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The Tragic Myth about ADHD

A new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the number of teen-aged and young adult women being medicated for ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) has risen by 344%. The CDCP noted that in 2006 about 1% of the female population were medicated for ADHD, but by 2015 the percentage had climbed to 4%.

The study focused on women between the ages of 15 and 44 who had private insurance. About 5% of the general population has ADHD. The disorder used to be diagnosed 10 times more often in men than women. Now, it appears that men and women have about equal rates of ADHD.

Most of the women in the study were of childbearing age, and yet there is almost no research on the safety of medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The report does not mention any research activity on this problem, nor does it explain why three has been this jump in cases of female ADHD.

Having worked with a number of individuals who were diagnosed with ADHD over the last 40 years, I have been struck with what I see as tragic tendency among parents, pediatricians and psychiatrists to avoid the real cause of ADHD. In effect, psychiatrists came up with a new disorder so as to protect parents from having to do something that is extremely hard to do: take responsibility for how their parenting may have contributed to their child’s condition.

The disorder was first known as hyperkinetic reaction of childhood and began to be diagnosed toward the end of the 19th century. From 1980 to 1987 it was called Attention Deficit Disorder, and in 1987 the name was changed to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. So far no one has found a cause of ADHD, but psychiatrists and pediatricians treat the disorder with medication, as if it were a biological disorder.

The diagnosis and treatment of ADAD has been controversial for many years. Some experts have wondered whether the disorder is over-diagnosed and whether our children and adults are being unnecessarily medicated. Studies have shown that when a child is diagnosed with ADHD and given drugs in order to deal with it, such a child grows up to be an adult who is addicted to such drugs.

Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention did not explain the rise in women’s ADHD, it is usually the case when there is a notable rise in the incidence of a disorder, that the rise points to environmental rather than biological causes. Statistics of genetic disorders tend to stay the same over the years. Some experts are quick to point out that women’s ADHD symptoms are different from men’s, and therefore were not noticed and diagnosed before.

In my psychodynamic psychotherapy practice I have discovered that in all cases of individuals who were diagnosed with ADHD, the individuals experienced problems with their parents from an early age. There was a general pattern of parenting in which the children began exhibiting the symptoms of ADHD from an early age (sometimes in preschool), and the parents were often dumbfounded as to why their child was “acting up.” Symptoms of ADHD include problems paying attention (at school and at home), excessive activity (the child races around and is constantly restless) and problems of self control (the child and parents have difficulty controlling the child’s behavior).

The parents of my clients were often too busy to pay attention to their children (both often working full-time) and were neglectful without being aware of it. They also tended to be impatient with the child’s inability to pay attention and hyperactivity, which exacerbated the symptoms.

In one case I worked with a family that had a son who was diagnosed with ADHD. They first came to me because the child was misbehaving at school. He could not pay attention, could not stay seated, and sometime behaved violently, punching other children or teachers. Upon conducting a few sessions of family therapy, I realized that the problem was the dysfunction of the family. The mother and father both worked and had little time for their children. They also fought constantly. The mother was particularly contentious and constantly talked over her husband and her child. When I attempted to speak to her she would talk over me.

Even though the couple admitted that after they had intense arguments, the child was more out of control at school, but they could not put two and two together and recognize how much they were contributing to the problem. “He was always that way,” the mother would say. “He was a cranky baby.” Eventually they took him to see a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist diagnosed ADHD and prescribed medication. The medication numbed him and maintained a lower level of restlessness and inattention.

Going to a psychiatrist or pediatrician and treating the problem with drugs is the easy way out. I believe parents of children who develop ADHD have disorders themselves that they are unaware of and don’t want to be aware of. Many if not most cases of ADHD are unwittingly brought about by such parents, and the proper treatment would be for the parents to undergo a treatment designed to teach them how to relate to their children in a more effective manner.

Otherwise, if we stay on the same course, more and more of our population will be treated with medication and will become addictive adults. We already have an epidemic of opioid addiction. How far will this go, and what effect will this tendency to medicate our problems have on our future?

The Tragic Myth about ADHD

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2018). The Tragic Myth about ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Jan 2018
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