Focus on drug abuse creates stigma about ADHD

Recent research on the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, has suggested that the disorder goes undiagnosed even more than was previously suggested, according to an article in The New York Times this week.

The writer of the article, Katherine Ellison points out that in the midst of rising rates of diagnosis, there is a distinctive lack of understanding that is not rising at the rate that it should be. Ellison writes that “While global diagnoses of ADHD are on the rise, public understanding of the disorder has not kept pace. Debates about the validity of the diagnosis and the drugs used to treat it — the same that have long polarized Americans — are now playing out from Northern and Eastern Europe to the Middle East and South America.” According to Ellison, global stigmas are often crippling to the children who suffer through these disorders, and the stigma extends to the medication that could help them to cope. She emphasizes, however, that this isn’t a new phenomenon.

The skepticism surrounding popular medications that help kids with ADHD to focus is rampant, and only continues to be exacerbated by the abuse of the same drugs by the peers of the children who need it. A recent study by Gustavus Adolphus College reported that it is likely that one in seven college students will abuse Adderall, Ritalin, or another ADHD-treating drug during their time at school, and these rates are continuously rising, prompting many to question the merits of these drugs.

Even, or perhaps especially, at Carnegie Mellon, the discussion revolves around the medication’s abusers rather than its intended use in helping those who need it. With rates of ADHD diagnoses on the rise, it is more important than ever that this stigma be struck down. ADHD is not a joke or a reason to pop a pill, but a serious disorder that can cripple students’ potential and inhibit academic progress.

The medication that can help to these students to overcome their disorder and do great things is considered by others to be the start to a good night out or a reason to put off a paper until the night before, and these conflicting purposes hurt the reputation of the medication. There is no shame in taking these medications if they are prescribed to you, but rampant abuse has made it so that even those with ADHD cannot admit to having the medication without fear of stigmatization or worse, having their pills stolen from them.

At Carnegie Mellon, great minds work hard every day to solve problems and find solutions. There is no place on this campus for stigmatization of any kind, but especially not of our peers. Rather than shaming them for the medication that they take legitimately, we should hold those who abuse the medication accountable while celebrating those who are more than just their disorder.

Instead of cultivating an environment of shame and secrecy, we should bring the discussion of this disorder and the misconceptions of it out into the open to lay the foundation for an open, productive conversation that reflects the intelligent, caring community of Carnegie Mellon University.