ADHD and Michael Phelps: Medication Is Not a Crutch
ADHD is a real disorder, and it doesn't just go away.
Posted Aug 14, 2016
One of the greatest disservices to children and adults with mental health issues is marginalizing those who need medication. In Marilyn Wedge's blog post "What We Can Learn From Michael Phelps About ADHD", she writes,
Ritalin is a crutch
Feeling that the drug was a crutch, Phelps decided to learn to use his mind to focus and control himself in the class room [sic].
Wedge also writes,
But even with his exceptional gifts, it is unlikely that Phelps could beat his ADHD diagnosis if it were truly a biologically-based disease or brain defect.
ADHD is a biological, neurological, and genetic disorder. Michael Phelps has not "beat" his ADHD diagnosis, as Wedge claims - he and his mother, Debbie Phelps (who provided a lot of structure to Michael), would be the first people to tell you that. Intense exercise and rigid structure have helped him cope with his symptoms, but it does not eliminate them.
Phelps has been open about his history of substance abuse, as recently as speaking about it right before the 2016 Olympics. In 2004, Phelps plead guilty to driving while impaired. In 2009, he was photographed using a marijuana pipe and was suspended for three months by USA Swimming. A 2014 arrest for DUI led to a six-month suspension by USA Swimming, and eventually time spent in a rehab facility.
While I have not personally treated Phelps, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that when ADHD is not treated with stimulant medication, your chances of substance abuse increase dramatically1,2. When brain chemicals are low, the body finds a way to replace them. Engaging in strenuous physical activity can help decrease ADHD symptoms, but the symptoms do not go away. As I said before, ADHD is a biological, neurological, and genetic disorder.
We, as a society, need to stop referring to psychiatric medication a "crutch". You would never tell someone with poor vision that using glasses is a "crutch". You would never tell someone with diabetes that taking "insulin" is a crutch. ADHD is a medical condition just like any other, and can be treated successfully with medication just as any other.
Congratulations to Michael Phelps, and thank you for representing the 11 million of us in the United States that do have ADHD.
Stephanie Sarkis PhD NCC LMHC is an AMHCA Diplomate and Clinical Specialist in Child and Adolescent Counseling. She is the author of five books on adult ADHD, including Natural Relief for Adult ADHD: Complementary Strategies for Increasing Focus, Attention, and Motivation With or Without Medication.
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