The Rise of ADHD and the an Analysis of the Drugs Prescribed for Treatment


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ADHD America

“Worst possible thing you can possibly imagine,” he said. “I mean here was this great kid who had everything going for him. Everything. Smart, good-looking kid, and the Adderall just destroyed him.” These are the words of Ricky Fee, the father of an aspiring medical student who committed suicide after quitting the commonly prescribed ADHD drug. Richard fee went to his doctor claiming to possess the symptoms of this common psychiatric disorder, looking to prescriptions to cope with his academic stress. As his usage became more frequent, he exhibited signs of extreme paranoia and violence. His mother Kathy Fee claimed, “He was on the computer, and he put little pieces of scotch tape on his fingers because he didn’t want the keyboard to get his fingerprints. Why, I don’t know” (Johnson). This behavior occurred until shortly after running out of his supply, he took his own life. Richard is not alone, an estimated 1 in 5 college students take the drug to improve their concentration and alertness (Graham), but at what cost to their mental well-being?

According to The New England Journal of Medicine “from 2010-2012 the percentage of youth receiving outpatient mental health services increased from 9.2% to 13.3%” along with medication prescriptions “including stimulants and related medications from 4.0% to 6.0%” (Olfson). ADHD diagnosis and prescriptions go hand in hand, which explains the quote above. ADHD is a debatable, complex subject that is commonly looked over and solved by handing out stimulants to those who possess symptoms.

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So what is the cause for this rise in diagnosis; harder academic pressures, social influence, or just an evolutionary rise in our children? Medications for ADHD are turned to as the first line of defense in treating this disorder, which may have devastating effects as shown in Richard Lee’s case, and are worth gaining insight on. If all the broad spectrum possibilities for this rising disease are considered, better treatment methods can be provided, and many ultimately leading to a decline of pharmaceuticals being prescribed to those who may not need them.

Gordon T. Harold takes a maternal orientation on the topic in his article “Biological and rearing mother influences on child ADHD symptoms: revisiting the developmental interface between nature and nurture” from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. He puts ADHD symptoms in a maternal childbearing view by further investigating reports made by families of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, stating negative family relationships are more prominent than families of children without. Through questionnaires, 320 linked sets of adopted children with biological and adopted mothers were asked about “maternal ADHD symptoms, parenting practices, child impulsivity/activation and ADHD symptoms” (1). Harold references in the introduction, the possible explanations for these associations:

“Family relationships, particularly negative parenting practices, are known to contribute to different forms of psychopathology (Harold, Elam, Lewis, Rice, & Thapar, 20120) with families of children with ADHD reporting higher rates of conflict within the family are more negative parent-child relationships (Barkley, 1998)… First, the association between family relationship factors and child ADHD symptoms may be explained by genes shared between parents and their biologically related children. Second, this relationship may be explained by child ADHD symptoms affecting family relationship interaction patters, rather than the other way around.” (1 Harold)

Harold depicts two different scenarios based on nature and nurture that may account for this rise in diagnosis. It is hard to tell concretely which side is to blame, as Harold acknowledges this problem from this study stating because “all of the children in this study were genetically unrelated to their rearing mother, these associations cannot be attributed to shared genetic influence” (3). Nevertheless, this article accounts for both important possibilities that the rise of ADHD symptoms may be from the parenting style of the person involved, as well as the biological predisposition from their genetics.

Mihye Seo addresses ADHD in a more modern, societal viewpoint in his article “Always Connected or Always Distracted? ADHD Symptoms and Social Assurance Explain Problematic Use of Mobile Phone and Multicommunicating” from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Seo’s main argument is that social assurance through technology and problematic dependence on smart phone use is positively associated with ADHD symptoms:

“Specifically, those with ADHD symptoms were likely to be trapped by problematic phone use, which in turn was associated with frequent multicommunicating. But a direct link between ADHD and multicommunicating was not apparent, which suggests that the link between ADHD is fully mediated by problematic mobile phone use. Second, general need for reassurance and belonging was examined as a social/relational explanation of problematic mobile phone use and multicommunicationg. Strong need for social reassurance, which encourages the “always-on” mode, influenced problematic mobile phone use and multicommunicating.” (Seo 676)

Seo avoids using the harsh “addiction” term to distinguish characteristics of a mobile phone dependence such as, “obsessive thoughts, spending more and more time on mobile phone to receive satisfaction, experiencing anxiety when not using mobile phones, diminished impulse control and inability to cease mobile phone use.” (Seo 669) When these symptoms are put in generalizations not specific to a mobile phone dependency, they mirror almost exactly those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Seo’s analysis should also be considered from another viewpoint: that mobile phone dependency could be mistaken for ADHD due to the similar symptoms, and could also be contributing to this national rise.

Harold and Seo give two intelligent possibilities on the plausible causes for the rise in ADHD diagnosis through unique lenses. Harold’s research resurfaces the age old psychological question of temperate versus parenting style in children diagnosed with ADHD to answer this question. He gives valuable information and reason to each side, with good reason. Both sides need to be argued for, as how a child is raised nor their genetic disposition can independently be blamed. Further research or surveys would need to be executed to take into account confounding variables such as family dynamic and medical history.

Seo’s interesting media based perspective is very relatable to modern society in 2016, where many waste valuable time on their phones. Agreeable as it is, the similar conditions between phone dependency and ADHD are so interchangeable it is hard to distinguish the affects each has on the other and their true relation. These sources have given many important facts and sides to consider when finding a sole cause of the ADHD diagnosis rise, but it is not that simple. Further research and other perspectives need to be considered- one thing cannot be pinpointed for this disorder when many, many, factors must be taken into account when searching for an answer.

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