In the contemporary world the society experiences a massive clash of social, economic, cultural life with financial and scientific aspects. Today, we live in a world of high speeds. Rapid changes and quick solutions are an essential part of the modern life. As a result, medicalization of problems of social and cultural characters became one of the most discussed issues. This paper discusses the phenomenon of medicalization of ADHD, along with the medicalization of other aspects perceived as deviant or atypical, it will also review the clash of scientific ideas and cultural assumptions where medicalization dominates due to the promotion of beliefs that issues of social and cultural characters can be treated medically.
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The term “medicalization” first appeared in 1970s, it was defined as the phenomenon that redefined non-medical issues and behaviors in order to present them as medical disorders and treat them scientifically (Wright 1). Many scholars approach medicalization as a way of social control. Medicalizaion today is viewed as an issue with multiple dimensions that includes a variety of social phenomena. Martin states that nowadays it is difficult to see how modern cultural assumptions influence scientific ideas (27). In my opinion, medicalization is a good example of such influence, as it demonstrates how cultural and social assumptions label various happenings presenting them as problems that should be treated.
Medicalization is a part of the modern perception of the world where money can buy everything and where quick solutions are valued and pursued. This way, issues that are not easy to deal with in everyday life are promoted as minor problems that do not require much effort to treat. Medicalization of anorexia nervosa is a good example of the confusion of cultural assumptions and scientific ideas. Treatment and research of anorexia nervosa today are conducted scientifically based on the processes that happen in human body exposed to this disorder. Lester points out that the changes of human body suffering from anorexia nervosa are the outcomes, while the roots of this issue should be sought in the cultural surroundings of the patients (479). Eating disorders, just like overweight are widely medicalized and defined scientifically, but both of these notions are the outcomes of socio-cultural assumptions.
For example, calling someone overweight and labeling it as a negative characteristic or a disease is arbitrary, because in many cultures this is considered a beautiful and positive feature (Jutel 2269). Another modern aspect of medicalization of human appearances was described by Kaw in “Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian American Women and Cosmetic Surgery”. The author describes how social stereotypes affect women’s preferences about their own faces and bodies and result in multiple visits to cosmetic surgeons from the groups of people, whose faces do not match the socially approved criteria (Kaw 75).This was medicalization of race returned even though it was widely rejected decades ago, when the scientists all around the world came to the conclusion that racial differences of human bodies cannot serve as the base for scientific assumption that some individuals can be predisposed to certain diseases due to belonging to certain race (Goodmann 1699).
Undefeatable social pressure creates limitations and rules for everyone labeling the unwanted behaviors, features, and appearances. ADHD is in the list of the unwanted behaviors due to its symptoms. Hyperactive, loud and fussy children are not appreciated by the adults that do not have as much energy or simply lack patience. ADHD widely starts to be medicalized when it becomesthe issue for the adults. In such cases the medical treatment of the behavior is sought not because the patients need it, but because people around require more comfortable conditions. The question arises: are most of the ADHD symptoms simply the symptoms of being a child? If so, then who actually needs the treatment, children or their parents and teachers? Maturo presents teachers are the “drivers of modern medicalization” viewing human enhancement as “the use of biomedical technology to improve performance on a human being who are not in need of a cure” (175). According to the statistics gathered in 2011, over six million children aged four to seventeen were diagnosed with ADHD, which estimates eleven per cent of all children in the United States (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) par. 2). This number grew gradually; in 2003 it was about seven per cent, in 2007 – nine and a half per cent (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) par. 2).
Due to the popularity of the medications for ADHD, the list of its symptoms grew longer; this way more and more patients fit the diagnosis. As a result, today ADHD can be found in noisy children as well as in forgetful elderly people. The party that benefits immensely from the ADHD medicalization are pharmaceutical companies that produce and distribute such medications as Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin. These days such medications are actively and aggressively advertised in the United States strengthening the social pressure and convincing the parents and teachers of active children that medications are the best and only solution to all of their problems. The advertisement for Adderall described by Marcotte features a happy woman with her child, and says, “Finally! Schoolwork that matches his intelligence” (par. 1).
The very top line of the advertisement says “for parents of children with ADHD” which leaves no doubt that the medication targets adults looking for comfort but not the health of their children. The advertisement emphasizes that Adderall is extremely useful because it helps children get better grades, which makes parents proud of them and releases the teachers from the burden of discipline and academic success maintenance in the classroom, so everyone benefits. This is clear case of medicalization of education which forces the medicalization of ADHD. The next rather popular ADHD advertisement also employs powerful social forces such as celebrities. The campaign designed to raise ADHD awareness was studied by Scott, it features famous people of art and sport speaking about their ADHD issues and suggesting to “own it” (par. 1).
By involving artists and sportsmen into advertisement campaigns ADHD promoters integrate the disorder into the cultural life. This was having ADHD becomes “fashionable”, “popular” and “cool”. Such approach raises the chances of ADHD medications to be purchased, because the well known athlete Shane Victorino openly admits that a medication played an important role in his way towards becoming a star. The message communicated by this campaign encourages the adults watching it to wonder and ask themselves, “what if I also have the potential of becoming a start and my hidden ADHD prevents me from it? What if ADHD medication is what I really need to become more productive and successful?”
Based on powerful advertising medications for ADHD, which in reality are nothing but psychostimulants, the modern society gets an idea that these drugs are the key to academic success, better careers, more productive life and more effective socialization. ADHD medications today are positioned as the ultimate and, most importantly, quick solution to the behavioral and personality issues that may take months or even years to overcome by less invasive means and therapies. This is happening mainly because of the popularity of quick solution in the contemporary world fond of high speeds. Modern individuals are used to quick response, they are unwilling to wait. Technological progress that created this dynamics eventually affected our perception of various spheres of life on cultural level. The power of business in our society turns everything into goods and purchases.
The desire of drug distributors and pharmaceutical companies to make more money enforces them to create cultural impacts and exploit all available means to promote their business and products. General social connectedness through the Internet and television makes the advertisements several times more efficient. The participation of famous individuals creates public interest in the subject, and inspires the masses to pursue the ways advertised by the stars, as everything advertised by celebrities carries a hidden illusion that using whatever is promoted by these people is what made them popular. In case with ADHD, Shane Victorino actually states that this particular disorder is incredibly popular among athletes, which implies that the medication for it also heavily used for the sakes of better focus, and, obviously, is healthy and miraculously helpful (Scott par. 3).
ADHD today is one of the phenomena that became sucked into the contemporary high speed life and turned into the means of earning money, fame, emotional comfort and better social performance. This happened due to the complex interaction of our society’s cultural, scientific and technologic life.
Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). CDC. 2014. Web.
Goodman, Alan H. “Why Genes Don’t Count (for Racial Differences in Health).” American Journal of Public Health 90.11 (2000): 1699-1702. Print.
Jutel, Annemarie. “The emergence of overweight as a disease entity: Measuring up normality.” Social Science & Medicine 63 (2006): 2268–2276. Print.
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Kaw, Eugenia. “Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian American Women and Cosmetic Surgery.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 7.1 (1993): 74-89. Print.
Lester, Rebecca J. “The (Dis)Embodied Self in Anorexia Nervosa.” Social Science & Medicine 44.4 (1997): 470-489. Print.
Marcotte, Amanda. Who Wouldn’t Want an Adderall Prescription? 2014. Web.
Martin, Emily. The Woman in the Body. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Print.
Maturo, Antonio. “The medicalization of education: ADHD, human enhancement and academic performance.” Italian Journal of Sociology of Education 5.3 (2013): 175- 188. Print.
Scott, Kyle. Shane Victorino Promotes ADHD “Own It” Campaign. 2012. Web.
Wright, Gloria Sunnie. “ADHD Perspectives: Medicalization and ADHD Connectivity.” Joint AARE APERA International Conference (2012): 1-18. Print.