Surviving Medicine Part 1: Medicalizing Normal Behavior

The advent of the scientific method has produced great human triumphs over the vagaries of nature, especially when it comes to healing sick bodies. Modern ‘healthcare’ is a miracle of human ingenuity and business innovation. However, many of the medical treatments on offer today and in the past are not based on any an ethical framework. Much of what the health industry and health authorities both advise and mandate does more harm than good. Money is a factor in the healthcare industry even if it’s offered by the government. In this series, I’ll tell the stories of treatments that are miracle cures, incredible advances, and spectacular disasters. Negotiating the world of doctors, medicines, treatments, and bureaucracies is necessary if one wants to reap the benefits and avoid the disasters.

I begin this series on the promise and peril of the medical establishment with a story about one of my sons.

He was a normal boy in all ways for most of his young life, but he was not a particularly motivated student. He was an active boy who delighted in jumping on things and climbing over things and otherwise testing his physical limitations. He loved the movie ‘The Incredibles’ and liked to dress up like a superhero and roam the neighborhood in a cape. Before he started school, this was funny for his parents and enjoyable for him. Even the neighbors thought it was hilarious.

It was when school began that the troubles started. As the grades advanced, the ‘deficit’ between the wants and desires of his teachers and his own began to widen. By the time he was in 5th grade, just five years removed from roaming the neighborhood in a cape and climbing the walls while calling himself ‘Suction Cup Boy,’ his teachers began to send notes home that he was lethargic in class, detached, and simply not paying attention. It was decided that he suffered from a malady called Attention Deficient Disorder, and he needed to see a doctor to confirm this diagnosis, and if so, get a prescription drug that would ‘help.’

One need not be a detective to figure out what happened next. He was taken to a doctor, his behavior in school was recounted, and after one visit of no longer than 15 minutes, plus a couple of notes from his teachers, my son’s behavior was defined as a medical disorder, and he was given a prescription for Vyvanse. He was sick with ADHD, and he needed to be treated.

I have few regrets in life, but allowing this to happen is something I should not have done. In private, when I asked him why he didn’t pay attention in school, as was consistent with his nature then as now, he summarized the problem in one perfectly complete sentence: “Dad, I just don’t like sitting all day.” I suspected the ADHD diagnosis was all bullshit, but the impulse to medicalize the boy was strong, the penalty for not going along high, and I also suspected that the drug would do nothing. I went along because I thought the treatment was mostly meaningless and it was easier than saying ‘no.’

The whole idea of a ‘deficit’ in attention just sounds like complete medical nonsense, and it is. The medical establishment likes to use the term ‘evidence-based medicine’ and so when looking at this phenomenon and many others, let’s take them at their word. What is the evidence for the existence of ADD, or ADHD? What quantifies the level of attention that is normal? What is average? What metrics are there? Is there an attention excessive disorder? Can one pay too much attention? Why don’t the kids diagnosed with ADHD have it even when they’re outside playing like normal kids? You won’t find the answers to those questions from any authority that states that this disorder is real.

Let’s start with the Center for Disease Control. This is what they say about ADHD.

A child with ADHD might:

  • daydream a lot
  • forget or lose things a lot
  • squirm or fidget
  • talk too much
  • make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
  • have a hard time resisting temptation
  • have trouble taking turns

have difficulty getting along with others

Are there any quantifiers for any of these behaviors? And might these behaviors be more common in boys? The slipperiness of the diagnosis continues:

There are three different ways ADHD presents itself, depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
  • Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.

This short bit of text perfectly represents one of the most distressing things about the medicalization and pathologizing of human behavior, which is the fake presentation of specificity. They claim to have the disorder categorized into three buckets, and then state that the buckets are largely meaningless since a child can have all three or move through them continuously.

So, what does the CDC say causes it:

In addition to genetics, scientists are studying other possible causes and risk factors including:

  • Brain injury
  • Exposure to environmental risks (e.g., lead) during pregnancy or at a young age
  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Premature delivery

Low birth weight

Note that my son had none of this. So, what doesn’t cause it?

Research does not support the popularly held views that ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar, watching too much television, parenting, or social and environmental factors such as poverty or family chaos. Of course, many things, including these, might make symptoms worse, especially in certain people. But the evidence is not strong enough to conclude that they are the main causes of ADHD.

Being bored is not considered a cause either. So, what is to be done about it?

In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication.

So, if your male child is not paying attention in class, go to the professionals. But, don’t blame the school. DO NOT question the assumptions of public education. Pull your kid out of school, and you will be visited by the child protective services, and eventually, your child will be taken away and forced into school. This is a societal consensus, all else be damned.

The entire depressing summary by the CDC can be found here, and I would suggest that it’s a perfect example of the medicalization of childhood behavior, exhibited by boys and girls over the many millennia, but reduced to a disorder because the normal behavior is inconvenient for the teachers, and they, in turn, inflict discomfort on the parents.

And so, we drug our inconvenient kids, if we have any, into compliance and give the whole episode a patina of medical legitimacy. It is easier, and certainly better for teachers, to develop one curriculum and stuff the kids through it, and if they balk, punish or drug them into submission. An affluent society can spare child labor so they can gain an education, but a decadent society makes it stultifying and compulsory, even to the point of medicalizing decent. In other situations, we’ve referred to this kind of place as a ‘gulag’.

I begin this series with my son’s story because the episode illustrates the dangers of accepting treatments because they offer solutions to problems at a very low cost and they allow us to push off the difficult problems and decisions we often don’t want to make. We don’t want to think about what purpose our schools serve, and we don’t want to change systems that are embedded in our society, even if they are inefficient, ineffective, and harmful to kids, especially boys. So, the medical authorities give us a pill, and we move on.

My son finally finished high school, on time, but barely. He was not inclined to continue the educational process and chose to enter the military rather than go to college. To get into the military, he had to take a standardized test, the ASVAB, and he did very well on it with no study.

Today he is now a successful helicopter mechanic who serves his time under the spinning blades of an H-1 ‘bird’, and this would be a very poor place to have a deficient of attention. But of course, he pays attention to his job, and always would have, had he been interested in what was being offered to him. He ‘just didn’t like sitting all day’ back when he was in 5th grade, and he didn’t have any disorder. Shame on the teachers and doctors that assigned a completely bogus label to him.  

I recently asked him if he thought the drug did any good and he said ‘No, but everyone acted like they wanted it to, so I said that it did’ which is a damning statement. A 10-year-old knew what the adults wanted and tried to deliver it, even though he knew the solution to the problem was not working. He has a good heart, that boy.

Life has problems, and medicine has solutions, but we have t be careful that our problems aren’t being reduced to something for which they have a pill, which they sell, for money.

SURVIVAL PLAN: Don’t take pills to address emotions or behavior. There is no such thing as ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain. Address your life with changes, not pills. Your emotions are valuable and pain is telling you something.

As always, everyone should avail themselves of the miracles of the internet and do their own research. Here are a few places to start.

This is what the CDC says here

This disorder has. of course, a whole advocacy org, called CHADD, check it out here

There are plenty of voices of dissent, not just mine, including this piece in Time magazine here

Are We Medicating Millions of ADHD Children without Scientific Justification? – This author says we are, and that the medical justification, that giving kids these drugs is just like giving them a pair of glasses, is marketing nonsense.

And there are plenty of scientists who say that even if ADHD is real, it’s being diagnosed way too often to be not tangled up in money and politics, read that account here

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