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On one of my blog entries, I casually mentioned rummaging through my purse for my Ritalin, which I've been taking for, hmmm, maybe six or seven years for ADHD. Changed my life. Slows me down so I can focus and sit and write, and so I have the patience to read and understand complicated stuff; usually science stuff. Otherwise, I tend to have a mind like a superball -- all the attention of a sand flea unless something's very, very interesting to me...and even then, I can have a hard time focusing. I only wished somebody had diagnosed me when I was in high school instead of in my 30s.

Anyway, somebody named Jane noted that I mentioned Ritalin with a comment that went merely, "Ritalin"?

I commented back "Ritalin what?"

But I suspect I know what she's getting at. Something along the lines of "You! Take Ritalin?" As in, she's disappointed/surprised/aghast.

Question: If you have a splitting headache, do you take aspirin or ibuprofen, or do you just suffer? I never understand the prejudice against "better living through chemistry." For me, as a very healthy person, Ritalin has few side-effects and downsides. So...what's the problem?

Oh's not "natural." Well, that kind of thinking, that because something's natural automatically means it's better is called "the naturalistic fallacy." Poison mushrooms are natural and so is killing and eating your young. So...if you believe natural is better, does that mean you're going to have a lunch of boiled baby aux champignons?

Posted by aalkon at September 2, 2006 11:14 AM

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Thank you! I used to use that argument when I was a personal trainer, dealing with those who decided to use the (then newly-discovered) creatine monohydrate. I knew little about it, but I was constantly being told that "it's perfectly safe; it's natural."

My standard reply was to point out that "poison ivy is natural; this does not mean that it makes suitable salad greens." If I wished to go off on this tangent, I might add, "Tar pits occur in nature, but I would not suggest you bathe in them." I like the "eating your offspring is natural" argument. I hope I remember that the next time I counter the "natural is therefore good/safe" argument.

I actually have no reaction to poison ivy when I walk through it, but most people do.

Posted by: Patrick at September 2, 2006 3:37 AM

I think there's something more behind the opposition to psychotropic medications than "they're unnatural." I can't lay out the opposing arguments in sufficient detail, but they go something like this:

People with ADHD don't need Ritalin, they just need to discipline themselves to focus more;

People with depression don't need Zoloft, they just need to stop whining and learn "the power of positive thinking;"

Opiate addicts don't need methadone, they just need to strengthen their willpower.

Maybe I've just watched too many old Katherine Hepburn movies, but I do find something compelling about these appeals to willpower, optimism, and the idea that one's character can be strengthened through personal struggle. These are core values in our culture. Still, if anyone tried to take away my Zoloft, I'd break their knees.

Posted by: Lena at September 2, 2006 8:38 AM

I agree with you, Amy, but I would like to respectfully point out that, at least as far as natural medicinals go, the 'it's natural therefore absolutely safe' argument is NEVER advanced by competant practitioners. This is more a product of vague hippy-trippy people who think alternative medicine is neato, but know little about the actual nuts and bolts. A big part of training in herbal medicine is the various toxicities of the substances, what not to combine, and what safe dosages are.
An allied thought, that I do subscribe to, is that there are naturally occurring medicinals, whose active ingredients number in the hundreds, and trying to extract one or two of the 'active elements' usually results in something that doesn't work as well, or at all. This isn't 'cause I'm a tree-worshipping mooncalf, I just have no problem believing that organic chemistry is complex, requiring all those elements.Best example - Marinol. I have worked with and spoken with a lot of cancer patients, and have yet to find one that thinks Marinol works as well or better than plain ol' marijuana.
Now I'm picturing Lena as Kate Hepburn, chin up, voice quavering, "....just that faaaah-thah of two, doggie style, on my office flo-ah." Now you try.

Posted by: cat brother at September 2, 2006 9:12 AM

"The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a lovely flower..."

Posted by: Lena at September 2, 2006 2:02 PM

"I'm going crazy. I'm standing here solidly on my own two hands and going crazy."

Posted by: deja pseu at September 2, 2006 3:28 PM

Posted by: Patrick at September 2, 2006 5:33 PM

I hate the prejiduce against people who need medications to function normally. I have a good friend who, while he never talks about his specific problem, takes medicine for something akin to ADHD. He's a great guy, in my opinion, but for some reason certain people at my school seem to think hes totally nuts just cause he has to take drugs to help himself.

On the other hand, ive seen a case where ADHD just could not have properly been diagnosed. I had a girlfriend fairly recently who told me she had ADHD. I figured out quick that this was pure crap and that she was fine. She took her medicine on and off and it never seemed to affect her mood. She was usually attentive when something she cared about even mildly was at hand but if it was osmehting she didnt care much about she said "I have adhd". As if this meant she no longer had to listen. Her whole attitude led me to believe that theres a group of people out there who use it as an excuse when its convenient.

Posted by: scott at September 3, 2006 12:27 AM

I actually have no reaction when Patrick walks through poison ivy either!

Posted by: Deirdre B. at September 3, 2006 9:19 AM

We got people on both sides of my family who are differently-mentalled, and definately need their meds, so I'm sure not anti-psyche-med across the board. But I'm not sure all the people on anti-depressants, say, are really presenting with 'depression' as clinically defined. Many people have pointed out, in many ways, that via the media the average American is told he/she has so much coming to them, that when they don't get it, they feel ripped off of their rightful due. There are a lot of people who made bad choices, and continue to make them (not stepping out of a dead end job to something riskier but more fulfilling is the first one that comes to mind), but want to feel as though they were making good choices, so take a pill.
Re ADHD, damn, don't we all have it now? Or, with (I think) 4 diffferent types, it's a pretty big diagnostic net to cast. This is one where I much more tend to believe people when they say the meds made all the diffference, a la AMy. That kind of came out wrong, but I keep seeing Lena, in black and white, on her office floor, her long New England chin quivering as she barks at me, "Leave Patrick in his poison ivy, and ride me! Ride me like a ho-aahss!"

Posted by: cat brother at September 3, 2006 9:48 AM

But, even if you don't have a disease, if medication helps you function better, and there are few side-effects for you...what's wrong with taking it?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 3, 2006 10:10 AM

Nothing whatsoever. This is a whole big can of worms with no definate answers either way, so I'd only like to get into it so far, but...just on the subject of antidepressants, I believe, both from what people have told me and from classes in pharmacology, that they often have a 'flattening-out' effect on the affect, which I think allows people to stay in their ruts. Believe me, I KNOW about people with clinical depression, and how important meds are for their health and well being. I guess I think the 'few side effects' is where some people get tripped up.
Re ADHD, I pretty much thought I had it, and the thought of being perscribed speed (or something like it) and having my mental processes get way tuned up sounded pretty good to ME. Alas, I tested negative. And RItalin just made me nauseous.

Posted by: cat brother at September 3, 2006 11:56 AM

For me, it helps me to get close to what Csikszentmihalyi described as "Flow."

Here's the book:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 3, 2006 12:13 PM

I have to take energy foods, minerals, vitamins, and water on a regular basis - several times a day, in fact, just to function. Otherwise I can't do my job, because I can't concentrate. and might even black out. Luckily my employer and most people round here have the same needs, so we work around it. We even have coffee breaks and lunch breaks, and my family makes a social event of our evening fix! In fact so many people here "eat" that a large part of the local economy is controlled by the dealers.

Now will someone explain to me again, how Ritalin is the devil?

Posted by: Norman at September 3, 2006 2:06 PM

Cat Brother -- I think what you're describing is the tendency of some people to exploit the "sick role" as a way to escape responsibilities or to get attention. This can be done with or without medications, although a prescription is a very official credential for the professional patient.

If you put aside the really serious cases of ADHD, depression, erectile dysfunction, etc, I think the most compelling arguments against these widely used lifestyle drugs cite evidence on the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as that old-fashioned American "pull yourself up my your bootstraps" mentality (a la Kate Hepburn in "Desk Set").

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Catty Sister at September 3, 2006 2:21 PM

Lena, I think you're talking about what Scott said just above my entry, someone using a diagnosis to excuse bad behavior. What I was talking about is, I think, sister to the "Soul Mate Fallacy."
I date seriously/marry somebody, we have fights, it's not because of bad behavior/unrealistic expectations on my part, it's because I didn't actually find my Soul Mate, whom with none of this friction would be occurring. I never move out of my home town, I take a job that's safe, won't be fired, pays well, but doesn't really resonate with me, shit, my brain chemistry must be off, can't be because I know deep down I could do more if I stood up on my hind legs and took a chance....Naw, gotta rearrange those neurons, that's why I'm feeling kind of blue.
There's no way to measure who really needs/functions-better-not-worse-taking-the-long-view with antidepressants, it's different for everyone. And I say again, someone puts out a drug with no side effects that makes me think more clearly/flow through my work day, I'll pop it with a smile.

Posted by: cat brother at September 3, 2006 8:22 PM

Cat Brother.....

It seems to me that a lot more folks are popping SSRI's like tic tacs these me, it's putting a band-aid on the problem instead of dealing with it with proper therapy....

Posted by: Rob at September 7, 2006 12:48 PM

All the therapy in the world won't cure a chemical imbalance in the brain any more than it would any other physical problem.

Mark C-C blogged about this just today, in fact, on Good Math, Bad Math.

Posted by: The Ridger at September 14, 2006 7:07 PM

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