Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent and easiest psychological diagnoses to receive these days, with many of the kids “diagnosed” only in the sense that they (or their parents) asked their doctor for medicine to help with their attention challenges. In too many cases an actual psychological diagnosis doesn’t take place; instead, the physician acquiesces to the request for a free trial run of a drug advertised on television.
Unique sport concerns
There are always serious side effects when taking these drugs, especially for kids. Student athletes, however, present a new concern when using ADHD Schedule II drugs as it applies to on-field focus that may provide a competitive advantage.
This week it was revealed (through a computer hack) that Olympic gold medal winning gymnast Simone Biles is ADHD and takes a drug for her condition. While I have no knowledge about Biles and her ADHD diagnosis, as a clinician who regularly treats athletes I have witnessed a significant increase in the number of athletes being prescribed psychostimulant drugs like Adderall, Vyvance, and Ritalin. More troubling is that in the majority of cases the athletes received the drugs they actively sought by merely telling their doctor they needed help with their focus. From these observations I offer the following:
- It has become remarkably easy to obtain Schedule II drugs (a drug category that includes cocaine and morphine), and a growing number of people are asking (and receiving) these drugs by prescription from their doctors.
- Many athletes have told me directly that they had no idea if they had ADHD, but that they very much liked using drugs like Adderall to help with focusing on their studies, as well as improving their athletic performance on the field.
- Leagues to date, including college, pro and and even the Olympics, freely allow athletes with a diagnosis of ADHD to use these drugs, thereby providing potential on-field advantage over athletes not using psychostimulant drugs.
ADHD is a very controversial disorder to begin with, but even sketchier when clients are being assigned the label without even having a psychological diagnosis take place. When athletes are prescribed psychostimulant drugs without a formal diagnosis and for an indefinite amount of time, they experience real focus advantages over the competition not using these drugs. In essence, what is happening, in my opinion, is that athletes have found a loophole by learning about a drug that helps performance, is easy to get, and not banned by any leagues to date.
There are countless athletes across all levels of sport, including as young as Jr High, regularly using psychostimulant drugs to gain an on-field advantage. The potential side effects are very concerning — far greater than any athletic advantages the drugs may provide –and that should not be lost in this assessment of student athletes using psychostimulant drugs. But athletes who purposely seek out the drugs to gain an athletic advantage have prompted a deeper conversation around integrity and the exposure of a loophole that needs to be re-examined.