ADHD medication stigma kept me in denial for years about my condition. Despite suspecting that I had ADHD, I continued to live under the false narrative that I was just a lazy, undependable person that wasn’t smart and could not be someone of significant value. I’m sure that you’ve believed something similar about yourself and struggled with your self-worth and esteem. What’s truly unfortunate is that if it weren’t for the stigma surrounding ADHD treatment, many wouldn’t struggle in silence for so long.
But the reality is that this mischaracterization of ADHD medication has led to patients becoming fearful of seeking treatment due to excessive attention placed on stimulants and the fear of judgment for seeking treatment for ADHD. Additionally, these concerns contribute to delayed diagnosis and untreated symptoms, decreasing the quality of life while simultaneously wreaking havoc on one’s mental health.
ADHD Medication Stigma Regarding Stimulants
The controversy caused by stimulants is the primary reason for ADHD medication stigma, specifically Adderall. At the same time, I understand the controversy and complications of using stimulants for treating ADHD. However, these issues have little to do with patients diagnosed with ADHD taking these medications under medical supervision. In contrast, the problem concerning stimulants is their recreational use by non-patients. This drug abuse brings the validity of their use into question.
Adderall abuse is popular among young adults in high school and college that feel it will help increase academic performance. However, there’s no proof that it boosts performance levels. One study revealed that Adderall use had no impact on improving GPA and the perceived benefits were imaginary. Yet, the culture surrounding Adderall and its benefits for non-patients persist and encourages misuse due to the lack of knowledge regarding how it works and the severe side effects, including addiction, associated with abuse of this controlled substance.
Due to these complications, the stigma developed around Adderall, making it difficult for actual patients to use because they’re fearful of the unhealthy obsession associated with this medication. Patients may become afraid they’ll become addicted or feel they’ll be seen as drug-seeking or addicts if they consent to take it.
There’s too much focus placed on stimulants, which overshadows the other treatments used to manage ADHD. It’s a fact that stimulants are first-line medications prescribers utilize when treating ADHD. The reality is that not everyone responds well to stimulants. For all their benefits, various side effects such as headache, dry mouth, reduced appetite, nervousness, insomnia, nausea, heart palpitations, GI issues, hair loss, high blood pressure, and muscle twitching accompany stimulant use.
Plus, stimulants like Adderall interact with medications that treat heart disease and should not be mixed with alcohol. Hence, non-stimulants are provided as safe alternatives for ADHD patients, such as myself, who don’t respond well to stimulants.
While non-stimulants aren’t as effective at addressing impulsivity, they help decrease anxiety and improve concentration. Therefore, making them helpful aids for ADHD patients that struggle with inattentiveness. In addition to non-stimulant medication, there are alternative treatments such as supplementation, nutrition, therapy, and lifestyle modifications that many with a mild presentation of ADHD symptoms find beneficial.
So, stimulants aren’t the only ADHD treatment and shouldn’t be treated as such.
ADHD Medication Stigma and Fear of Persecution
The war on Adderall has led to ADHD medication stigma in which patients fear taking stimulants. They’re concerned that they’ll be persecuted and judged for utilizing prescription medication to manage their condition.
Society believes medication for ADHD is a crutch and another way for “Big Pharma” to make money and overmedicate everyone. They believe ADHD is easily curable, and if a person applies themselves harder, they’ll overcome it.
This type of thinking is problematic for two reasons. The first being medication isn’t always wrong. Yes, pharmaceuticals are a billion-dollar business, and many drugs carry a ton of severe side effects and can be harmful when not taken properly. This doesn’t negate the fact that some medications are beneficial.
A key factor to keep in mind is that you’re fully informed when taking any medication, including ADHD medication, discuss risks and benefits with your doctor, and evaluate all treatment options. If you decide upon taking medication, work with your doctor and have regular physicals and blood work to assess your health while taking the drug.
Secondly, ADHD is a mental disorder, not a personal shortcoming or personality quirk. You can’t think your way out of a chemical imbalance. And you have zero control over how your brain is wired. Indeed, some patients display mild symptoms and find they can manage them via the alternative treatments I mentioned earlier.
However, medication helps fill gaps and level the playing field for moderate to severe symptoms. And, while prescription medicine isn’t appropriate for everyone, it is the best option for some.
ADHD Medication Stigma Gaslights and Invalidates
When people offer opinions and advice about treating ADHD, it may come from a good place, but it’s drenched in invalidation and gaslights the patient’s reality. Telling a person you don’t believe ADHD is an actual condition or that too many people are being diagnosed with ADHD comes off as accusatory and benefits no one.
Instead of helping, you’re making the person second guess their symptoms or question their diagnosis. They may delay getting checked or receiving treatment because they doubt the validity of their condition. Or, they may stop taking their medication because they’ve been improperly influenced.
Causing someone to question themselves and become non-compliant isn’t a win; it’s a loss. Assuming the role of someone’s medical professional because of “research” you’ve done or a documentary you saw doesn’t qualify you to dispense medical advice. Your knowledge is brief and biased.
No one truly goes to great detail to research anything because the tendency is to look for the articles and research that back up our individual beliefs. So, you should genuinely question if you’re coming from a place of love and concern or self-righteousness.
The Danger of Allowing Stigma to Deter Treatment
Allowing ADHD medication stigma to interfere with treatment increases distress for the patient and impacts quality of life. Struggling with work, school, and personal responsibilities are common issues for ADHD patients. Not following through with proper treatment will cause these struggles to continue and worsen. Job instability, failure to keep up with classwork and financial difficulties can impact relationships, self-esteem, and mental health.
Additionally, co-morbidities such as anxiety and depression can worsen due to symptoms increasing and causing issues in various areas of one’s life. Harmful coping mechanisms such as drugs, alcohol, and compulsive eating to deal with emotions can also become issues.
To sum it up, ADHD medication stigma is detrimental to proper treatment. Failure to understand that stimulant medication is meant to ease the severity of symptoms, decrease impulsivity, and improve the functionality of ADHD patients increases misinformation. It’s not intended for non-patients and has no clear benefits for those without ADHD.
Additionally, various forms of ADHD treatment include non-stimulant medication that improves concentration and decreases anxiety and alternative therapies that focus on supplementation, nutrition, and lifestyle modifications.
Furthermore, medication isn’t meant to be a cure or magic pill. It’s part of a well-rounded treatment plan that includes working with a therapist and life coach to help develop life skills, learn healthy coping mechanisms, and helpful lifestyle modifications.
Lastly, gaslighting and persecuting someone for their decision to medicate and treat their condition damages their self-esteem and well-being. This can negatively influence them to avoid or discontinue treatment and create negative consequences in their life.
Co-morbidities such as anxiety and depression can become serious issues and create a toxic environment. Additionally, they may feel like they’re out of control of their life as symptoms worsen, which can compromise their work performance, academics, relationships, and finances.
Before believing ADHD medication stigma and the lies, it creates about ADHD, educate yourself and listen to those with lived experience. ADHD is an actual mental disorder that impacts 2 in 50 adults and can contribute to severe behavioral and cognitive dysfunction. Creating a healthy environment can help those with and without ADHD relate, communicate and thrive together.
Addictive Behaviors Vol. 65 Feb 2017 Pgs. 245-249 Do College Students Improve Their Grades by Using Prescription Stimulants Nonmedically? Published online July 19, 2016 Authors: Amelia M. Arria, Kimberly M. Caldeira, Kathryn B. Vincent, Kevin E. O’Grady, M. Dolores Cimini, Irene M. Geisner, Nicole Fossos-Wong, Jason R. Kilmer, and Mary E. Larimer
Medical News Today: What to Know About Untreated ADHD in Adults March 16, 2021 medically reviewed by Alex Klein PsyD, written by Kristina Galea
ADDitude Magazine: Coping With the Stigma of ADHD updated on April 13, 2021 written by Carl Sherman Ph.D
ADDitude Magazine: “The Stigma Around Adderall is Real…” updated on December 13 2021 written by Sam Dylan Finch
Hi Kat! I’m in middle school with honors classes, and have ADHD, and this article really spoke to me. Every now and again I sit at the kitchen table, with my medication in my hands and I think to myself, about if all my academic accomplishments are just because I take meds that make me smarter than I really am. I never really thought about it like being that the medication is made to be a filler for the problems that ADHD causes, rather than it just being a straight up brain boost. The fact that I still struggle more than most other students in my honor classes even while taking the medication has really been making me feel down, and has been bad for my self-esteem. But I just need to keep what you said in mind, and keep what stigma is saying out of my mind. Don’t stop writing Kat, and thank you.
You’re so welcome! I’m glad my perspective was helpful, and keep up the good work. The fact that you’re in honors classes in middle school is awesome. I can only imagine how difficult it is with ADHD, and I wish you nothing but success in the future. Keep up the hard work!