Although ADHD does not exist as a real disease, it is a very real label imposed on children, with very real consequences for the child. On a physical level, the recommended drugs are toxic, and they have a long list of deleterious effects.1 Regarding Ritalin, the fact is that "methylphenidate looks like an amphetamine (chemically), acts like an amphetamine (effects), and is abused like an amphetamine (recreational use, Emergency Room visits, pharmacy break-ins)."2 (parentheses mine)
On a psychological level, Ritalin produces two especially harmful effects. It deprives a child of the right to develop a character and a way of living with self and world, in a drug-free state. Ritalin also creates a burden of shame, a conviction that a child who is on this drug is somehow defective, unworthy, and neither lovable nor even acceptable in his or her "natural" state.
These stimulant drugs for children truly are about enforcement of our culture's preeminent value: productivity.3 Amphetamines, as we have learned over the course of the past century, increase output. But of course, with amphetamines, the trajectory is usually crash and burn. In the US, millions of adults, and an alarmingly increasing number of children, take psychiatric stimulants like Prozac to "keep going and going." Similarly, we give children as young as two years of age stimulant drugs to help their "impaired" productivity. But wherein lies the suffering, in the "failure" to produce or achieve, or in the so-called remedy we prescribe?
1. Peter Breggin, Talking Back to Ritalin (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1998).
2. Mary Eberstadt, "Why Ritalin Rules," Policy Review 94 (1999): 24-44.
3. See John Breeding's new e-book, The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity: Psychiatric Oppression or Human Transformation? (Online Originals, 2000), for an explanation of how psychiatry acts to enforce our social mandate of relentless productivity. (Available at www.onlineoriginals.com.)