This Wednesday, an article in the New York Times reported that between 2008 and 2012 the number of adults taking medications for ADHD has increased by 53%, and that in the case of young American adults, it has nearly doubled. While this is a staggering statistic, and points to younger generations becoming frequently reliant on stimulants, frankly, I’m not too surprised. Over the course of my 50-year-long career in behavioral neurology and treating patients with ADHD, it has been in the past decade that I have seen these diagnoses truly skyrocket. Every day my colleagues and I see more and more people coming in claiming they have trouble paying attention at school and at work, and diagnosing themselves with “ADHD.”
And why shouldn't they?
If someone finds it difficult to pay attention or feels somewhat hyperactive, “Attention-deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder” has those symptoms right there in its name. It’s an easy, catch-all phrase, which saves time for doctors to boot. But can we really lump all these people together? What if there are other things causing people to feel distracted? I don’t deny that we, as a population, are more distracted today than we ever were before. And I don’t deny that some of these patients who are distracted and impulsive need help. But what I do deny is the generally accepted definition of ADHD, which is long overdue for an update. In short, I’ve come to believe based on decades of treating patients that ADHD — as currently defined by the DSM and as it exists in the public imagination — does not exist.
Allow me to explain what I mean.