Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., is such a common diagnosis in school-aged children that one in five high school boys are told they have this disorder. The rate of diagnosis has risen 41% in the past ten years, and the prescriptions given to those patients are only continuing to increase as well. Almost 70% of patients diagnosed with A.D.H.D. are currently taking prescription medication in the form of Ritalin, Adderall, or another stimulant that can lead to unintended consequences such as anxiety, addiction, and psychosis. While there may be children who have a legitimate need for such medication that outweighs potential side effects, the diagnosis seems to be an easy out for many problems that are merely part of childhood. As one doctor analogized, the drugs used to treat A.D.H.D. are similar to performance-enhancing steroids: children, who may just have behavioral problems or other issues, but not A.D.H.D., are given these drugs that inevitably enhance their attention skills and alter the chemical makeup of the brain.
In addition, students with prescriptions for these drugs most likely give them to their friends to improve academic performance. With the pressure to do well, especially in private schools, students often turn to options such as these drugs that will improve their attention when they do not have A.D.H.D. and are only looking for an easy “fix.” The American Psychiatric Association is also moving toward making the A.D.H.D. diagnosis easier for patients to receive, something which many parents are happy about because they can provide their children with stimulants to “correct” whatever behaviors they seem to think are substandard. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of A.D.H.D. is that there is no concrete test to determine if a patient has the disorder; doctors can only rule out other problems and make a diagnosis based on parents’ and teachers’ observations, which are often based on a fear that the child is ‘abnormal’ if he or she is not the top student in the class. When otherwise healthy kids are receiving unnecessary medication to solve a so-called “problem,” there will only be more issues to deal with.