ADHD: Debunking the ‘Culture of Ritalin’ Theory
In this week's New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell challenges three recent books which argue that Ritalin is hugely overprescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) -- a quick cure to mask a larger cultural problem. Gladwell takes to task neuropsychiatrist Sydney Walker, author of "The Hyperactivity Hoax"; psychologist Richard DeGrandpre, author of "Ritalin Nation"; and physician Lawrence Diller, author of "Running On Ritalin"; who are all "deeply suspicious" of Ritalin and believe that ADHD is a problem of the "quicksilver rhythms of the modern age." Gladwell contends, instead, that research is now finding ADHD has "a considerable genetic component" -- it is about 70% heritable -- and is more a result of "neurology and the role of specific genes" than of "bad parents, television and diet." It is by "a strange inversion of moral responsibility" that the three authors try to make parents and doctors feel guilty for prescribing Ritalin to ADHD children, Gladwell insists, noting that the drug is a safe and effective way of restoring the childrens' low levels of dopamine that contribute to their attention problems. In fact, argues Gladwell, it makes sense that more children are being diagnosed with ADHD, and in turn being treated with Ritalin, because society is now increasingly placing children "into situations that demand attention and intellectual consideration." He concludes that the "rise of ADHD is a consequence of what might otherwise be considered a good thing: that the world we live in increasingly values intellectual consideration and rationality -- increasingly demands that we stop and focus. Modernity didn't create ADHD. It revealed it" (2/15 issue).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.