Modern medicine has revolutionized the way we treat disease and illness. Each decade new breakthroughs are made as we continue to unlock our knowledge of the human body, and how to treat its fragility. But what happens when modern medicine identifies normal human characteristics as disorders, or misdiagnoses an existing condition? The result is startling: Prescribing drugs to individuals who don’t need them, in many cases creating a downward spiral of addiction and dependency. Researchers are now suggesting that this may be the case with the millions of people being diagnosed with ADHD.
ADHD: A Case of Misdiagnosis?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – a psychiatric disorder which includes symptoms such as impulsive behavior and poor attention skills – has always been controversial. Some experts contend that ADHD is not even a disease, while others argue that it is much rarer than thought and that many people are being misdiagnosed as suffering from it. Regardless, the rate of diagnosis has increased markedly from 2003 onwards.
The debate is a volatile one, with many drawn to either side. As stated by Dr Richard Saul, one of the most vocal opponents of ADHD diagnosis:
“…after 50 years of practicing medicine and seeing thousands of patients demonstrating symptoms of ADHD, I have reached the conclusion there is no such thing as ADHD.”
Dr Saul, a neurologist and founder of The Diagnostic & Development Center, contends that it isn’t that ADHD has been created by pharmaceutical companies to make a profit, but rather that medical science has simply misidentified a number of different behaviors as a single illness. This has been supported by a study from Michigan State University which claims nearly 1 million children have been misdiagnosed with the illness. If true, this would prevent people suffering from non-ADHD related behavioral issues from receiving the correct treatment they need, and give addictive medications to people who don’t need them.
Clinical neurologists such as Steven Novella from the Yale University of Medicine continue to argue that ADHD is indeed a real, in some cases debilitating, disorder, and must be treated. There is even some research which suggests physical evidence for ADHD. A study published in Archives of General Psychiatry shows that around a 1/5th of those diagnosed with ADHD possess a gene which alters dopamine uptake in the brain. The question remains, however, if it is a legitimate medical concern, what of the other 4/5ths who have been diagnosed with ADHD? Do they really have the disorder? And are they being medicated with highly addictive drugs which will only cause them harm?
ADHD’s Silent Addiction
The debate about ADHD will continue, but there seems to be enough concern from medical experts to raise the issue of over medication; indeed, it may be a societal crisis about to reach boiling point. The problem is that ADHD medication for both children and adults involves the use of amphetamines. While these drugs have a long history of being used to effectively alter the attention span of individuals, they are also highly addictive and are associated with negative health issues including anorexia, sleep disturbances, restlessness, and in some severe cases, psychosis and suicidal behavior.
Amphetamines have been synthetically produced since 1887. They are used in the treatment of a number of disorders including narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease and ADHD. Unfortunately, methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin, and a commonly prescribed treatment for ADHD, is just as physically addictive as its recreational variants.
As a recreational drug, amphetamines stimulate the nervous system and interfere with dopamine production in the brain, which may be a reason why it is effective with those suffering from dopamine related disorders. While some studies show that in low doses amphetamines can improve cognitive function and attention, others have suggested that there is a large group of people suffering from the debilitating effects of amphetamine addiction due to misuse.
The sheer number of people being prescribed amphetamines to treat ADHD is incredible. While common perception is of ADHD being a disorder seen in children, in 2014, for the first time, adult demand for ADHD treatments outstripped all others. This trend would be worrying on its own, but when you combine misdiagnosis, the controversy surrounding whether ADHD is real, and understandable concerns about pharmaceutical companies pushing their products for profit, the sheer volume of people using amphetamines needs to be addressed.
More than all of the above is the common misconception that general practitioners are currently adequately trained to identify mental health and behavioral issues such as ADHD, and best placed to prescribe drugs to treat them. As recently stated in the Huffinton Post, “the bulk of psychiatry is no longer done by psychiatrists”. If ADHD is even real, it seems clear that there is definite issue with the accuracy of diagnosis, and if that is true – then millions of adults and children are being overprescribed with powerful, addictive drugs which could seriously impact their lives.