ADHD Myth: The Paradoxical Stimulant Effect
Should We All Take Stimulants?
If stimulants at low dosages improve academic performance in all people, improving thinking and focus, then wouldn't everyone benefit from taking stimulants? Does this mean that children taking stimulants are at an unfair advantage?
While on the surface, these may seem like ridiculous questions, they do bring up some interesting issues. What about nonprescription, nonmedical stimulant use? For instance, is it unfair for some students to drink caffeinated beverages to improve focus? Should healthcare providers be suspicious of students seeking stimulants, perhaps suspecting that they might not actually have ADHD?
The purpose of stimulant treatment for people with ADHD is to normalize behavior and thinking, allowing them to be able to function in the classroom or at work, not to provide an unfair advantage. In some cases, particularly in children with a significant hyperactivity component, this is obvious. The child is so disruptive and hyperactive that virtually no learning can occur; however, when the child is on a stimulant, he or she calms down enough to behave much like the other children.
The grey area can be found in cases that involve only mild ADHD symptoms. Take, for example, a high school or college student with no hyperactivity and only mild inattention symptoms. The unmedicated student may be an average student, but may blossom into a stellar student when given a stimulant.
Does this mean the stimulant gave the student an unfair advantage? Or did the stimulant simply remove the barrier of ADHD, allowing the full potential of the student to be seen? These are tough questions, sometimes with no clear answers.