11/29/2009 12:10 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Giving Thanks for an Effective ADHD/ADD Treatment

This isn't the first time that I've said it, but better living through chemistry is not only possible, it's common. I was particularly struck by this fact over Thanksgiving, when it became clear that three separate people at the table - none of them related by 'blood' - were all taking the same medication for ADHD/ADD. It's called Vyvanse, and I have written about in the past.

What I have not done well is describe why it makes such a profound difference to those of us who benefit. People with ADHD literally have neurological anatomy that is distinctive from the general population. As a result, amphetamines don't provide us with a 'high' experienced by people with 'normal' brains. In fact, these drugs are prescribed specifically with the intention of helping us to feel, focus and perform normally - just like everyone else.

That's all well and good, but it's also conceptual. What's really needed is a clear and simple means of describing ADHD, before and after medication, that everyone can easily relate to. For help with that, I turn to baseball.

There, individual players with many different talents and propensities can all be compared using a batting average. That single number tells you nothing about a player's potential, but it does communicate a great deal about his aggregate performance. Even a player who hits an exceptional number of home runs can still have a low batting average because of an unusually high incidence of under-performance. Everyone has 'bad days' but the batting average will tell you who has these most frequently.

The people I was dining with have all done extraordinary things in their own lives (hit home runs) but were bedeviled by the uncommonly pervasive lack of focus, organization and follow-through that are the hallmarks of ADHD. In other words, they were experiencing common problems at an uncommonly high rate. In baseball terms, they had been hitting a .200 when their natural talents might have led their teachers, employers, family and friends to expect a .400. In baseball and in life, that's quite a difference.

Enter Vyvanse, or any other one of the potentially effective medications, and that .200 maybe rises to a .300. As a result, those of us who benefit, gain the ability to convert more of our natural talents into demonstrable action. It's not a cure or a silver bullet, but it helps us to accomplish small feats on a daily basis that were previously elusive. Over time, the aggregation of those small victories leads to a better quality of life.

Not everyone with ADHD can or should take medication. For some, the side effects are simply too severe; for others, behavioral therapies alone are more than sufficient. But for those of us who do benefit, I can heartily give thanks to the pharmaceutical companies who make a better quality of life possible for me, the people with whom I celebrated Thanksgiving and millions of others who are quietly living up to their potential.