Recently, I heard a doctor tell a TV audience that stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall improve focus for ANYBODY, not just people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. His point was that a positive response to stimulant medication is not proof of an ADHD diagnosis.
Wait a minute. When I first tried stimulants they put me to sleep! It was the first thing that convinced me that I really had ADHD. I’d heard that people with ADHD have a “paradoxical response” to medication, so if I was sleepy after I took Dextrostat, I must have an ADD brain.
I later learned that I had misinterpreted that information. Stimulants don’t really have an opposite effect on ADHD brains. Instead, they realign the dance of specific neurotransmitters so the neurotransmitters can hit their mark in the neuron network. I fell asleep when I took Dextrostat (100% dextroamphetamine) because it was the wrong medication for my particular brain chemistry. Adderall (a combination of four different amphetamine salts including dextroamphetamine) worked wonders for me – no midday naps, much more focus.
The TV doctor was reacting to news that some college students swallow stimulant tablets before exams to improve their competitive edge. No word on whether the stimulants actually boosted the students’ test scores, but the doctor implied that the groundswell of adult ADHD diagnoses was based more on requests for stimulants than legitimate medical testing.
This kind of pseudo-medical nonsense makes me mad. It took me a long, long time to believe that my ADHD diagnosis was accurate. Now I realized I was deeply influenced by the skepticism of the media, the public and even the medical community about the legitimacy of ADHD. There was the pharmaceutical conspiracy theory: Big Pharma had concocted ADHD to boost their profitability. Adult ADHD was trivialized: only children could suffer from this silly little disorder so if you “still” have ADHD you must be immature. There was stigma attached to having something “wrong” with your brain: ADHD people are to be shunned or at least marginalized. No wonder I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
But here I am, broadcasting my ADHD story to anyone who stumbles across this blog. Obviously, I’ve come to terms with my ADHD. I know it’s legit, that I am not a hypochondriac and that I certainly would never choose to take powerful medication if it wasn’t necessary.
It’s my responsibility – and yours, if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with ADHD – to combat the misinformation that masquerades as truth.
Do some of today’s college students take stimulants before exams? You bet. Just like some college students took No-Dose when I was in college in the 1970s. And just like mega doses of caffeine, stimulants send those little neurotransmitters into hyperdrive in “normal” brains, creating frenzy instead of focus
Does it mean that adult ADHD is over-diagnosed? Nope. In fact, it is dramatically under-diagnosed; estimates show that only 10% of adults with ADHD are actually diagnosed and treated. Mark my words: in the next few years, we will see dramatic increase in the number of adults who are newly diagnosed with ADHD.
There will be a tipping point, a place at which an ADHD diagnosis carries no emotional baggage. It will merely be a condition to be treated, much like Type 1 diabetes or kidney disease. And then we can get on with the rest of our amazing and extraordinary lives.