Netflix’s “Take Your Pills”: Anti-Science—and Mean

Netflix Take Your Pills

Netflix’s Take Your Pills, produced by Maria Shriver and daughter, is more shock-umentary than documentary.

Yes, friends, it’s that time again: A feeding frenzy on ADHD and the medications used to treat it. Because nothing sells like ADHD hysteria! This latest salvo in the anti-ADHD wars comes from Netflix, Take Your Pills.

Nobody has time for this nonsense. You surely have better things to do than read this post. I am immersed in developing online training for ADHD-challenged individuals, couples, and professionals.  [Launched July 2021]

Yet, we all have a lot to lose by failing to speak up. The blogosphere and the clickbait-o-sphere are brimming with praise for Take Your Pills.

Please: Do not imagine that access to ADHD treatment is a given.

Look at many other Western countries, where adult ADHD is not even on the radar (often, pridefully so), especially in single-payer national healthcare systems. The U.S. could devolve to that, too, if disinformation campaigns sway public opinion.

Thank You For Sharing

The film’s clear aim is to provoke, to further confuse a largely science-illiterate public. “Driving us back into the closet,” says my friend Meg, a schoolteacher diagnosed five years ago at age 35.

Moreover, this “Adderall epidemic!!! and ADHD over-diagnosis!!!” theme constantly rears its ugly head. In this post, I shed light on the reality.

The producers and Netflix call it a documentary. Yet that would imply balanced reportage. There is none in Take Your Pills.  Most legitimate documentaries don’t shovel shame and stigma on people burdened enough. (A professional documentary critic agrees; see below.)

“I agree with some of it,” a young woman with ADHD responded to my Facebook post.  No, I am sorry but it doesn’t work that way. You cannot cherrypick edible fruit from a toxic tree.

Sure, the filmmakers toss in a smidgeon of valid points. That serves to ensnare people ignorant to the complexities on this topic.

But therein lies the trap: the filmmakers’ vainglorious claims of addressing “an important societal issue”  amount to nothing more than a transparent and treacherous Trojan Horse.

Their true agenda is clear: No more ADHD diagnoses and no more medications.

This Post Covers These Points:

Yes, this post is long. But I want to cover as much territory as possible, briefly.

The Highlights:

1. The producers are Maria Shriver and daughter Christina Schwarzenegger.

Christina was diagnosed with ADHD at age 6. Neither one seems to know a thing about ADHD. Except for having it. What else do they have? Gobs of money, access, and an ax to grind.

2. You can watch a video interview, below, where they clearly reveal their ignorance.

3. Contrary to popular belief in the ADHD community, “Neurotypicals” are not the enemy of ADHD awareness and legitimacy.

In my observation, it is a subset of people with ADHD who pose the biggest threat.

4. Professional documentary critic Christopher Campbell, an ADHD skeptic until his son was diagnosed, takes this film to task. Excerpt and link below.

5. A list of points about the complexities of “stimulant abuse”—including the fact that most of the people “abusing stimulants” probably have ADHD.

6. Two studies examining the “diversion” problem (diversion is when a prescribed medication is used by someone other than the patient for whom it is prescribed)

7.  I provide several links to substantiate or expand my points.  I hope they don’t distract you!  Maybe try reading the post fully and then going back to the links.

 

via GIPHY

Still Curious?  Watch This Interview Instead

So, before you take the bait and watch it on Netflix, please think about the consequences. Every time we “vote” for  skewed ADHD propaganda, in a film or newspaper, we say, “Give us more of this, please.”

(I’m convinced that the New York Times has been tapping into public hysteria about  ADHD for years—simply because it drives web traffic like little else. That’s why I don’t share the links.  And, rest, assured, Alan Schwarz, the former New York Times sports reporter who campaigned on the paper’s front page for a Pulitzer on the backs of people with ADHD, figures prominently in this film. I’ve heard he is now a high school math teacher.  Don’t know who he is?  Read these posts:  Dr. Thomas E. Brown Responds to NYT’s Alan Schwarz and The Truth Behind “10,000 Toddlers Medicated for ADHD)

Hey, but don’t take my word for it!  Check the videotaped interview below. It will tell you all you need to know about the filmmakers’ agenda.  Shriver and Schwarzenegger are interviewed by Kara Swisher (wearing sunglasses).

Did She Actually Say That?

A friend watched it and said, “Did that woman actually say, ‘Why does a 16-year-old need executive function?’ Good lord!”

Why yes. Yes, she did.

Swisher also proudly disclosed that she “declined” suggestions of ADHD medication for her school-age son. Instead, she let him run around outside.

via GIPHY

And. Then. This. Wait for it.

“Well, he’s just not going to do well in school. He’s a tall rich white man in America. I think he’ll be fine.”

Let that sink in a minute.

I’ve seen that attitude dominate in San Francisco, where Swisher lives.  It’s a city is known for its high rates of substance abuse. Meth, opiates, and cocaine are the drugs of choice (if you don’t count startups and IPOs), according to The Most Commonly Used Drugs in San  Francisco.  In a future post,  I share research showing the reduced risk of developing a substance use disorder among children treated early for ADHD.

 “Neurotypicals” Aren’t The Enemy

Let’s be very clear:  “Neurotypicals” didn’t bring us this film.   That’s the word commonly used to describe folks who don’t have ADHD and are blamed for ADHD denialism. “They don’t understand what it’s like to live with ADHD,” some will complain.

Here’s a little secret:  In my long experience and close observation, no one publicly denies or obfuscates the facts around ADHD more than someone who has ADHD, is “in denial,”  is narcissistic—and has something to sell.

The producers are Maria Shriver and her daughter, Christina Schwarzenegger. Reportedly diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, Schwarzenegger reports taking Adderall through high school and college. It’s a bit confusing, but it seems the only reason she quit was that her liver enzymes were elevated.  “And no one told me this could happen!”  With all that Shriver/Schwarzenegger money, her parents a broadcaster and a one-time governor, no one ever even asked about this?

Anyway, according to them, everybody is abusing Adderall on college campuses. Everybody.  How do they know this?  Unclear.  But one gets the feeling that, whatever lip service to ADHD’s legitimacy they might give elsewhere, any use of a stimulant is an illegitimate use in their eyes.

Is Everybody Abusing Adderall? Truly?

Shriver particularly points to the dangers of more young women taking stimulant medications—”cause they want to do start-ups.”  Yet, my female friends with ADHD work as teachers, nurses, therapists,  and every other occupation. Consider this post from the aforementioned Meg: On Trying to Swim Blind: ADHD and Medication

Where Meg writes poetically of horizons expanding and clarity sharpening when she is diagnosed and begins stimulant medication, Shriver sees only disaster and addiction. A national calamity.

There’s more.

Sneak Preview Highlights:

Here are some interview highlights:

—Schwarzenegger claims she was diagnosed at age 6

It’s generally acknowledged among experts in the field: Only the most severe cases of ADHD in girls are diagnosed that young.

—Shriver says her daughter was a “creative learner”

“But teachers will come to you and say ‘medication’ and I said ‘no no no.’ But there is a lot of pressure when the child falling behind.”

In other words, all the usual tropes….” schools are not designed for creative learners.”

And the world is designed for “creative learners”? Only if you are rich and privileged—and not so severely impaired by ADHD that you end up broke, addicted, and in jail.

Ah, but no, Schwarzenegger did avail herself of a stimulant.

—By the first year of high school, Schwarzenegger was taking Adderall

She is careful to stipulate: This happened “only after extensive testing.”

Then onto college, where she discovered the “Adderall epidemic.”  She attended the highly competitive and costly Georgetown University. Was that the best choice for someone who had a long history of struggling in school? Who was allegedly a “creative learner”?

—Christina reports a hard time “getting off” of Adderall

Schwarzenegger reports trouble functioning after stopping the medication. Shriver views that as proof of stimulants’ addictiveness.

But wait. As one friend with ADHD points out, “Well, duh, when you stop the medication, ADHD symptoms return. Maybe you forgot what that was like!”

For a vivid example of an unplanned medication “holiday,” check out Katy Rollins’ essay, ADHD Drug Holiday—Or Horror?

I just have to wonder why, with all their money and access, the Schwarzenegger-Shrivers settled for Adderall, that most problematic of stimulants. It works best for a minority of people. But for most, it causes more problems than it solves.  Did the family do no research? Sure seems that way.

He Watched It So You Don’t Have To

Christopher Campbell is a freelance film editor and critic and the founder of the documentary review site Nonfics.

At The Thrillist website, he opens his incisive review of Take Your Pills (Side Effects of Netflix’s New Doc “Take Your Pills” Include Rage and Misinformation) this way:

One of my favorite jokes is about a man goes to the doctor seeking “smart pills,” only to walk out with a sample of what turns out to be rabbit droppings.

When he returns to the doc and points out that the “pills” are actually poop, the doc says, “See, you’re getting smarter already!”

Netflix’s new documentary Take Your Pills is the 90-minute equivalent of the “smart pills.”

This From A Reformed ADHD Skeptic

 

47 thoughts on “Netflix’s “Take Your Pills”: Anti-Science—and Mean”

  1. Patrick A Scannell

    Thank you very much for this. I am an ADHD sufferer myself who was deprived of medication due to these “cultural biases” against us and the medication, and movies like this simply fuel the stigma we get. It should be under the misleading medical news list along with antimasking.

    1. Hi Patrick,

      You’re most welcome.

      Yes, it is misleading medical news. Like anti-vaxxers, etc…

      It just boggled my mind, that somebody with their money and access couldn’t do something helpful.

      I’ve done my work on a shoestring budget and always for good.

      take care,
      g

  2. Bravo for your insights and thoughtful anaylsis of this topic and your spot on review of the Netflicks Take Your Pill . My son was diagnosed ADHD at age 8. At first we resisted medication for my son, but we happened to luck out with a GP doctor that struggled with the same condition. We tried several meds including Adderall, but quickly realized the huge down side to that medication. After some experimentation, my son ended up with slow, continuous release Concerta. What a miracle it’s made in his academic life. I know it’s just antidotal, but my son, now 20 and in college, is totally opposed to alcohol and recreational drug use of any kind. Image that, a prescription med, used as directed having a profound impact on someone suffering form otherwise debilitating symptoms of ADHD. THANK YOU GINA! and keep up the great reporting.

  3. I definitely benefit from my Adderall XR use but I also experience the comedown other people have described. I’ve been using medical THC products to manage. I’m interested in trying vyvanse but it’s just so expensive. I already pay $200 for brand name adderall because I’ve found my local generic is ineffective if my sleep habits slip.

  4. Great article. Not long ago I was one of the “dangerous subset” of people with adhd. I was diagnosed as a teenager and always opposed medication, to the point of often criticizing those who do (like several family members who also have adhd). Fifteen years later after having it suggested by my psych when other drugs were not helping me with a myriad of issues, I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I had just “taken my pills” all those years ago. I feel better than I have in a long time (not ecstatic), just, normal. I re-enrolled in college and for the first time ever I’m excelling at it. I still have a long way to go but my life is working much closer to the way I imagine life works for neurotypical people. No one deserves to be shamed for taking medication that is genuinely needed. Not to be super human, just to be human.

    1. Well said, Rob — and congratulations!!

      Thanks for your comment encouraging others.

      By the way, “dangerous subset”? Refers to something I wrote? I don’t see it — and would regret if it I wrote that in a thoughtless moment.

      Maybe you mean this:

      “Her schtick is typical of that small but clear subset of people with “in denial” frontal-lobe issues and high narcissism who are constantly running a hustle. Without a thought to the damage.”
      g

  5. You’re right, Gina. The general population doesn’t have empathy for ADHD. Interestingly enough, the general population mostly consists of neurotypicals.

  6. I just finished watching this thing. The guy at the end who says “There’s other things you can do, just teach them to concentrate” OMG I laughed so hard, this kid never had ADD!

  7. Dear Gina,

    I am finding your blog after watching my husband take a steady downward spiral on Adderall. At first, it helped him “concentrate a little better” at work and increased his motivation overall, although it was not the miracle cure he expected as far as productivity, memory, organization, or intelligence as he had hoped. The big problem was that when he “came down” toward the end of the day, he was a different person – angry, belittling, and judgmental toward our son and me. If he did not take his daily dose, he was impossible to get along with, snapping at everyone constantly, and tired all day. Eventually, he figured that he was on too low of a dose, so he started taking an afternoon “booster” after his doctor’s (a primary care physician) approval.

    After being married for 23 years, together for 25, he decided one day that he was done, he had enough of being married and is now violently angry. He moved out of the family home after I asked him to leave because of his behavior, and he cannot communicate with my son or with me without yelling, screaming, demeaning, and sometimes growling. In fact, he is demeaning and rude to most people now, and finds it difficult to get along with his colleagues at work. This is not the man I married. He is scary to the point that our teenage son describes him as “possessed”. However, if I happen to speak to him first thing in the morning after taking his a.m. dose of Adderall, this is the one time of day that he is pleasant, happy, and easy to talk to.

    I have tried in earnest to suggest that his anger might have something to do with the med because I have noticed an enormous difference, and this makes him even angrier. I will not deny that as with every marriage, we have had our share of issues. I am also fully aware of the effects of disorders that can cause anger, such as depression. But violence? Irrational behavior? He has always been calm, eager to work through issues, and adamant that we were soul mates – never to part. Now divorce?

    Am I saying that Adderall changed my husband and destroyed my marriage? I don’t know. As a woman who just lost her husband and is still in shock and grief, I am grasping. However, the timeline and behavior connection is compelling and has led me to begin research.

    While in therapy recently, I let my counselor listen to a couple of my husband’s voicemail messages saved on my cell phone. To say she was shocked is an understatement. When she compared the man she had spoken to just months ago during marital therapy and the man she heard on the phone, she said that although she could not diagnose in such a manner, it was as if he had bipolar disorder and was having a manic episode on the messages. All I can say is that the person who left our home is not the man that I married 23 years ago, nor the man I knew prior to Adderall. This roller-coaster, violent behavior was never a factor before the med, and the “improvement” or “benefit” certainly does not outweigh the risks.

  8. Hi Gina,

    I honestly think you should consider producing a documentary in contrast to ‘Take Your Pills’ that sheds light on the reality of ADHD and the treatments available and how those treatments/medication impact those with ADHD. Showing the truth behind medication for those with ADHD in contrast with those who ‘abuse’ it (like those college students in that Netflix film) would illustrate the differences.

    As I was watching the film, I could understand the stigmas associated with adderall, and the dismissal of ADHD, but it disheartened me to witness these interviews that never highlighted the daily struggles of those with ADHD. They only focused on the medication and it’s effects. I have been taking medication for almost a decade for ADHD and have gone through a majority of the struggles associated with the side effects in correlation to its effect on my symptoms. I could go on about my experiences, but that’s not the point of this response.

    I believe everyone should be educated about ADHD. While I understand the stigma of it, and how people can come to that conclusion, they cannot dismiss it because they have never endured the adversities caused from it. If I was born with a ‘neurotypical’ brain and did not have to take medication, I would absolutely do it. I have to work ten times as hard to adjust to a society my brain is not equipped for.

    There are so many subsets of adhd and the best way it was described in a book I recently read is that we were born with a brain that functions a little differently, but given an owners manual to a ‘neurotypical’ brain. There is absolutely no way we are accustomed to our societies current standards, and unfortunately, since we cannot change those values, we just have to adjust to it. Adderall or any ADHD medication does not guarantee an easy way out. It is still hard work. But it contributes to our ability to ‘fit in’ and live up to our community’s standards. I am a huge proponent of the medication, since I have seen drastic improvements in my life. Yes, I have experienced all the negative side effects mentioned in that Netflix film, but those interviews seem to come from a place of naïveté and personal issues. I have effectively worked out all the kinks of my side effects and those mentioned in the film and am still a work in progress, but i can confidently say my life has evolved to a place that i am happy and confident with. The dilemma of the issue at hand is that for some, it is a stimulant that enhances performance, so people with mild ADHD or without tend to abuse it. It is very unfair to those suffering with ADHD, but at least there is an open dialogue, which will hopefully progress to a more solidified, fair solution.

    I know Netflix is always open to allowing two sides of an issue shown on their platform. It would be truly beneficial if you would take on such a project and in essence, stick up for the ADHD community, with your vast knowledge on the subject and your extensive experience. It was actually your book that was my first purchase regarding ADHD. Actually, my mom had bought two—one for me and a translated version for herself.

    I would love to hear back from you because I would love to be a part of the community that advocates for ADHD. There is so much I would love to discuss with you and get the proper, unbiased knowledge out there for everyone to accept and understand.

    Thank you for your time!!

    1. Dear Jen,

      Thank you so much for your well-articulated comment.

      I am thrilled that you are benefiting from new “operating instructions” and medication. I want that opportunity for everyone who has ADHD, and that’s what I’ve worked toward for 20 years.

      Thanks for your faith in me. I surely have the accumulated knowledge. 😉

      I would love to be able to produce a documentary. Unfortunately, I do not have the Kennedy/Schwarzeneggar’s money or influence. And, think about it: A documentary where people’s lives are changed for the better, thanks to Big Pharma? I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a box-office smash hit. 🙂

      I think my friends Ava and Rick Green did a great job with “ADD & Loving It?!” Have you seen it? http://www.TotallyADD.com

      I hope that you continue your own advocacy on a person-to-person basis. I’ve found that really has the most powerful and lasting effect. I saw a huge shift in the online “discourse” on ADHD when more adults with ADHD started writing blogs or leaving comments to news stories on ADHD. They were powerful, powerful advocates. And they helped to turn the tide of public sentiment.

      By contrast, when I started blogging, there was ONE adult with ADHD writing a blog about it. Jeff at JeffsADDMind.com (no longer online).

      You know, millions of Americans alone with undiagnosed ADHD+ are out there angry at the world that demands so much of them. They blame “society’s current standards,” as you point out, for their unhappiness. Or the ex-wife or their parents or some politician or the government or ….. Some become so angry they might resort to violence. Mostly, they suffer alone. They do not know that they have ADHD and that there are strategies that might help them live happier, more productive, more self-directed lives. And, lacking insight as to their condition, they blame others. Blaming others is a very common “poor coping response” among people with poorly managed ADHD.

      Certainly, few sane people would argue that today’s version of capitalism has run amok and run over decent people everywhere. That is too true. But it is also the natural consequences of ADHD, left untreated, that contributes to personal misery. Even on a desert island. Even in a small village. ADHD symptoms can take their toll.

      With diagnosis and, in some cases, medical treatment, individuals with ADHD gain more autonomy, more agency. They are less likely to feel like victims and more likely to make the most of their lives.

      So, I am not one to promote a divide among people with ADHD and people without. There is no ADHD trait that is foreign to most humans. ADHD traits are human traits. It is only their number and extremity that make the diagnosis. Generally speaking, what’s good for people with ADHD is good for humans.

      Rather than “neurotypicals,” I find the worst enemy of people with ADHD to be other people with ADHD plus narcissism and “denial”. They are the ones who most publicly deny the condition and who produce anti-ADHD screeds and “documentaries.” I’ve observed this for a long time. Their blaming of others and perhaps a penchant for self-medicating with provocation is behind much of the anti-ADHD efforts.

      I make the point in this post that Ms. Schwarzeneggar herself was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and took medication up through college. It was only after, when presumably she was looking for something to do, that she and her mother (perhaps also with unacknowledged ADHD, which seems quite common among the Kennedy clan) cooked up this harmful project. They could afford to do it because they are multi-millionaires. It brought them attention, too. How much nicer to think that one is “artistic” instead of having ADHD. One can pretend to be “artistic” when one is a millionnaire taken care of and protected from consequences.

      Keep up your advocacy!

      Gina

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