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ADHD: Has this diagnostic fad run its course?

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The behaviors of children and the difficulties of adults often lead to guilt, worry, and a sense of wrong that concerned adults feel a responsibility to address. The creation of ADHD as a psychological disorder was in part an attempt to deal with some of the difficulties of raising children. Unfortunately, that attempt has fallen short and led to new problems in recent years.

On a diagnostic level, ADHD is problematic. After generations of research, there is still no test for ADHD, nor is there a standard diagnostic measure within the profession.

A huge – and lucrative – market

What started out as a theory articulated by professionals is now an urban legend. Parents, teachers, talk show hosts, friends, neighbors and even the person you’re standing next to in the grocery store each believe that they can diagnose and treat ADHD. This superfluity of focused misinformation has helped fuel a pharmacological intervention that would have seemed absurd two generations ago. As of 2006, 4.5 million kids have been diagnosed with ADHD, with nearly half taking medication. In 2008, the ADHD pharmaceutical market was worth $4 billion.

Another problem with our fixation on ADHD is that it is not working. Again, even after generations of research there is no evidence that suggests placing children on Schedule II drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, or Vyvanse improves their intellectual abilities over an extended period, or that these drugs affect children with ADHD any differently than they affect any other child. A stimulant is a stimulant is a stimulant. What we do know is that the use of these drugs can be debilitating, addictive, and deadly.

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