Minding Our Minds   /   Summer 2014   /    Notes And Comments

Losing Control of ADHD

Joseph E. Davis

flickr: Just Boys; SAM_9844

Although constantly confused, an epidemiological case is not a diagnosis.

It began inauspiciously enough, with a little niche market. In the late 1950s, drug manufacturers struggling to find new medical uses for their stimulant (amphetamine and amphetamine-related) medications, which they had been selling for narcolepsy, mild depression, weight loss, and lack of energy (e.g., “tired mother’s syndrome”), latched on to a set of behavior problems in children. These problems had attracted some research interest in the late 1940s and were given diagnostic names such as “hyperkinetic impulse disorder” and “minimal brain damage” and later, in the 1968 second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), “Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood.” The essential feature of these problems was impulsiveness and excessive motor activity, and the syndrome was identified in a relatively small number of children, mostly boys. Though still an obscure diagnosis and considered rare in the 1960s, it attracted the attention of drug companies, who began to market their stimulant medications to both doctors and educators.

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