Scientific Contribution

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 129-140

First online:

ADHD drugs: Values that drive the debates and decisions

  • Susan HawthorneAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Minnesota Email author 

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Use of medication for treatment of ADHD (or its historical precursors) has been debated for more than forty years. Reasons for the ongoing differences of opinion are analyzed by exploring some of the arguments for and against considering ADHD a mental disorder. Relative to two important DSM criteria — that a mental disorder causes some sort of harm to the individual and that a mental disorder is the manifestation of a dysfunction in the individual — ADHD’s classification as a mental disorder is found to be contentiously value-laden. The disagreements spill over to reasoning regarding appropriate management, because justification for a drug prescription is in part predicated on the idea that the drugs manage mental disorders. These debates do not appear to be nearing resolution, so individuals offering advice, or trying to decide whether ADHD drugs are appropriate for themselves or their children, may find it helpful to compare the values underlying various perspectives with their own.


attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication mental disorder nosology psychiatry psychopharmaceuticals values