Restless About the Ritalin: The Medicalization of Social Control

Ayn Embar-Seddon, Virginia State University
Allan D. Pass, National Behavioral Science Consultants

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been characterized by inattention with episodes of hyperactivity, but throughout the disorder's history, there has been difficulty in providing exact diagnostic criteria. Also, the medications given for ADHD calm children down--even those whose activity level is within the normal range. Both of these factors have led to the diagnostic label being over applied to young male children who are more likely to be highly active and respond less well to the controlled setting of school than their female counterparts. ADHD (and especially its medication) has transformed into being a means of social control. By medicating students, teachers are able to teach with less interruption. Parents who want to put a child into a structured social setting soon find this much eaiser to do with medication. Evidence also exists that overmedication is more likely to occur in overcrowded, poorer school districts where there are higher numbers of minority children. In the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) an attempt has been made to clear up some of the diagnostic confusion and there have been advances in finding a biological marker for ADHD.

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Updated 05/20/2006