I understand the chill that Ted Gup felt when he learned that 6.4 million school-age children in America have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I have no children myself, so I cannot speak to the pain Gup describes in writing about his son’s early diagnosis and drug overdose in college, but I know what the effects of ADHD medication look like in someone you love.
As the longtime girlfriend of a man who has the disorder, I am accustomed to the difference between two versions of Hunter: his medicated and unmedicated selves. Though concern is rising that the rapidly increasing number of ADHD diagnoses means more children are being misdiagnosed, Hunter does not fall into that category. He definitely has ADHD, as evidenced by his exuberantly unfocused behavior when he has not taken the recommended dose of pills. He takes ADHD medicine during the week because it is difficult for him, otherwise, to be effective and to get things done at work, but he avoids any pill-popping on the weekends because of how it impacts his personality. The medication can make him flat and unemotional, reducing him from a happy, zany, energetic guy to someone who seems focused but slightly two-dimensional.
A simple Google search reveals several forums where both people with the disorder and parents of children who have it voice concerns about the way the treatment affects personality. One person wrote that the side effects of the drug she was on included less creativity and less spontaneity, along with a decrease in the amount of affection and other emotions that she experiences. It all sounds eerily familiar.
While Hunter has a genuine need for ADHD medication in order to be a productive adult in his chosen career field, many of the people taking meds like his may not need them, and the effect could be more devastating than they realize. I’m not a doctor, and I can only speak from my own observations. But I hope that anyone considering ADHD drugs will take Gup’s warning about over-diagnosis to heart.