Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder first established its fad status in the mid-1980s and then into the 90s as a diagnosis with childhood onset. As a fad pioneer, it gave way to runaway bipolar diagnosis in youth, but now appears to have made a comeback.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that nearly one in five high school age boys (20%) in the U.S. and 11% of school-age children overall, have received a diagnosis of ADHD. Two-thirds of those with a current diagnosis receive prescription stimulants. And even more adolescents will likely be prescribed medication because the American Psychiatric Association has plans to change the new onset diagnostic age requirement such that symptoms appear before age 12 rather than age 7.
I find this push to pathologize kids’ behavior preposterous. And these lame arguments that rising diagnostic rates are evidence of better recognition are laughable. Given the above stats, it is undeniable that some doctors are viewing even minor symptoms of distraction or inattentiveness as full-criteria ADHD. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are crafting advertisements and commercials glamorizing how medication can substantially improve a child’s life. Such ads play to parents’ fears by showing children struggling in school or abandoned by peers. Moreover, parents who can’t, won’t, or don’t know how to parent – and are badly in need of such training – are pressuring prescribers for drugs to simply make their lives easier.
To be fair, psychostimulants prescribed to children who meet the right symptom set can make a world of positive difference. And this is where the focus should be – making life a bit less hard for affected kids. It’s about the children, not the other players.
Slipshod diagnosis = inappropriate prescribing of potentially dangerous stimulants = increased drug diversion = greater opportunity for misuse or abuse.
Stimulants should not be used as mental steroids to serve as motivators, nor should they be used as a shortcut to better grades or to give to friends. When the diagnosis is handed out without proper assessment and accompanied by prescriptions for stimulants, the user becomes the loser, and we know who that is – the child.