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Is ADHD Overdiagnosed?

No topic is more controversial than the question of whether attention deficit-hyerpactive disorder (ADHD) is overdiagnosed or not. Like all other questions about ADHD, the answer to this one depends on which perspective you're coming from. But unlike other debates about the disorder, the issue of overdiagnosis is perhaps the most sensitive one because of the politics and money involved in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are around 5-10% of American schoolchildren diagnosed with ADHD today. This means that in the United States alone, tens of thousands of children have difficulties performing academically or functioning socially due to the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Some people think this number is an exaggeration and go so far as to deny that ADHD is a real condition. On the other side of the spectrum, there are experts, doctors and psychiatrists who believe that the disorder is underdiagnosed and needs more attention from researchers.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with diagnosing children with ADHD, or identifying symptoms of ADHD in children. Think of the diagnosis as a red flag that signals that the child and family are in need of help or assistance. Due to a myriad of reasons, the child is suffering from a unique set of difficulties that disrupts his or her academic, social, and family life. If the child does not receive any treatment, he or she will be at higher risk of developing other mental disorders or wrong lifestyle decisions. Research shows that children with ADHD are likely to exhibit anxiety problems, learning disorders, sleep problems, and depression, among many other issues. Children with ADHD are also at great risk of repeating a year at school, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

In other words, the real issue is not whether or not ADHD is overdiagnosed. Rather, the problem lies in the way ADHD is treated by traditional western medicine. 90% of children with ADHD take the drug Ritalin, a "mild" central nervous system stimulant designed to help children concentrate at school and control impulsive behavior. Despite being a legal drug, Ritalin has the same chemical components as cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines, as well as their side effects - and these side effects can be serious. Appetite suppression, stunted growth, and insomnia are some of the "milder" side effects of Ritalin. The more serious ones involve hallucinations and even death.

The question then becomes to know whether one diagnoses a child in order to better help him or her, or whether one diagnoses a child so that he or she can be placed on mind-altering drugs. Yes, it may sound horrible, but pharmaceutical companies are not philanthropist. They are in business and they are constantly looking to expand their market.

For example, in 2008, it was discovered that a renown Harvard psychiatrist known for his research on ADHD and mental had been receiving millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies who create ADHD medication like Ritalin and Adderall. It has been estimated that, between 1994 and 2003, the result of his research had fueled a 40-fold increase in the diagnosis of certain mental health condition in children!

Unethical practices like this do make people suspicious about ADHD and view it as an excuse for pharmaceutical companies to make money off worried parents. It's possible that some ADHD patients may have been diagnosed and medicated too quickly, but this doesn't mean that all cases of ADHD turn out that way. ADHD does exist, and children with ADHD do need help.

It is difficult to say whether ADHD is indeed overdiagnosed or not, but what we can conclude is that there are too many ADHD patients dependent on drugs like Ritalin. An ADHD diagnosis should spontaneously equate with the prescription of medications. Instead, we must look for an alternative treatment to ADHD - one that only uses natural treatments that bring long-term benefits without causing any damaging side-effects.