In my early days of struggling with heroin, I decided to go see a psychiatrist who was an “addiction specialist”. He had been recommended by a friend. During my first appointment with him, he prescribed me heavy doses of both Klonopin and Adderall. I hadn’t even asked or gone there seeking drugs. I took the Klonopin but I sold most of the Adderall for dope money. My prescription was for three 30 mg pills every day. I could sell them for $10 a pill, that was up to an extra $900 a month. As soon as I put the word out there that these pills were available, a bunch of people started buying from me. Every single one of them wanted the Adderall for school and/or work.
Adderall is an amphetamine, a central nervous system stimulant. It is mainly prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In most people with this condition, Adderall is very effective and well tolerated. It helps with focus and memory, improves attention and concentration, and reduces impulsivity. Patients taking the drug are able to do better academically and at work and have better social interactions. Their overall quality of life can be improved. Long term use of the drug in ADHD patients can even foster brain development and nerve growth and improve impaired brain function in specific areas. Adderall is widely accepted as beneficial for people with ADHD but there is research showing that for normal people, it does not offer the same cognitive improvement and can even make it worse over time.
Adderall is also highly addictive with a strong potential for abuse. It is classified as a Schedule II narcotic. People without ADHD take it for many different reasons. Students want to be able to study harder and do better in school. Professionals want to be more productive at work. Some take it recreationally. When you’re partying you can drink more and stay up later. The immediate-release pills can be crushed and snorted. There are physical effects as well: increased muscle strength and endurance, faster reaction time, and improvement of overall athletic performance. I found all kinds of articles online about collegiate and professional athletes and the debate over them using Adderall with and without prescriptions.
Like any other drug of abuse, legal or illegal, there are plenty of negative side effects that come with prolonged Adderall use. Users can become easily agitated and aggressive. Weight loss, reduced appetite, jaw grinding, and abdominal pain are all common. Heavy use causes restlessness, obsessive behavior, and high anxiety. Withdrawal often causes extreme fatigue, mood swings, and depression. These side effects are magnified in people who have naturally high anxiety, are obsessive-compulsive, or who have cardiovascular disease. It is possible to overdose on Adderall. More severe overdoses can cause psychosis, hallucinations, delirium, and even seizures. Benzodiazepines and sometimes antipsychotics are the usual treatment methods.
Adderall usage without a prescription is prevalent across many colleges but especially so at particularly competitive universities. Students interviewed in this article by The New Yorker talk about feeling that it’s almost a necessity. They say that so many of their friends are using it that they feel at a disadvantage if they’re not. The drug can also seem harmless to a new user because so many other people are taking it. One student made an interesting point that Adderall did help his focus but not always on the right thing. He said that instead of studying for a test or writing a paper he might end up organizing his music collection or cleaning his room all night.
Feeling disadvantaged and unable to compete happens with parents and in the workplace, not just in school. Some parents who were polled said that they encouraged their children to be on stimulant medication like Adderall to give them the best chance of getting into good colleges. Many of these parents feel that other children who are given Adderall have an unfair competitive edge over their own children. They don’t want their kids to fall behind in class and risk not getting into the best schools so these parents feel that giving them Adderall is in their best interest.
In the office, people feel this same compulsion to do whatever is necessary to remain competitive. They believe that Adderall will help them get that promotion or close that big deal. It’s almost like they can’t not take it if their coworkers are. One businessman who was interviewed talked about having a big meeting and only one shot to make a business deal happen. The meeting was right after a several-hour flight from another continent and he had jet lag. With so much pressure to perform, Adderall was an easy way to make sure he was at his best.
The New York Times article is a sad account by the author of her own personal struggle with Adderall and it’s a classic tale of getting strung out. She was in college and stressing about a paper due the next day and a friend offered her Adderall. It helped her finish on time, she loved the feeling, and she started using it all the time to study. She eventually lied to a doctor to get her own prescription, started having weird reactions from taking so much and ended up in the ER with a panic attack but continued using it all the time. When not on the drug she had no energy to do anything. Right before getting clean she said that her life had become a paradox. The Adderall that she was taking to be able to work hard towards becoming a writer had robbed her of her love for writing and she stopped working towards it until she was able to get clean.
When I was selling my own Adderall prescription, I met a girl (we’ll call her C.). She was in graduate school and working as a waitress at a busy restaurant. At first, she would buy five or ten pills here and there. We became friends and started hanging out once in a while. She was pretty laid back, she laughed a lot, and was fun to be around. After a while, as she got closer to graduating, she got busier and more stressed out and started buying more pills more frequently, asking for fifteen or twenty every couple of weeks. By the time she graduated, C. had gotten used to taking them daily. She got a full-time job in her chosen field and continued working at the restaurant. The job was demanding and she was very driven to succeed. Fifteen to twenty pills eventually turned into thirty or more and they wouldn’t last her that long. When my prescription got close to the refill date, she would text and call me several times a day to ask about it. By then she was buying fifty or sixty and would ask me to promise not to sell pills to other people because she didn’t want to run out. C. would have me meet her as soon as the script was filled and she’d make excuses to leave work if she had to in order to come get them. Eventually, she was buying the whole prescription and would get furious if I sold to anyone else. Sometimes I did when she didn’t have cash because I needed dope money and we got into fights all the time. For the last several months before I got to rehab, she would go through nearly my entire script within two weeks. She would call me, desperate for me to try and find more.
C. got strung out on Adderall but I didn’t care at the time because I was strung out on dope myself. After three months of rehab, I contacted her to see how she was doing. She immediately asked me to refill my script and got angry when I told her that I couldn’t sell her pills anymore. I thought we had been friends but when I no longer could give her what she called her “helpers”, we stopped talking. That was eight months ago. I see now what a destructive force Adderall became in her life. It was her decision to use and she was able to get pills elsewhere but not nearly as many as from me. I have a lot of guilt over contributing to her downward spiral. It’s something I’ll probably always feel guilt over. I know what addiction does to people but being an active part in getting someone hooked on something that I never had thought was that bad and then watching her life degenerate was a heartbreaking experience.
Today, I understand just how dangerous Adderall is. It is a high-potential-for-abuse drug but seems innocuous to a lot of people and that makes it even more dangerous. With the competitive nature of our society, Adderall has the potential to become an even bigger problem in the drug epidemic.