Boredom and ADHD

Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, has written a lengthy essay for the New York Times in which he questions the explosion in diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in American children. He comes up with an interesting hypothesis: it’s because of boredom, which as those of you who’ve watched Albert Nerenberg’s documentary Boredom know, is fixable:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease.


And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.

One of my patients, a young woman in her early 20s, is prototypical. “I’ve been on Adderall for years to help me focus,” she told me at our first meeting. Before taking Adderall, she found sitting in lectures unendurable and would lose her concentration within minutes. Like many people with A.D.H.D., she hankered for exciting and varied experiences and also resorted to alcohol to relieve boredom. But when something was new and stimulating, she had laserlike focus. I knew that she loved painting and asked her how long she could maintain her interest in her art. “No problem. I can paint for hours at a stretch.”

Rewards like sex, money, drugs and novel situations all cause the release of dopamine in the reward circuit of the brain, a region buried deep beneath the cortex. Aside from generating a sense of pleasure, this dopamine signal tells your brain something like, “Pay attention, this is an important experience that is worth remembering.”…

[continues at the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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5 Comments on "Boredom and ADHD"

  1. InfvoCuernos | Nov 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm |

    GAAAAWD do you expect us to read the WHOLE article?!?!?

  2. BuzzCoastin | Nov 3, 2014 at 8:16 pm |

    Before taking Adderall, she found sitting in lectures unendurable and would lose her concentration within minutes.
    duh! of course

    when I was enslaved in Korprape aMerka
    I would frequently smoke a dobee in order to survive
    the 45 minute to an hour
    of pure unmitigated worthless horse shit dreamed up to kill time
    and humans
    this is what the prison called school is for
    getting humans acclimated to being androids

    adhd is the indication of a human consciousness
    not fully integrated into the Borg Collective

  3. BuzzCoastin | Nov 3, 2014 at 8:27 pm |

    a McLuhaneaque take on this
    would go something like this

    the speed-up cause by electric technology
    has surplanted the cult of literacy
    with an aural/oral environment
    the slow linear pace of the written word & rote instruction
    must give way to all at once omnipresent electric aural environment
    which allows at once information 247365

    the classroom is a stone age anachronism
    still worshiped by the functionally literate
    and imposed with ruthless upon 21st century humans
    by Neanderthals

  4. izzyizzo | Nov 4, 2014 at 7:09 am |

    Yup. ADHD isn’t a natural disorder, it’s a state of humanity in an inhumane world. I take adderall because I’ve got to sit at a desk for 8-9 hours/day. I don’t actually work, especially since they even took away the cubicles, because it’s far too distracting and tedious and boring. But in order to even sort of sit still (I hate sitting), I need large doses of amphetamines and frequent cigarettes.

    Get me out of that environment and working on something interesting, and I’ll go two days straight before I notice that I’ve forgotten to eat or sleep. No pills or smokes.

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