Better Living Through Chemistry

I don’t write as much about my ADD as I used to. I guess that’s because it’s more under control than it’s been at any other time in my life. For the past week or two, I’ve been coming across various ADD-related links, but nothing I wanted to post about. At least not until I came across this item on LinkFilter, about parents seeking non-pharmaceutical methods of dealing with kids who have ADD or ADHD. The first sentence is a doozy; for me, anyway.

To parents like Rebecca Noble, there is no such thing as ADHD.

Noble and other members of Able Child believe the disorder is a myth created by drug companies and foisted on the psychiatric community and an unwitting public as a way to increase pharmaceutical profits and decrease the amount of time teachers and psychologists have to interact with unruly children.

“I’m not naïve enough to think children don’t have issues,” said Noble, a Queen Creek mother of four and Arizona head of the Parents for a Label and Drug Free Education. “It’s just much easier to label and drug a kid than it is to look at the real problems that are going on.”

Those other issues, according to the article may range from hearing problems to vision problems, or even diet. And all of those may indeed lead to behavioral or academic problems, and should be eliminated as causes before turning to medicine. But that first sentence stops me dead in my tracks.

To parents like Rebecca Noble, there is no such thing as ADHD. (emphasis mine)

I can’t help but think of my own plight growing up with ADD, but without a diagnosis or even knowing what the problem was. All the other potential problems mentioned above were eliminated. I didn’t have a hearing problem. I had a vision problem, but that was rectified early on by getting glasses. I didn’t have any food allergies or diet issues. And I wasn’t disruptive enough to draw attention to myself because I didn’t have hyperactivity. My ADD is inattentive type.

Usually, inattentive students do not fidget, talk excessively, or have problems staying seated. Unlike hyperactives, they are overwhelmed rather than energized by stimulating situations, and they don’t have problems finishing tasks so much as getting started on them. They don’t react impulsively; in fact, they may not appear to react at all. As disorders come and go, inattentiveness definitely qualifies as understated.

The condition’s low profile is reflected by the lack of information available on the topic; research and professional publications devoted specifically to inattention are scarce in comparison to the volumes of material generated on hyperactivity. Moreover, while hyperactive children are often identified through behavioral evaluations in their early school years, inattentive individuals may not be diagnosed as having learning problems until late in life, if they are identified at all.

…In order for educators, counselors, and parents to assist inattentive students with successful management strategies, they must reach an understanding of the condition, but reaching this understanding is a challenge in itself. In terms of emotional issues, inattentive people tend to channel their feelings inwardly rather than express themselves openly; when faced with a crisis, they typically detach from the situation instead of taking action. Often characterized as passive daydreamers, their general unresponsiveness constitutes a barrier between themselves and others. Penetrating this barrier, even in face-to-face conversations, is an endeavor that frequently ends up as an exercise in frustration.

Another inattentive tendency could be summarized by the adage, appearances are deceiving. Inattentive students often seem to be paying attention as they sit quietly, and, indeed, they may stare directly at the instructor for an entire class period. Yet, during this time, their thoughts have drifted from the real world around them. In such instances, their bodies remain stationary while their minds wander aimlessly through a universe of ideas and images; frequently, their academic performance reflects this lack of connection with classroom activities.

Those last couple of paragraphs pretty much describe my experience growing up and going to school. Fortunately, though most of school I was able to compensate for it by spending a lot of time reading and catching up on what I missed when my mind drifted in class. But by the time I got to college, I couldn’t compensate anymore, and I hit the wall. I completely failed one semester and the only way I could make it through was to reduce my class load (and take longer to finish and graduate). My initial experiences in the working world weren’t much different than my experiences in college; crash & burn, rinse & repeat.

But the problem, and what worries me about the article is that, no one knew anything about adult ADD or even believed that it existed. And nothing — including treatment for depression — seemed to help solve the problem. The last paragraph in the inattentive ADD article sums it up pretty well.

The most insidious quality of inattentiveness is its quiet invisibility. While it has the power to erode the lives of those who exist in the world of the wandering mind, it does so without fanfare or fireworks. Inattentives can easily become lost in the shuffle of society and may never experience the power of self-direction and personal accomplishments.

Who wouldn’t be depressed? A good number of adults with ADD are depressed because of the effects of having ADD, and because people often assume that one of the biggest myths about ADD is true.

MYTH #7: People who have AD/HD are stupid or lazy, and they never amount to anything.

In other words, it’s a character problem. If you just tried harder, focused more, etc., you would do better. So it’s your own fault.

That’s what bug’s me about the article mentioned up top. What if one of the kids stuck with these parents for whom “there is no such thing as ADHD” really does have ADD? What happens if/when all the other possible conditions that could be contributing to the problems that look like ADD turn out not be the actual problem? What if it’s not a vision problem, a hearing problem, a food allergy or a diet problem?

Well, if it’s true that “there is no such thing as ADHD,” then just about the only assumption would have to be myth number seven, above. And I would hate to think of a child having to deal with that assumption on top of a problem that goes untreated because no one “believes in it.”

And it doesn’t help that people are adding fuel to the fire of “non-pharmaceutical solution” crowd. The headline of this article blares out Are “ADHD drugs safe? Report finds little proof”, and only adds “The findings do not mean ADHD drugs are unsafe or unhelpful, just that sound scientific proof is lacking,” but only after listing the basic findings of a study done by the Drug Effectiveness Review Project at Oregon State University.

• “No evidence on long-term safety of drugs used to treat ADHD in young children” or adolescents.

• “Good quality evidence … is lacking” that ADHD drugs improve “global academic performance, consequences of risky behaviors, social achievements” and other measures.

• Safety evidence is of “poor quality,” including research into the possibility that some ADHD drugs could stunt growth, one of the greatest concerns of parents.

• Evidence that ADHD drugs help adults “is not compelling,” nor is evidence that one drug “is more tolerable than another.”

• The way the drugs work is, in most cases, not well understood.

Well it may be that the way the drugs work are not well understood, but there’s obviously a demand for them if use among adults has grown dramatically.

Use of prescription drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is growing faster among adults than children, new research shows.

Between 2000 and 2004, use of drugs intended to keep ADHD patients focused doubled among adults aged 20 to 44, but rose only 56 percent among children, according to data compiled by Medco Health Solutions, one of the country’s largest prescription benefit managers.

I can tell you from my own experience that they work. It may sound a bit circular, but if the meds work — meaning they relieve the symptoms of ADD, allowing you to focus and function more effectively — they you probably have ADD. If the meds don’t work then you probably don’t have ADD.

In my case they worked. It’s difficult to explain but this commercial does a pretty good job of showing what it’s like to have untreated ADD, at least from my experience. It’s a bit like having a television or radio in your brain. Only, it’s loud, constantly on, and changes channels randomly, without warning. And you don’t have the remote, so you can’t turn it off, turn down the volume or stop the channels changing so quickly and randomly.

For me, the way the meds work is that they turn down the volume and slow down the channel-changing to a rate that allows me to either stay focused, or realize when I’m drifting and return to focus. (Although I find that my brain seems to need a certain amount of unfocused time in order to keep thing on an even keel.) Sure there are organization and management techniques that help, and I’m able to use them successfully, but in order for that to happen I have to have the volume turned down on that radio or television that’s constantly changing channels in my brain.

So, if it means going back to the way I functioned before, and the way I life was before, you can take my meds away from me when you pry the bottle from my cold, dead fingers. Study them all you want, when you actually know something, give me a holler. But if they’re working, just let me have them, please. Or give me something that works just as well or better, and just as easily.

I just hope that some of the parents, if the alternative therapies and treatments don’t get to the real problem of ADD, can set aside their “non-belief” issues and at least consider medication if there’s a chance that it might help their children.

If “better living through chemistry” is a viable solution, and at least can’t hurt, then I say go for it. The alternative, in my experience, may be decades of unnecessary frustration, stagnation, and plain old pain and suffering.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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4 Responses to Better Living Through Chemistry

  1. sukumar says:

    Excellent post T. I think there are many people that think ADD is a myth. I am sure this will help.

  2. Lauren says:

    I have ADD as well, but my cert is expired since I turned 18. I need to get a prescription somehow — it’s getting horribly difficult to deal with — but I can’t afford getting rediagnosed. Essentially I’m now on the task of doctor shopping. I hate it.

    If you have any other suggestions, please drop an email. I’m at the end of my rope.

  3. Nio says:

    “I’m not naïve enough to think children don’t have issues,” said Noble, a Queen Creek mother of four and Arizona head of the Parents for a Label and Drug Free Education. “It’s just much easier to label and drug a kid than it is to look at the real problems that are going on.”

    While I think overmedication is an issue in schools, my belief that “emotional issues” have many tiers: parents and the educational system as a whole to start with. However, I do agree that labeling and product placement should be removed from schools. And since I too have ADD, I would like to see the school systems address it, with as little medication as possible.

    I wonder does this organization advocate a *complete* elimination of medication in school? If so, how about kids with diabetes and other long term illness that need constant monitering. Would PLDFE advocate the elimination of insulin or do they qualify their ideas of a drug-free school system? If they do advocate for a completly drug-free environment, are the teachers and staff required to follow the same rules or just the students?

  4. Tim Who? says:

    The problem as I see it is not ‘is ADD real” its very real and causes major problem for quite a few people. Anyone that doesn’t understand that is turning their back on facts. Both the medical and psychological communities have proven its existence.

    The only question is how badly it is misused by bad parents to cover up poor parenting skills.

    And the other side of that misused coin is the drug companies fostering the approach that giving your children drugs is the answer to everything. More often than not giving children drugs to control behavior is not the answer.

    My message to parents.
    Don’t rule out ADD and don’t rule out medication.
    But don’t use drugs as a first line of defense use it as a last resort. Rule everything else out, then go to drugs.

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