Is ADHD Overdiagnosed? Modern Lifestyle vs. Brain Chemistry vs. General Negligence

The recent shortage of Adderall, a drug prescribed to patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), encourages discussions about the overdiagnosis of ADHD, especially in children.
(For more information on the Adderall deficit, see ABC News Go, Adderall Drug Shortage Will Continue in 2012, Government Officials Say: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/01/03/adderall-drug-shortage-will-continue-in-2012-government-officials-say/)

Whether or not you agree that ADHD is overdiagnosed (and thus, overprescribed), this ongoing debate strikes a chord with anyone touched by the disorder. Should we blame the surge in diagnoses on our modern lifestyles that demand us to multitask and excel with little room for error? Or is it due to the growing awareness of diverse brain chemistries? Or are therapists simply signing off on solutions that will subdue children’s naturally mischievous tendencies?

As an ADHD’r who strives understand and manage my differences, this discussion often forces me into a defensive pose. It's invalidating to hear that environmental factors can lead otherwise normal individuals to “acquire” the disorder. Often too, the press comes off as discrediting the chemical difference that ADHD’rs fight for society and its institution to recognize.

Whichever stance you take, a lack of focus, whether caused by chemistry, induced by one's environment, or experienced as part of one's natural childhood, can hamper daily life. We must take responsibility for the distractions that are within our control. Here's a quick toolbox of strategies to help you manage your external environment, so that you can quiet the monkey within:

1. De-clutter your digital work space
Limit the number of tabs you keep open in your internet browser, tidy up your desktop by trashing unnecessary items and organizing those you keep by whatever system makes sense to you (date, title, type etc...)

2. Close out of email
When focusing on projects that don't require you to have access to your email account, close out of it. That way your attention won't be pinged! whenever someone seeks your attention.

3. Quiet your environment
Friends mention using ambient noise such as music, tv, or movies to create a Zen space. As an ADHD'r, for me there's no such thing as "ambient noise." My solution is to throw on noise-canceling earphones, flip on a sound machine, or put in ear plugs. If you're lucky and it's warm enough, you can work outdoors or in a local park, which both serve as organic libraries.

4. Unsubscribe
How many times are you distracted by a new email, only to find out that it's spam? I unsubscribe from as many email lists as I can. Another alternative is to create a separate email account where you send all of your electronic subscriptions. Gmail offers free email addresses, so take advantage!

5. Build a life around your passions
I recently watched a home video of myself at age 8. Seated at my childhood piano, I fumbled over the notes once, twice, before setting my hands in my laps, exhaling a deep breath, and beginning again. This time, if you watch my face closely, my eyes sharpen on some invisible place in the air as I devote myself full to the song at hand. The hyper concentration comes to me when I sit down with my laptop and a blank Word doc. Pay attention to the types of activities that lull you into this focused state. Likely, they're where you'll find your Zen state.

I've strewn other such tips throughout this blog, so keep an eye out for them!

For those of you interest in over-medication, here's another post to check out too:
Signs that you're overmedicated for ADHD
I hope this blog provides those of you with ADHD with lessons, insights, and techniques that help you to manage your unique body rhythms and brain chemistries. For some, medication becomes part of a daily routine. After getting diagnosed with ADHD, there seems to be one pitfall that people fall into: over medicating themselves...