College campuses in North America are in the grip of a drug epidemic. The nature of this epidemic is probably radically different from what you might expect. It does not, in most cases, involve hard drugs traded on street corners. Its focus is, instead, on medicines that can be bought perfectly legally over-the-counter at the nearest drugstore. This does not mean, however, that these drugs are any less dangerous than what is traded on the street. I am, of course, referring to the trade in drugs normally prescribed for the treatment of ADD/ADHD.
It is easy to see why college students are attracted to these kinds of drugs. There are plenty of stories of how they can help them to improve their concentration and even to pull all-nighters before important exams. There is obviously also the issue that there is much less of a social stigma attached to getting your ‘high’ from prescription medicine than from illegal Class-A drugs. What many students fail to realize, however, is that prescription drugs can be just as addictive and can have the same disastrous effects as the illegal varieties. It should also be noted that improper use of prescription medicines (especially trading them) also falls foul of the law.
Many parents derive a great deal of comfort from the last point. They are convinced that their children would never stoop so low as to buy prescription medicines from their friends. This might be a naive assumption in some cases, but let us assume that it is true for most students. Does this mean that there is nothing to worry about and that students who are unwilling to get medication under the table would automatically be protected?
This is, sadly, certainly not the case. Why so? Simply because ADD/ADHD is ridiculously easy to fake. If someone can make the right noises and push the right buttons, he/she can very easily go to the campus medical centre and emerge with a prescription for an ADD/ADHD drug half an hour later. The ease with which descriptions for dangerous psycho-stimulant medication can be obtained was highlighted once again in an article in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Assessment. The article entitled Detection of Feigned ADD/ADHD in College Students assesses the effectiveness of the normal methods of diagnosing ADD/ADHD (i.e. self-evaluation checklists etc) in distinguishing between students who actually have the condition and those who are simply faking it. The results are startling. In a very strong statement the researchers state that self-evaluation checklists are of ‘no value’ in detecting those who are simply feigning the condition. The reason for this is clear. Even people with just a very basic knowledge of ADD/ADHD will know what to say in order to get the desired piece of paper.
The implications of the study are certainly troubling. It leaves us with the impression of a medical system that is happy to prescribe dangerous mind-altering drugs to anyone who took the time to Google the symptoms of ADD/ADHD before going to an appointment! Considering that ADD/ADHD drugs are so sought-after on college campuses there must be a lot of this kind of activity going on, with campus medical centers doling out these drugs virtually on demand.
We are so often told that ADD/ADHD is a recognized psychological condition that can be identified through standardized diagnostic procedures. It turns out, however, that these procedures are anything but rigorous and are open to a wide variety of interpretations. An exact science it is not! You should therefore be very reluctant to simply accept an ADD/ADHD diagnosis at face value. Especially since the diagnostic process can also be predetermined from the ‘other side’, namely that of the medical professional. There is an old saying that if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail. If it is therefore the case that you believe that only medication will solve the inattention and difficult behavior of the person in front of you then you will look for any indication that he/she might have ADD/ADHD. You will be ‘guided’ in this process by the fact that the instruments that are normally used for diagnosing the condition are so inexact and open to interpretation that you can simply read your own conclusions into them.
Allow me to end with two words of warning. Firstly to those who are considering the use of ADD/ADHD medication to help them get through college: Don’t! These drugs are dangerous and addictive and have horrible side effects. Secondly to those who are facing an ADD/ADHD diagnosis, please don’t accept this as the last word. ADD/ADHD diagnosis is not an exact science (as this article once again confirmed) and you should therefore make sure that you get other opinions and investigate alternative explanations. Reading some of the material presented here on ‘3 Steps ADD’ will certainly help you to weed out other probable causes. Please take the time to do so!