us to survive as a species for 150,000 years in a variety of contexts and environments.

In essence, attention-deficit disorder is context driven. In many situations of hands-on activities or activities that reward spontaneity, A.D.H.D. is not a disorder.

Given my own personal experiences with being ADHD and all that I’ve read about it since finding out that I was ADHD I must say that I’m glad to see this viewpoint gaining wider consideration. There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m literally just wired differently than a lot of other folks are and that difference has as many advantages as it does disadvantages. I’ve managed to build a career as a respected Computer Technician in spite of having little formal training in them simply because I’ve been able to focus so much attention on them thanks to having an interest and being ADHD. I’m certain I wouldn’t be half as good at my job if I weren’t ADHD. Less important from a making-a-living standpoint, but important to me as a form of recreation is how good at video games being ADHD makes me.

Once I learned about ADHD and how it impacts my life I was able to recognize when it was being a disadvantage and make adjustments to my behavior to compensate. Since I was laid off last year I’ve not been on the prescription of Adderall I was using during my time at Ford and I can definitely tell the difference, but I’m not sure if I want to go back to using it or not once I’m back in a position where I’ve got medical benefits to cover it with. It certainly makes aspects of my life easier to be on the medication as fitting in with the rest of society is sometimes difficult when your brain is wired differently, but me on Adderall isn’t the real me in some respects. The growing concern over possible health effects of long-term use of that and other drugs commonly used to treat ADHD is another point to consider. Which brings me to my daughter, Courtney, who is also ADHD. Her grades at school were affected by having to stop using Adderall as she had been during my time at Ford. She’s had to work a lot harder to try and keep up with things and she’s not doing as well as she was with the help of the drugs. She, like I, has days when she wishes she could go back on the prescription and then other days when she doesn’t really want to. I know that I come home at the end of the day mentally exhausted from trying to stay focused during the day and Courtney is in a similar state, but the medication can also contribute to sleepless nights on occasion because it is a stimulant.

It comes down to a couple of heavy questions: I’m big on the idea of accepting myself for who and what I am so is it a betrayal of who I am to take a drug that makes me more like everyone else? More importantly, is it right for me to impose that change on my daughter for the sake of her getting good grades?

For the moment it’s a moot point as I don’t have medical benefits at this time and I can’t afford to pay for the prescriptions myself, but I’m hoping that won’t always be the case. Still I’m very happy to see that ADHD is being recognized as a “context-driven disorder” because that’s exactly what it is. Depending on the context it can be an advantage or a disadvantage. There is no cure, we’re just different that way.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t want to be cured of it even if it were possible. It’s part of who I am and I’ve accepted that.

3 thoughts on “Debate over drug safety makes some take another look at ADHD.

  1. I fully understand your post. I myself was diagnosed with ADHD when I was five years old. I went through many doctors and took many blood tests. I was eventually given a sour yellow pill named Rittalin. It made me tired, and when I’m tired, I’m cranky. I had no friends and was pretty much that angry kid walking around by himself. It wasn’t until I was about 14 when I said to myself, “Fuck this, I’m tired of feeling this way, repressed.” I eventually adapted myself to performing schoolwork to a certain degree of efficiency and thankfully I don’t take Rittalin anymore. 

    But hey, I’m not complaining now. All of that time spent alone sort of jump-started an overactive imagination within me. I found ways to entertain myself by entering my own little fantasy world. I am now going to college with a major in Fine Art. I have only my ADHD and the experiences I have lived through because of it to thank for my open consciousness. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

  2. We’ve suspected for many years that my younger brother Peter (who’s now 23) may have ADHD. My parents never put him on any medication, however. For one thing, he is quite sensitive to side effects; more importantly, Pete is a unique, colorful character and we never wanted him to lose this aspect of his personality just so that he could become a conformist in an ultra-serious world. His grades never suffered too badly, and his gregarious personality has always earned him an abundance of friends. Like you, he appears to manage perfectly fine in spite of (and perhaps even because of) his possible ADHD.

  3. Work

    I have ADHD and I have mixed feelings about taking Adderall XR. It really helps me with staying focused at work and being able to pay attention with people I’m talking too. Even on the medication I will go off on tangents and work on things I’m more interested in. Luckily, they are very supportive at work and my manager doesn’t give me flak when I do get off target.

    I found that I was able to concentrate really well at a slightly higher dose. At the higher does I think I became too focused though, and my personality became a bit… flat (unreactive?). The higher dose made me feel uncomfortable with myself, so I dropped down to a level that let me function at work and let me keep my normal personality. Still, taking the medication at any level messes with my ability to sleep, which can cause other problems.

    School

    I was diagnosed with ADHD just last year, so I (sadly) wasn’t able to benefit from the medication while I was in school.

    Ugh, the memories. College and public school were an odd mix of being very painful and very enjoyable. I could never do homework, so I always had grades hovering around B-. But I loved learning with a passion, so that is probably why I was able to survive as well as I did.

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