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    The ADD/ADHD “Epidemic”

    About two decades ago, my eighth-grade Latin teacher was furious with me. I had in some way failed to do my homework to his standards. My punishment was to leave his class to a picnic table, outside, a hundred yards away, to redo the work by myself.

    So I stalked out, sat down, and opened my book. But I couldn’t bring my mind to struggle once again with the arcane rules of that dead language. It was especially hard when I was surrounded by a wonderful fall morning. Eventually I finished my work and returned to class, which was almost over. I’m sure I paced myself in order to spend more time in the quiet, wooded yard and less time in the stuffy, tense classroom. My Latin teacher was once again furious. This time he was furious because he saw me “staring into space” rather than doing the assignment.

    Twenty years ago I was just a lazy kid, and consequently yelled at (which had no effect.) Today, I’d probably be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and consequently drugged with Ritalin or Adderall.

    Having read a number of articles on the subject, I keep hearing the same anecdotes from people taking these drugs. The subject relates, “Coffee helped, but it just wasn’t enough, so I went on Adderall. Then I could stay up all night and stay totally focused on my work. But as time went by, I needed to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect. Eventually I needed to buy it off the black market in order to get the dose I needed.” And indeed, there is a thriving black market for ADD/ADHD drugs on campus.

    In as much as college is a competitive endeavor and ADD/ADHD drugs actually improve concentration, those who aren’t on these drugs are operating at a competitive disadvantage. The pressure for anyone to use or abuse these drugs grows as the number of students using them increases.

    So what I think is happening is that rather than treating a disease called ADD/ADHD, parents are giving smart-drugs to perfectly normal kids to make them perform to an arbitrary and ever-increasing standard on increasingly irrelevant subject matter.

    College used to be for a select number of students. Now it’s for almost everyone. Primary and secondary education used to run for nine months a year. Now there is a move to year-round education. Physical Education (Gym) and recess were staples of the school day when I was young, but I hear they’re being phased out for the purpose of increasing classroom time.

    I also have to question what is being covered in all this extra time devoted to academics. Could kids be failing to pay attention because the subject matter is so irrelevant and arcane that they can clearly see that it has no impact on their future lives? That’s how I felt twenty years ago, and now I know I was right. I seriously doubt that the curriculum has been made more practical since then–probably quite the opposite.

    As a person who thinks that truly safe and effective smart-drugs would be a great thing, I’m not saying using ADD/ADHD drugs to boost normal kids to exceptional levels is necessarily a bad thing. Rather that these drugs have serious side effects. Side effects of Adderall include: allergic reactions, irregular heartbeat, extreme high blood pressure, restlessness or tremor, anxiety or nervousness, headache or dizziness, insomnia, dryness of the mouth, or unpleasant taste in the mouth, diarrhea or constipation, impotence or changes in sex drive. Worst of all, Adderall is addictive and people who go off it suffer withdrawal effects. Students and parents need to make individual decisions whether the increased academic performance is worth the potential threat to body and mind.

    I remember almost nothing of my Latin classes, other than they were a poor use of two years of my life. My choice of enjoying an hour in nature over doing a make-up homework assignment was ultimately the wisest choice, even if I was just being lazy or contrary at the time. If parents and students choose to turn to drugs in order to boost academic performance, then I hope that the subject matter is worth this risk, though from my experience I know it is not.