Mental Health

Losing Interest in Attention Deficit Disorder

February 13, 2012

Multiple Pages
Losing Interest in Attention Deficit Disorder

I guess I haven’t been paying attention, but it looks as if a lot of you haven’t been paying attention. During an online forum discussion the other day, after I’d asked some guy about the 139-word sentence he’d just written, he revealed to me—and all the world—that he had ADHD. Within moments—before I had a chance to become distracted—someone else chimed in that they had ADD.

Now, I had a vague familiarity with these labels—one meant you had trouble paying attention, the other meant you were a spazz about it—but I’d tried to avoid thinking about them. Yet suddenly I felt forced to confront them, to sniff them suspiciously, to poke at them, to taunt them, and to question their very existence. After some research I realized that the very fact I dared challenge the consensus wisdom about Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder could mean that I, too, suffered from these ailments—at least one, and probably both. Yes, definitely both.

Maybe because I’m crazy, I question the validity of all psychiatric diagnoses, but especially ones that result in millions of prescriptions for legal amphetamines. I arch my eyebrow even higher at the fact that tots as young as THREE can be prescribed Adderall to “cure” a “condition” that is diagnosed by means no more scientific than answering an old-fashioned questionnaire.

Suddenly, yes, this has my full attention.

An estimated one in ten American schoolchildren has been diagnosed with ADHD, an “illness” that miraculously didn’t exist until it was formally enshrined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1987. As a result of the new illness and all the new diagnoses, kids are being showered with Ritalin and Adderall as if Skittles and M&Ms were raining from the sky.

“There’s no better time to question authority than when they make the very act of questioning authority into a mental disorder.”

Then, almost as if by coincidence, it was “discovered” that adults weren’t paying attention either, so the nice men in the white coats let them have speed, too. All the speed they wanted. Verily, and so the office workers, the door-to-door salesmen, and the college students throughout the valley all took speed, and yea, it was good.

No one seemed to pay attention to the fact that this might become a problem.

The main problem is that these “diseases” are not caused by germs or viruses or, as far as it seems, anything remotely resembling indisputable chemical or brain-scan evidence. This is nothing more than speculation that diseases exist based on the act of describing common symptoms.

OK, I saw one brain-scan study where the ADHD kids had smaller brain areas than the normal kids, but it was later revealed that—ta da!—it may have been caused by the fact that these kids had already been on Ritalin for years. So there’s possibly some confusion about cause and effect there.

So I’m not convinced that “ADD” and “ADHD” are anything more than ideas. At least that’s how it seems to me at the moment. I can be persuaded otherwise, but you’ll have to be very, you know, persuasive. I suspect that what is often misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is actually Teacher Charisma Deficit Disorder.

After ignoring these so-called attention disorders for years, I did a little research and was surprised to discover that there are no blood or DNA tests needed for a diagnosis. A standard ADHD questionnaire is chillingly vague. You can just fidget a lot, talk a lot, maybe act a little bored, then WHAM!—they’re scrubbing your brain with amphetamines.

And these are not your everyday bargain-bin rusty-bathtub amphetamines, either. I should know. I’ve driven around the old raceway a few times, if you know what I mean. Over an 11-day stretch back in college, I snorted enough slushy, dirty Philly crank to churn out 115 pages’ worth of term papers. I even smoked ice maybe a dozen times, not that I’m proud of it. And I still drink roughly a keg of coffee daily. But never in my life have I taken any form of speed that felt as pure as the little blue Adderall tablet I popped many years ago—maybe a day or two before the Statute of Limitations would have run out, to be perfectly safe. I felt like someone had attached my nipples to a car battery—and not in a good way! Except for the coffee, I’ve never done speed since. It wasn’t even a big dose, but that single experience made me decide that Adderall was just as bad as cocaine or meth—possibly more dangerous, because it was stamped with the Holy Seal of Legality.

If you had told me thirty years ago that they’d be prescribing amphetamines to kindergarteners who acted up in class, I would have said you’re crazy. Now that they’re actually doing it, I say the world’s crazy.

Suddenly everyone’s depressed. Suddenly everyone’s anxious. Suddenly everyone’s distracted. And suddenly there are pills for all of it.

My adrenaline starts pumping when I repeatedly see phrases such as “long-term data are scarce,” “Long term effects…are unknown,” “There is limited data regarding long term use of stimulants,” and “The long term effects on the developing brain and on mental health disorders in later life of chronic use of methylphenidate [Ritalin] is unknown.”

They’re the experts, right? Shouldn’t they know? For short-term profits, they’re using millions of Americans as meth-lab guinea pigs?

A US government report describes how “A 9 year old female experienced visual hallucinations (started seeing jellyfish on the floor and bugs crawling on her), while taking Adderall XR” and “an 8 year old girl, was hospitalized for suicidal threats and explosive temper one day after discontinuing Adderall XR 30 mg.” That sounds much worse than if they’d just been left alone to fidget in their seats.

A 12-year-old girl’s Adderall-induced psychosis made her fantasize about stabbing holes in her brother. A North Dakota man shotgunned his infant daughter and himself dead only ten days after he started taking Adderall. Popping too many “study buddies” allegedly drove a Tennessee college student to step in front of a train and commit suicide in 2009.

Long-term amphetamine use can lead to trifles such as strokes, convulsion comas, schizophrenia, hallucinations, depression, psychosis, cognitive impairment, cardiac death, kidney failure, and erectile dysfunction, but hey, don’t let that spoil your fun.

Maybe it’s not the best idea to be mega-dosing Americans with speed merely because they have short attention spans.

Maybe they’re just bored. Or a little slow. Maybe they’re too polite to tell you what they really think of you, which is why they’re avoiding eye contact.

I’m sure if I was a kid today, they’d have me gakked-out on so many grams of Kiddie Cocaine, I’d be running around like a tiny pink sweaty Tom Arnold.

During grade school, I was told the reason I acted up in class was because I was smart and found the subject matter they were teaching to be boring. Even at six years old, that alibi didn’t ring true with me. I wasn’t paying attention to the teachers because they weren’t very interesting. But aside from a few detentions, the worst I got out of it was an “F” grade in Conduct one semester. These days they’d diagnose me with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and herd me onto the Kiddie Cattle Car of the American Speed Train.

There’s no better time to question authority than when they make the very act of questioning authority into a mental disorder.

Sometimes boys are made to misbehave, and it’s healthier to let ’em do it. At least it’s better than if in some misguided attempt to make them behave, you create a prematurely burned-out tweaker in the process. Right now, I’m happy it’s just me, my unbroken restless spirit, and my coffee.


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