The ADHD Epidemic: Smart Drugs and the Control of Bodies and Minds

(Photo: Erich Ferdinand)(Photo: Erich Ferdinand; Edited: LW / TO)

This is an excerpt from Scripted Bodies: Corporate Power, Smart Technologies, and the Undoing of Public Education (Routledge 2016)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which has seen massive recent increases in diagnosis since 2000, is defined as a difficulty in paying attention, restlessness, and hyperactivity.  By 2010, nearly one in three US children age 2-17 had been diagnosed as suffering ADHD, and by 2012, diagnoses of ADHD had risen 66% in the prior decade. Ballooning rates of diagnosis for ADHD have been met with unprecedented levels of medical prescriptions principally for the amphetamine pharmaceutical drugs Adderall and Ritalin. By 2011 11% of all US children 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD and 6.1% were taking ADHD drugs and an estimated 8% to 35% of university students in the US using cognitive stimulants. Boys are diagnosed at nearly three times the rate as girls. About 80% of those children diagnosed with ADHD are using these medications. Children below the poverty line are diagnosed at higher rates especially poor toddlers.

Some scientific literature claims ADHD results from underdevelopment of parts of the brain responsible for executive function, that is, the parts of the brain responsible for self-control. Doctors and psychologists use the US-based psychological diagnosis manual DSM-IV to diagnose ADHD 3-4 times more frequently than their European counterparts do with the ICD-10. Spectacular increases in diagnosis and radically disparate rates of diagnosis lend empirical weight to cultural theories of ADHD that suggest the disorder is principally a social construct rather than a biologically-based medical pathology. 

The public discourse on both ADHD and the overprescription of medical solutions to it have seldom exceeded narrow questions about the individual health side effects of putting kids on uppers and the “fairness” of using performance enhancing drugs in educational competition….

Read more