Nick Haslam reviews 'ADHD Nation: The disorder. The drugs. The inside story.' by Alan Schwarz

Nick Haslam reviews 'ADHD Nation: The disorder. The drugs. The inside story.' by Alan Schwarz

ADHD Nation: The disorder. The drugs. The inside story

by Alan Schwarz

Hachette, $35 pb, 340 pp, 9781408706572

The spectrum of opinion on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD in the acronym-crazed world of psychiatry – runs from the firiest red to the deepest purple. At the radical red extreme, critics see the diagnosis as a dangerous fiction, scripted by Big Pharma so that rambunctious youth can be profitably pacified. At the violet end, advocates view the condition as a disorder of the brain, its validity attested to by mountains of genetic and neuroscientific evidence and its treatment necessarily biomedical. Parents of affected children tend to lean in this direction, pulled by some combination of medical authority, relief from the moralistic judgement that wild children must have deficient care-givers, and the appeal of a pharmacological solution to their troubles.

Alan Schwarz is no scarlet radical, but his book on the history and politics of ADHD glows like a slow-burning ember. Schwarz acknowledges the reality of pathological inattention and hyperactivity, and does not deny that the condition has a neurobiological dimension. His critique does not undermine the essential idea of ADHD so much as the way it has been stretched, marketed, and leveraged by commercial interests, with the willing connivance of mental health professionals. Without dismissing the value of medication in the treatment of ADHD, Schwarz is refreshingly scathing in his assessment of some of the main pharmaceutical players and their medical mouthpieces.

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Nick Haslam

Nick Haslam

Nick Haslam is professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, where he teaches social and personality psychology. His most recent book is Psychology in the Bathroom (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.