Funny it may sound, but ironically it is true! Across university campuses worldwide, but especially in the United States, there is probably always that one person wholeheartedly confident that he or she has ADHD when most likely they do not. But ADHD has become so widespread that it isn’t the most surprising conclusion. In 1902, Sir George Frederic, a British paediatrician, found out that some children could not control their behaviour despite still being intelligent. Being a product of the values of the Victorian age, he called it “an abnormal defect of moral control in children.”
As we moved from the world of British morals into American scientific rationality, we changed names. Now it’s less about morality and more about science. Under American love of complex functional jargon, it became, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” or ADHD its popular shortened version- a testament to the American love of abbreviations. And now it’s being diagnosed at skyrocketing rates and causing an “Adderall Epidemic” here in the United States and across the world of paediatrics.
American Craze or human problem in the age of social media?
How did we reach a point where ADHD medication is now perhaps among the most misused and abused drugs across college campuses and beyond? Is this an American craze or it’s a human problem in the age of 24/7 tv, Netflix, young YouTube millionaires, apple and Samsung watches, fit bits and 30-second TikToks? Are we evolving, or perhaps using the right term degenerating into an ADHD society? Does everyone have a little ADHD? Does Adderall actually increase our focus or not? Are we being taken on a moon ride by the pharma industry?
To address all of these myriad and certainly interesting questions, we need to first understand how the power jargon laden ADHD actually works. Simply stated: ADHD is caused by a deficiency in norepinephrine, which is linked directly to dopamine. Without these two fascinating chemicals, it is challenging for us to focus on tasks. Dopamine causes a rush of pleasure and without pleasure when doing a task the brain will have no reason to stay focused.
Adderall, Ritalin and other prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD, do so by increasing the levels of Dopamine and Norepinephrine, which reinforces rewarding behaviours allowing those with ADHD to focus by essentially bringing their chemical balance to normal. In other words that sense of happiness that you might get sometimes when you do well on a project, and that motivates you to do more work? That lovely feeling is certainly normal and makes us the fragile humans we are, but unfortunately is rarely felt by those who really suffer from the dreaded ADHD of US campuses!
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Good! But what if you don’t have ADHD?
So yes, for those with ADHD, Adderall helps you to focus. But what if you don’t have ADHD? In that case, essentially the medicine will flood your system with higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine than you should have. Initially causing a sense of calming euphoria – but over time the excess dopamine can cause headaches, jitteriness, heart palpitations, and insomnia.
Yes, in the beginning, you may feel like it is also helping you to focus, but in reality, a placebo effect is actually taking place. You are expecting to be able to focus and you can feel the euphoria; therefore, you can concentrate. However, dependence upon stimulants can over time cause you to not be able to focus without them. Your brain can start treating them like a crutch and if it doesn’t expect to be able to concentrate without them, you will simply not be able to focus.
To be concise, if you have ADHD you may need stimulants to focus but even those without ADHD may find stimulants helpful – usually because of a placebo effect that can become dependent. Quiet a modern nightmare! Is not it?
Now we all have a bit of ADHD? Thanks to Chinese export of TikTok?
Once upon a time, gunpowder, spices and precious stones travelled across the fabled Silk Road, Netflix has further immortalized Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant and explorer but now it’s dangerous products like the hyperactive TikTok emanating from the once sedate world of Confucius! So naturally, there is now this idea floating around that we all have a bit of ADHD in us. That our society is evolving to become an ADHD society. And honestly, it may feel that way.
With the advent of social media, progressively shorter formats of information such as the disruptive Chinese Tiktok, and an increasingly hyper-competitive education and work market, it is becoming harder and harder to focus. Our brains are no longer being taught how to focus and then on top of it, we are being forced to compete against others with immense pressure. Stresses like that hardly help in focusing. We are progressively being asked to do more and more work in shorter periods of time and then in an attempt to reach the impossible people resort to drugs. But there’s a difference between being unable to focus and being out of practice in focusing or needing to do more work in shorter periods of time to keep up.
Perhaps, for the betterment of the next generation, it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture to realise that the most important factor in increasing drug misuse, ADHD diagnoses and rising suicide rates is the pressure that people are under. Of course, when society as a whole is being taught to focus less by relying on technology it seems like there are more ADHD cases even though having ADHD, in reality, means having a different brain structure.
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Children are being overdiagnosed simply based on “issues of focus” instead of proper evaluations simply because it’s the easy way out. And finally of course people are finding it hard to cope when they are constantly competing from childhood till the end. Maybe for everyone’s mental health, we should be making it clear that they are not expected to do more work than humanly possible and perhaps there should be greater repercussions for corporate employers putting employees in this situation.
Our work should not be following us around 24 hours 7 days a week. The American dream is supposed to give every single person an equal opportunity for success but letting the average person be exploited till they have a breakdown hardly follows this ideal. But then how to deal with the dreaded Chinese and Indian competition? CEOs may ask! I have no answer to that! I think I suffer from a bit of ADHD!
Maya Nitasha Pirzada is deeply interested in the history, law, sociology, and politics of South Asia and has travelled extensively across Pakistan. She is currently pursuing her studies in Maryland, United States.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.