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Is that Adderall user an ADHD sufferer - or just a busy mom?

Would you fake a psychological disorder for the pill that might boost your stressed-out, time-strapped brain? According to a new study, one in four adults who seek treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the United States may be exaggerating or outright feigning symptoms, with many hoping to get their hands on a little pill called Adderall.

For the study, published in The Clinical Neuropsychologist, researchers surveyed patient medical records and found that people exaggerated their symptoms for a number of reasons: to get their doctors to believe them (because they wrongly believed they had ADHD), or to obtain the drugs used to treat it (which act as performance enhancers).

"There are big cultural pressures to use these drugs," Dr. Anjan Chattergee, a neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania told MSNBC. That's because everyone is in an arms race of accomplishment."

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And the race is on. From Red Bull to Ritalin, drinks and pills to keep the brain awake and focused when it would rather go to sleep are reportedly widespread on North American campuses and science labs.

In a 2006 survey by the journal Nature, 20 per cent of scientists admitted to doping themselves with cognitive-enhancing drugs to help them sleep or improve their concentration - and most of the time without real prescription. A 2008 story in the New Times called it the Adderall Advantage, quoting university students who didn't think they could make As without them. (Their parents shouldn't judge: What weary mom wasn't at least tempted by the idea after a lead character on Desperate Housewives used her son's Ritalin prescription to pull an all-nighter making costumes for a school play?)

The problem, of course, is that a pill that makes life easier is also (naturally) addictive, and the long-term effects, especially for healthy people, aren't known. (And that's not counting the fallout of actual ADHD sufferers being doubted by their doctors.)

As an alternative to stocking your medicine cabinet with contraband, your doctor would probably prescribe this legal (and safer) brain drug: sleep.

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More

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