In my practice, I see far too many adults who are diagnosed with adult Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (or ADHD) and medicated with strong stimulants. There is an epidemic of over-diagnosis and over-pathologizing that is happening in our country and thus, so many children and adults are receiving strong psycho-active drugs that they do not need.
I know what it's like to live in a demanding environment, feeling like there are a hundred things to do on my to-do list and experiencing the sense of being overwhelmed. There's a real fear of failure that women experience since we hold ourselves up to such high and sometimes rigid standards. I hope you feel in your heart of hearts that it is okay to fail. It's okay to mess up, it's ok to be distracted and overwhelmed some days because our broken world is just that - broken. Perhaps this deep unconditional acceptance of our brokenness and fallen nature help us (even empower us) to be okay with who we are without finding a label and drug to fix it. Instead, we look to the cross and lay it down at His feet.
I believe our children are being over-diagnosed for a few reasons...1) our society demands a lot of children. When children don't meet those demands or act in an age-appropriate (although frustrating) manner, we seek a cause and a cure. 2) ADHD is inadequately evaluated by doctors who aren't trained to diagnose the condition. 3) Here's a hard reality to swallow: most behavioral problems that we see in our children are exacerbated, and even caused, by our parenting style and approach. This is not to say that some children do in fact have ADHD, but only 5-7% of them do. In our country, some studies show that 33% of boys are diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed stimulants. That's a glaring discrepancy we can't ignore!
Sadly, we have Big Pharma who also has a vested interest in making sure people take their expensive medications. ADHD medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are a chemically near-identical to crystal methamphetamines. Let that soak in. They work by increasing dopamine in the brain, and thereby affect the chemical pathways of reward. One study found that an alarming 1 in 3 college students report taking these medications to help them study (regardless of whether they have a prescription for the medication).
Sisters who are college-aged and see their classmates taking these medications to help them study: please hear my honest plea and refuse these medications. They are dangerous. Here's why:
1. ADHD medications are addictive. Since they affect our reward pathway, they prime the brain to need more. A reliance on this medication means that you will feel less able and competent to study without them.
2. These drugs are potent and can cause serious side effects and interact with other medications, including benign over-the-counter medications you may be on. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, headaches, heart problems, and even seizures.
3. You don't need the help. Did you know that even people who have true ADHD can live productive and healthy lives without taking a stimulant medication? Yep. Just like with depression or anxiety, a person can find meaningful improvement without turning to medications if they so choose.
When it comes to ADHD, we have to erase this cultural mindset that we need medications to be the best version of ourselves. We need Christ to be the best versions of ourselves. Studying is demanding and hard, and working through that exam week without taking medication will give you deeper satisfaction that knowing that you crammed with the help of a medication.
When it comes to ADHD, we have to erase the cultural mindset
that we need medications to be the best version of ourselves.
We need Christ to be the best versions of ourselves.
4. ADHD medications almost most certainly make other mental health problems worse. That anxiety or depression you may be feeling is only worsened and exacerbated by taking the street equivalent to "uppers." Many patients of mine report that they do feel more mentally sharp on the medication (of course, this is expected), but that their general anxiety and panic attacks have worsened. The neuro-biological rollercoaster that Ritalin and Adderall put our minds on doesn't bring peace and calm; it upsets the ecosystem of our psyche.
Advice for women who are currently diagnosed with ADHD and those who believe they may have the condition:
If you have been diagnosed with ADHD in the past, I would like you to consider perhaps how you were initially diagnosed.
The gold standard diagnostic evaluation is a comprehensive psychological evaluation with neuropsychological and/or psychological testing. If you didn't take some form of psychological test by a doctoral level psychologist, then you didn't get the thorough evaluation you deserve.
Perhaps this is the time to seek out a psychologist who can rule-in, or rule-out, the diagnosis and also provide you with information about what else your symptoms may be pointing to.
Adult-ADHD is very rare. The vast majority of ADHD cases resolve in childhood. Only 3% of adults have ADHD based on the psychiatric diagnosis manual.
Many adults with diagnosed ADHD truly have other conditions instead. When doctors throw the label "ADHD" on the problems with focus and concentration, they are doing a disservice to the woman who may have underlying problems related to her endocrine system, neurological functioning, or psychological health. Poor concentration and attention rarely indicate ADHD. It most often indicates anxiety.
"When doctors throw the label "ADHD" on the problems with focus and concentration, we are doing a disservice to the woman who may have underlying problems related to her endocrine system, neurological functioning, or psychological health."
My hope is to shine the light on this common problem. Our children's brains need to develop without harsh stimulants. Our expectations for who we are and what we can accomplish should empower us away from medication ourselves. And the college culture of casually taking Adderall and Ritalin is pervasive and harmful.
Read more about what other medical professionals have to say here and here.
Praying for your grace-filled minds sisters. Dr. Rose
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