1) First, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been medicalized in U.S. culture in order to broaden the audience to which drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall can be marketed. Defining ADHD as a permanent condition amplifies profits margins for the pharmaceutical firms such as Ciba-Geigy and other fiscally invested parties. In addition to this economic incentive, the social climate has engendered diagnostic expansion because ADHD enables the medicalization of underperformance and access to legal disability remuneration as well as academic and occupational accommodations. Also, given the ‘pill for every ill’ mentality that the pharmaceutical revolution has produced, symptoms of inattention and distraction are prime candidates for medicalization in the form of ADHD because of “the American public’s decreasing tolerance for mild symptoms and benign problems” and a shift away from psychotherapy in managed care (Conrad, 2000). In the post-Prozac era, the medicalization of ADHD also reflects “the idea that designer drugs might improve the functioning of most anyone” (Conrad, 2000). Furthermore, individual sufferers, self-help and lay advocacy groups themselves motivated the expansion of the ADHD category to adults, since it legitimizes their woes, allows them to embrace a new social identity, and transforms diffuse and ambiguous symptoms into a meaningful illness label. This domain expansion is also understandable in the context of a sociocultural movement to engage individuals more actively in health care delivery, demanding patients be involved agents in the medical decision-making process.

In addition, psychiatric professionals and clinicians also played a hand at medicalizing ADHD, as evidenced by the transformation of DSM categorizations that enabled symptoms to manifest in adulthood. For example, with successive editions, less emphasis was placed on age as a criterion: “‘Frequently calls out in class’…became ‘often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed” (Conrad, 2000). In effect, definitions were adapted to encompass adult hyperactives, casting a wider net such that more people fell under the rubric of ADHD. Media claims and publications by intellectuals, such as Frank Wolkenberg, also facilitated the medicalization of ADHD (Conrad, 2000). By catapulting into the public spotlight testimony from someone who identified signs of ADHD retrospectively, people could reframe their childhoods to reconcile with a diagnosis of ADHD. Moreover, ADHD was given evolutionary credence when academic Thom Hartmann associated the condition with the transition from nomadic hunting societies to sedentary agricultural societies (Conrad, 2000). By the same token, ADHD was made fashionable and de-stigmatized with confessions by scholars who were afflicted, and speculations that revered figures such as Albert Einstein and Bill Clinton had the disorder (Conrad, 2000).

2) In this advertisement, the company appeals to parents’ ambitions to have a healthy, successful child capable of academic achievement and assimilation into the social milieu. Specifically, the advertising strategy plays on parental fears of their child’s learning disability causing insecurity and self-doubt with regard to scholastic performance (the antagonist) by juxtaposing this with the vision of a happy, secure child seizing the day (the protagonist). Improved concentration and attention is portrayed as a commodity to be gained by investing in Adderall. Cultural valuation of education is demonstrated with the heading, “Soar Confidently into Summer and the New School Year: Try Adderall – It May Make a Difference,” with dramatic words like “soar” capturing the notion of skyrocketing grades resulting from their drug. It also capitalizes on a parent’s social role as the caretaker and provider of resources and opportunity for their child by encouraging the parent to have their child try Adderall in the summer time when parental care is maximal. This can also be interpreted as the company’s customer-oriented stance, as they are considering the most convenient time for the medication to be employed. By the same token, the ad conveys that a parent should be proactive in health management decisions, alluding to notions of patient empowerment. Doctor-patient interactions are addressed by stating that Adderall should only be administered “with close physician supervision,” which also communicates a collaborative rather than a commandeering relationship between practitioner and patient.  As direct-to-consumer advertising, the company presents medical information in a jargon accessible to layman understanding, purports benefits of switching from existing brands (ie. “It May Make a Difference”), and emphasizes Adderall’s unique chemical formula (“the only ADHD product available that contains both dextro and levo amphetamine”).  Side effects are downplayed by using phrases such as “possibility of,” “potential for,” and “rare cases”. Furthermore, attention is diverted away from their specific product by introducing side effects with blanket statements referring to the class of drugs, including, “As with most psychostimulants…” whereas with benefits they called the drug by its brand name. ­­­­


Conrad, P. & Potter, D. (2000). From Hyperactive Children to ADHD Adults: Observations of the Expansion of Medical Categories. Social Problems, 47(4): 559-582.

BLTC. (1995). Amphetamines and other Psychostimulants. BLTC Research. 3 August 2012. Retrieved from

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