Monday, March 17, 2014

Adults are Overstimulated, They Don't Have ADD (well not at these numbers)

A recent report indicated that more adults aged 26-34 were getting prescriptions for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) medications than previously - the numbers are up 85% since 2008.

Uh oh, she's going to get serious for a little bit today.

As a psychologist, as a former mental health counselor, I have some opinions about why this is. And my opinions are probably not going to be popular ones.

ADD is a diagnosable mental disorder which is caused by frontal lobe dysfunction - the frontal lobe is the part of the brain that helps us to think ahead, make good decisions, plan, and all those other important (and adult) functions. When the frontal lobe can't focus, it can't function well. Period. We make poor decisions. We act irrationally. We sometimes feel irrational, emotionally. We yell, we get upset easily, and obviously, it's hard to focus on what we're doing right now.

If we look at the brain, if we look at our environment, we see that there are other possible causes for this inability to pay attention and sustain positive emotion. 

- Lack of sleep.

- Feeling overwhelmed by our environment (feeling like there's "too much to do").

- Poor nutrition.

- Not drinking enough water.

- Poor planning (saying yes to way too many projects/things).

- A chaotic environment - a a cluttered home, too much auditory stimuli, too much visual stimuli (which can relate back to the cluttered home).

Am I saying that ADD in adults doesn't exist? Hell no. I've seen it. I've met adults who have difficulty with attention and some who even have the hyperactivity component (ADD with hyperactivity is what it's called now). And these folks are assisted by taking ADD medications whether they be the stimulant or the non-stimulant types.

But if you look at the data, there's some interesting things. Adult women are now taking meds for this more than men, which is an historical change. Most ADD is diagnosed in boys, not girls. But we're seeing adult women being diagnosed/medicated.

Look back at that list I just posted of other possible causes of attentional difficulties. Not to be stereotypical, but women are generally more affected by these things than men are. They're more likely to take on too much at home, at work, in life. They're more likely to experience anxiety related to feeling overwhelmed than men are. They're more likely to be doing the bulk of the at home child care (even though with historical changes they're also working outside the home more than they were previously).

Americans have become overstimulated. Blame it on what you will - cell phones, Internet, constant contact via social media, whatever. But our brains are buzzing and continue to buzz. Whenever your cell phone goes off with a new alert, your brain gets a stress signal. Add up all those things in the list I wrote, and it's like stress signal...stress signal...stress signal...STRESS SIGNAL. And the brain can't function well, it' can't focus, with all these interruptions. All these stress signals. So your attention goes out the window.

You don't need a pill for that. That's just another outside stressor being put on your brain. You need to calm the fuck down. You need to cut out some of the shit in your life. You need to simplify. You need to disconnect. Learn to meditate. Exercise. Take some time for you that doesn't involve stress signals.

I told you I'm not going to be popular for my opinion.

Photo from "I Can Not Answer This Question" by luigi diamanti

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