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ADHD? Disqualified!

Today, I want to talk about some things you might not be able to do if you have ADHD.

DeniedI’m not doing it to be a downer. I’m not doing it to tell you that you can’t do anything you set your mind to. I’m doing it because there are just some things you’re not allowed to do if you’re on ADHD meds.

This might be surprising. After all, it seems to go against the general rule that, in the U.S., telling people they can’t do something solely because they have ADHD is not legally OK. As it turns out, though, there are some exceptions to this rule.

One of them is joining the U.S. military. It used to be that having ever been diagnosed ADHD disqualified you from military service. More recently, the rule is that you’re disqualified if you’ve taken ADHD medication in the last year.

(Fun fact: other conditions that can disqualify you are sleepwalking, eczema and severe acne.)

If you want to become a pilot, it’s a similar situation. The FAA, like the military, has strict medical requirements, and no ADHD medications are currently on the list of meds approved by the FAA.

These regulations mean that if you have ADHD and want to join the military or become a pilot, you need to forego treatment with medication. The paradoxical result of this is that only people with untreated ADHD are allowed to become pilots or members of the military. Yay, safety?

There is an interesting ethical question here: are some things that people with ADHD shouldn’t be allowed to do? One line of thinking is that “inattentive” is never a word you would want used to describe your pilot.

The thing that gets missed here, though, is that ADHD symptoms depend on context. People with ADHD can hyperfocus on certain activities, and they’re often at their best in stimulating environments. I can see how for some people with ADHD, being set behind the controls of an aircraft could be exactly the thing to focus their cognitive resources. It seems to me that if someone with ADHD meets all the other requirements for becoming a pilot, receiving treatment for their ADHD shouldn’t disqualify them.

In the U.S., another item on the list of things having ADHD could disqualify you from used to be getting health insurance. Fortunately, it’s no longer the case that insurance companies are allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions like ADHD. Of course, if Congress were to do away with this rule, finding insurance with an ADHD diagnosis could become a problem again.

I’m sure there are other situations where having ADHD or taking ADHD meds can be disqualifying. If you can think of some, let me know!

Image: Flickr/Joel Kramer

ADHD? Disqualified!

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). ADHD? Disqualified!. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2019, from


Last updated: 3 Nov 2017
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