Anna Chorniy, a researcher for Princeton University’s Center for Health and Wellbeing, discussed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and its flawed diagnosis and treatment process at Samford University on Sept. 6, 2018.
Doctors determine ADHD by searching for inattentiveness and hyperactivity. Symptoms include not paying attention to detail and making careless mistakes. Other symptoms may include being disorganized and distracted.
Two types of the condition exist. Originally, there was just attention deficit disorder, or ADD. Overtime, another type was added which focused on hyperactivity.
Besides physical signs, ADHD’s criteria depends on six or more of these symptoms persisting for six or more months.
“These statements are subjective.We aren’t very good at diagnosing.Talking excessively is a major criteria for diagnosing right now,” she said. “That’s why diagnosing ADHD is fairly controversial.”
Despite the flawed criteria, Chorniy said it’s important to diagnosis and treat the condition. With ADHD, a person is more likely to suffer injuries, depression, commit more reckless and dangerous behavior and develop personality disorders. They are also more likely to fail in school and perform poorly in their job.
“It’s not just the individual affected, but everyone around them,” she said.
However, Chorniy said she doubts the effectiveness of ADHD drugs. Drug companies prove drugs’ effectiveness through trials.
Beyond trials, Chorniy said only one other scientific study exists. The study compared ADHD’s drug, behavioral, and non-stimulant therapies. However, it only studied 579 children over a 14 month span.
“We still have virtually no evidence of how these drugs work,” she said.
Besides lacking evidence, they’re addictive.
“They are as bad as opioids in terms of addiction,” Chorniy said. “They’re characterized by the government in same substance abuse class as opioids.”
Nevertheless, ADHD medication treatment has increased.
Between 2003 and 2012, Chorniy said ADHD diagnosis among children increased 20 percent. Sixty-eight percent of these children are taking medication.
“In the U.S. there is a very fast and large increase in diagnosis and treatments,” she said. “We’re also seeing a huge increase in people taking medication but we don’t know if it works,” she said.
Samford student Benjamin Floyd, a junior marketing major, was one of those children, diagnosed with ADHD in the third grade. Floyd said he believes doctors correctly diagnosed him because he has experienced symptoms.
“I have a hard time paying attention in class. My mind wanders and I daydream,” he said.
Even as Floyd has aged, the symptoms have persisted. Just this summer, Floyd said he struggled reading 15 pages a day for his accounting class. Floyd said he reads twice as slow compared to people with similar reading levels.
“I would zone out. I would become distracted and it was hard to focus,” he said. “I was mentally exhausted, but it wasn’t even that much reading.”
Besides the symptoms, the diagnosis runs in the family: Floyd’s uncles have ADHD.
Floyd copes with clinical depression, a condition commonly associated with ADHD. In high school, failing a test or forgetting homework would trigger his depression. Other times, it just appeared.
“I felt terrible all the time. Anytime I was awake, I felt sad,” Floyd said.
Friends relieved his depression, but it always returned.
“It was as if it had never left but rather paused,” he said.
During its peak, his mood plummeted and he avoided friends. He forgot about school. Floyd played video games to escape life.
“I was brain dead. That was my drug. I didn’t drink to forget, I played to forget,” he said.
At its worst, his depression induced panic attacks.
“I felt like my brain was going to explode because I was thinking about so many things,” he said. “It was everything I could worry about at once.”
During these attacks, Floyd said he wanted to turn off his thoughts.
Like his ADHD, Floyd said his depression was also likely genetic since his family struggles with both these conditions.
“Everyone goes through something like this at least once in their life, but for us it was regular,” he said.
Fortunately, his medications help with these conditions. Although, Floyd said each treatment has its pitfalls.
For instance, he has experienced side effects.
While taking Vyvanse, Floyd said the medication helped him plow through homework and focus.
However, one week after starting it, his entire body starting tingling. The tingling lasted for 10 minutes.
“It felt like all my sensory nerves were firing at once. It felt like my skin was crawling,” he said. “I was terrified. I thought I was demon-possessed. It felt supernatural.”
Consequently, he returned to the doctor. The doctor believed Floyd’s ADHD medicine caused the tingling.
Afterward, Floyd said he bounced between prescriptions until he found one that worked. His new medication suppresses his appetite, and he must force himself to eat. Last month, Floyd said he lost 15 pounds in a week.
Despite his medication’s side effects, the alternative is worse.
“When I forget to take my medication, I feel completely useless,” he said. “When I can’t learn or do homework, it’s infuriating.” Besides medication, Floyd said his only other option is neurofeedback therapy.
During therapy, doctors hooked sensors to his head while he watched a video. While Floyd watched, the sensors monitored his brain activity. If the sensors detected too much activity in one sector of his brain, the screen shrunk.
As his brain activity shifted, the screen constantly grew and shrunk. Overtime, Floyd said the therapy helped his brain focus.
After completing therapy, he didn’t have to take medication for two years.
“It’s a ridiculous expensive method, but has long lasting effects. There’s no drugs,” he said.
One 30-minute-session cost him $250, and Floyd went twice a week.
Even with his conditions, Floyd said he lives a normal life.
“It’s not my fault. Life is just more complicated for me. My brain just doesn’t work the same way,” he said.
William Marlow, News Editor