Americans might not be able to sit still long enough to learn that they were given 51.5 million prescriptions for Addention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2010.
That’s about one prescription for every six Americans — so many that pharmaceutical companies are now experiencing shortages of the medication. If this keeps up many of us may be forced to pay attention to the fact that we’re having so much trouble concentrating.
What’s happened to us? What’s turned us from the USA into the USADHD? Either we’re experiencing an epidemic that dare not speak its name slowly, or we’re in the midst of a culture-wide panic akin to the Dutch mania for tulip bulbs. Is Adderall the new pet rock?
Actually a compelling case can be made that organic, physical changes, are happening. In particular, there is suspicion that higher incidents of ADHD follow the so-called “western diet” of highly processed, highly sugared, foods. Similarly, a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD to some extent.
These links need to be investigated further: if widespread increases in ADHD are the result of widespread dietary changes, then they’re best addressed at the level of food and nutrition, rather than medication well known for side-effects.
But beyond that, there’s also a sense that ADHD is very much a “disease” for our time. We have a 24 hour global economy, hundreds of cable channels, millions of competing websites, cell phones, text messages, touch screens … and the same amount of attention we’ve always had.
When a culture fetishizes thinness, you get anorexia. When a culture fetishizes sexual purity, you get sexual neuroses.
What else but ADHD could we possible expect to come out of an era that fetishizes multi-tasking?
Both in terms of diet and culture, ADHD is a symptom of how we’re choosing to live as a culture. The stunning increase in prescriptions for ADHD medication is a sign that we should be thinking, deeply and carefully, about how we want to live.
The fact that that’s not what multi-taskers do is exactly the point.
— Benjamin Wachs