I took Adderall from the age of 18 until I was 24. That’s six years. That’s 2,190 days. I couldn’t tell you how many pills that is because some days I took one, some days I took four.
I recently read that over 3.5 million American kids are currently taking some sort of ADHD medication: a 500% increase since 1990. According to various studies published in The New York Times, sales in US prescriptions for ADHD drugs like Adderall (such as Concerta, Ritalin, and Dexedrine) reached almost $9 billion. For the record, back in 2010, via a co-pay, I paid ten bucks for 120 pills.
The truth is that when I got my first prescription, I really did need it. Well, I guess I needed it in that #whitegirlproblems kinda way. I was going through a horrific breakup with a boyfriend, a horrific breakup with a group of friends, and felt completely overwhelmed by everything going on around me. I had no ability to concentrate on anything. I couldn’t stay awake during class. I couldn’t write a paper. I could barely make it through a day without taking, on average, three naps.
One appointment, one 30-minute talk session, and one prescription of 120 pills later, and I was set. I could write a book on the rush of emotions I experienced prior to taking my first pill: a vivid mixture of fear and excitement. And I know what you’re thinking. This girl is crazy. It’s just Adderall. Everyone takes it. It’s not heroin. And you’re right. But when you grow up one of the lucky ones—parents that love you, nice home, dog, good friends, good education—your options of getting racy are limited.
It took about a month for me to get hooked. I remember the first few times I felt symptoms of withdrawal—clammy hands, dry mouth, and nausea among them. But that Adderall-induced feeling had become my new normal. I wasn’t only doing well in school; I was doing well in life.
Need to be up for an early breakfast? Take a pill.
Need to be happy for dinner with the parents? Take a pill.
Need to feel super energized for the Barney’s Warehouse liquidation? Pre-sample sale pill popping was fine by me.
I knew that you could get addicted to prescription pills. (I’ve seen Lifetime Original Movies, people.) In class, we talked about the prescription drug problem in this country. I knew that doctors were making money off of “those dumb people” that begged them to write prescriptions. I assumed that the pharmaceutical companies were in on it too. I guess it just didn’t register that, as I sat in on these dialogues in lecture halls, I was one of those dumb people.
Adderall helped me graduate college in three years. I’d be lying if I said I think I could have done college that fast without it. I wanted to graduate early because I was unhappy, and I didn’t feel like figuring out how to fix that. Instead of working on myself, figuring out what was going on inside my head, I would just take another blue pill. It would enable me to read faster, go to the gym longer, stay up later, and really, just be happier.
After graduating, I kept on popping Adderall. I was scared I would gain weight if I stopped taking it. And I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to function at all without it. I sort of assumed I would take Adderall forever.
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I was out to dinner one night with my mother when she commented on it. She asked me if I was on something and I didn’t even know how to respond. Asking if someone is “on something” to me implied hard drug use. Was I on something? I don’t know. I guess I was. I looked strung out, she told me. I was talking fast and losing track of where I was in sentences. I was up one second and down the next and it was freaking her out.
It was less confrontation than inquiry, but it was enough to make me think about thinking about stopping. I mean, I never had ADHD. What I had, in retrospect, was depression.
It didn’t stop cold turkey. I was in therapy and getting help, but it wasn’t an easy process and I slipped up a number of times. Not to sound like a wimp, but getting off of any drug, even Adderall, makes you feel like you have mono, the stomach flu, and strep throat all at once. Finally the whole thing just felt so pathetic that I flushed the remaining pills down the toilet.
I wish I could say that since then I’ve never had the urge to take Adderall, but the truth is that I pretty much always think things would be easier if I was on it. But easier is no longer what I want in my life, and that knowledge came from taking the time to learn about myself the right way. Cheesy, maybe. Honest, yes.