Scottish Daily Mail

This question will get me into loads of trouble but... DOES ADHD EVEN EXIST?

- By Peter Hitchens

DOES ADHD in fact exist? This week the BBC’s Panorama programme quite rightly exposed some very worrying private clinics.

In online consultati­ons, staff had diagnosed a BBC reporter with ADHD — attention deficit hyperactiv­ity disorder — despite an in-person, and far longer, assessment by an NHS psychiatri­st concluding that he didn’t have the condition.

The clinics, while charging rather plump fees, seemed to have an extremely relaxed attitude towards diagnosing this increasing­ly common complaint.

It is a huge issue. ADHD was once mainly confined to children but is now spreading rapidly into the adult population­s of the Western world.

The clinics, one of them working on behalf of the overloaded NHS, were also willing to prescribe powerful stimulant drugs on the basis of this.


Mainstream doctors drew up their skirts in horror. Very alarming stuff. But the whole programme was based on two assumption­s.

The first was that ADHD exists at all, and the second was that there is some goldstanda­rd objective, testable diagnosis, against which these clinics can be judged.

I know this will get me into all kinds of trouble. The ADHD lobby is huge and powerful and turns with fury on its critics. It propels legions of people into lifelong prescripti­ons, as it officially cannot be cured, only ‘treated’.

And I suppose it is reasonable to guess that the makers of these drugs are happy with that. They have superb PR and spin machines and are brilliant at recruiting doctors to their side, with charm and lavish perks.

Here is an example: In 2012, the pharmaceut­ical group GlaxoSmith­Kline (GSK) was fined almost £2 billion after admitting bribing doctors and encouragin­g the prescripti­on of unsuitable antidepres­sants to children (there has — as yet — been no such case actually involving ADHD drugs).

GSK showered hospitalit­y and kickbacks, including trips to resorts in Bermuda, Jamaica and California, on doctors who agreed to write extra prescripti­ons.

But more ferocious than all of this power and wealth are the parents (and often the teachers) of the children diagnosed. They want the child’s problems to have a medical cause, rather than to be linked to modern child-rearing techniques or schooling.

And, of course, the sufferers are glad to be relieved of any personal responsibi­lity for their behaviour.

And what is this behaviour? The NHS website provides a list. Here is part of it: having a short attention span and being easily distracted; making careless mistakes — for example, in schoolwork; appearing forgetful or losing things; being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming; appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructio­n; being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundin­gs; constantly fidgeting; excessive talking; being unable to wait their turn; acting without thinking; interrupti­ng conversati­on.

First, who has not behaved in this way? Next, notice how many of these supposed symptoms are not really experience­d by the alleged sufferer, but by the adults in charge of them.

One of the problems with the diagnosis of ‘ADHD’ is that it covers such an extraordin­arily broad range of behaviours, including children who may actually suffer from birth trauma or brain damage, and children who are merely wilful and obstinate, or are driven to distractio­n by dull schools and bad teachers.

Worse, it closes the subject. If all these millions truly are suffering from a treatable physical disorder, then we need not worry about our debased family life, dominated by screens and junk food, and short on sleep and outdoor activity and our uninspirin­g schools.

A pill — often nowadays prescribed for life — will solve the problem. Meanwhile, the small minority of children who do actually have something physically wrong with them are dosed with drugs that pacify them, and their real problems are ignored and go uninvestig­ated.

This means, firstly, they are not treated and, secondly, that medical knowledge ceases to advance. It’s arguable whether the ‘diagnosis’ of ‘ADHD’ objectivel­y helps any of those to whom it is applied. But it gets a lot of adults off the hook of responsibi­lity and closes off scientific inquiry.

Even if some of these children do actually have a physical defect curable by drugs, they cannot conceivabl­y all be in this exact plight — six or seven million children now in the U.S., hundreds of thousands in Britain.

And then there is the problem of the pills they get.

In the U.S., many children are prescribed an actual amphetamin­e, a class B drug normally illegal, with many known bad long-term side-effects. Yet this is given to boys and girls as young as four.

In this country, the drug normally prescribed to children over the age of five is methylphen­idate, similar to but not identical to amphetamin­es.


Like them it is used illegally without prescripti­on as a stimulant and an aphrodisia­c. Among its adverse effects are tachycardi­a (a fast heart rate), palpitatio­ns, headache, nausea, insomnia and anxiety. Not to mention weight loss and abdominal pain. If this does not worry you, then it does not worry you. But it worries me a lot.

And here comes the other amazing thing. On November 18, 1998, the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) held what is called a ‘Consensus Conference’ on ‘ADHD’.

This sought to get some kind of agreement about what ‘ADHD’ is and how to treat it. I suspect there may have been quite a struggle.

The conference eventually issued a statement saying firmly that there is no independen­t, valid test for ADHD, and there is no data to show that it is due to a brain malfunctio­n. This, of course, badly undermines the case for giving potent drugs, which act physically on the brain, to supposed sufferers.

If you look for this informatio­n on the internet now, you will probably not be able to find it. It has inexplicab­ly disappeare­d from the NIH’s own website and I have tried and failed to get an explanatio­n from them as to how or why this happened.

Bit by bit, I found scraps of evidence that the statement had really been made. Then I found a lawyer in the pleasant lakeside city of Madison, state capital of Wisconsin, who happened to keep a copy of the original statement. And there are the original words.


‘We do not have an independen­t, valid test for ADHD, and there is no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunctio­n. Further research to establish the validity of the disorder continues to be a problem.’

Somehow, this has morphed into the much vaguer wording that ‘as of yet, there is no independen­t valid test for ADHD. Although research has suggested a central nervous system basis for ADHD, further research is necessary to firmly establish ADHD as a brain disorder.’

I find this censorship of the truth creepy and disturbing, as I find the whole issue of medicating children disturbing. But since then, somebody has realised that adults, too, can be seduced into this belief that a pill will make them fit in better with the modern world.

Long ago, Aldous Huxley predicted a society in which a drug called Soma (miraculous­ly harmless) would solve all the woes of society. As he put it: ‘All the advantages of Christiani­ty and alcohol; none of their defects . . . the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of Soma-holiday. There is always Soma, delicious Soma, half a gramme for a halfholida­y, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon.’

He meant it as a warning. We have taken it as a manual.

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