Is ADHD a Real Disease?

sad girl desk classroom

One doctor questions if ADHD is a real disorder or overdiagnosed.

Dr. Leon Eisenberg, who passed away at the age of 87 in 2009, was a prominent figure in the field of child psychiatry who during the 1950s and ’60s conducted medical studies of children with developmental problems, including some of the first findings of autism and attention deficit disorder.

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Early in his medical career, in the mid-1950s, Leon Eisenberg became fascinated with the childhood mind. Wanting to know more, he broke free from the shackles of the Freudian psychoanalytic dogma that dominated child psychiatry at the time to conduct groundbreaking biologically-based research of childhood developmental problems. This research included the first randomized clinical drug trials in child psychiatry.Eisenberg’s direct involvement as a child psychiatry researcher was over by 1967, when he moved to Harvard Medical School as Chief of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. But in a dozen years he had helped transform the discipline.


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Often described as the “inventor” or “father” of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and/or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Dr. Eisenberg contributed a great deal to the body of knowledge on childhood phychiatry.
But the scientific father of ADHD has followed the explosion of prescriptions with growing horror. The claim that Dr. Eisenberg said that “ADHD is a fictitious disease” is reproduced on countless web sites as something he said “before his death in his last interview,” which would place the date of his utterance around February 2009. When documentation for the putative quote is provided, it references an article (often described as a “cover story”) published in the German weekly Der Spiegel on 2 February 2012.

In the literal translation of the statement in context, some native German speakers have reported that Dr. Eisenberg wasn’t asserting that ADHD isn’t a real disorder, but rather that it is overdiagnosed:

“ADHD is a prime example of a fabricated disorder,” Eisenberg said. “The genetic predisposition to ADHD is completely overrated.”

READ: Why ADHD Cases In Children Are Rising

“Instead, child psychiatrists should more thoroughly determine the psychosocial reasons that can lead to behavioral problems,” Eisenberg said. Are there fights with parents, are there are problems in the family? Such questions are important, but they take a lot of time, Eisenberg said, adding with a sigh: “Prescribe a pill for it very quickly.”


Visit the ADHD for Kids center for more articles.