A Natural Fix for ADHD

Interesting piece from the NYT:

ATTENTION deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease.

And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.

  • Yup. At what point in history was the average person ever expected to voluntarily sit and pay attention to someone talking for eight hours a day?

    …although I’d attribute the increase in diagnoses/prescriptions/attention to the problem less to the “digital age” hypothesis and more to:
    -There seems to be a much higher level of scrutiny on education and far fewer avenues to gainful employment outside of a successful K-12 education plus some college. I think in decades past, people inclined towards ADD/ADHD probably just wormed their way out of the school environment faster.
    -With a greater share of mothers working outside the home, there might be less time for moms to do the work of helping kids adapt (and more pressure for childcare workers/teachers to “get that kid on medicine so he can pay attention”)
    -Rise in disability claims for ADD/ADHD and other learning disabilities (as well as just overall better assessment of such disabilities)
    -Pharma. The author downplays this, but pharma companies spend a lot of money hyping this stuff to doctors and oftentimes pay the people who write the guidelines for diagnosis