Am I Addicted to Adderall?
A veteran entertainment journalist gets candid about their use of the popular drug in our "I Am An Outlier. This Is My Story" series.
January 8, 2020
During sessions with my psychiatrist, three to four times a year, there is a standard refrain.
Me: “Any new studies or info on the negative effects of Adderall?”
Doc: “Nothing new in the last 50 years.” When pressed, my doctor will say, “If I were concerned, I wouldn’t allow my sons to take it.”
In an average week, I take 10 mg of Adderall three or four evenings, as needed, to stay up late working on writing projects, a necessary side hustle (including the article you’re reading). For this, I’ve come to rely upon it. But I’ll also take it for long overnight drives. And sometimes I even take it on those five-to-ten nights a year when I stay out late at bars or parties with friends.
The adverse effects I feel from it—mood swings, mild headaches, jitteriness, lack of sleep—don’t seem worth mentioning during my sessions because they are all to be expected. My journalistic instincts want me to quiz my doctor until the Adderall advocate admits something, anything, bad about it. So why do I never press it? Probably because, even though I have a prescription and take less than I’m allowed to take, I’m not really supposed to be taking it.
Adderall, the most widely prescribed amphetamine, is a potent central nervous system stimulant primarily used as a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adolescents—increasing mental endurance and focus—since the early 2000s. No one disputes that Adderall can be helpful for those with ADHD in maintaining attention and general learning.
Designated “schedule II” due to its potentially addictive qualities—particularly when initially taken at an older age—it is commonly abused as a “study drug,” known to be popular among students in high school and college to improve academic performance. A 2008 report citing a series of studies estimated that up to 10 percent of high school students and 5 to 35 percent of college students were misusing stimulants. According to a Partnership at Drugfree.org/MetLife Foundation survey in 2013, 13 percent of teens in the U.S. had abused Adderall or similar drugs like Ritalin at some point. In 2017, over 5 percent of high school seniors reported having used Adderall or similar, more than any other prescription drug.
But the stimulant became popular outside of academic settings as well. In 2012, around 16 million Adderall prescriptions were written for Americans ages 20 and 39, according to a health data purveyor now called Iqiva. That same year, over 116,000 people were admitted to rehab for an issues with amphetamines like Adderall.
Warnings about addiction/withdrawal and the unknown long-term effects abound, mostly from the online content affiliated with treatment marketplaces such as addictioncenter.com, centeronaddiction.org and rightstep.com—the latter calls it a youth epidemic. The biggest problems with abusing Adderall for a long time show up not from overdose potential but during withdrawal, when dopamine reduction can cause depression, fogginess and lack of motivation. It has been connected to teen suicide as well.
The latest news on these type of amphetamine, however, is its growing acceptability. According to an April 2019 study, people are less likely to condemn abusers of Adderall and its ilk, when it’s being taken in the service of work—as opposed to for students or athletes. I guess I have that going for me.
Am I addicted? I do not crave the drug—often taking it reluctantly in the early evening to be productive through the night. Thus, I feel like its addictiveness, thankfully, doesn’t apply to me. What most worries me are concerns relayed to me by my professional writing peers, some of whom take it daily to plow through work. An investigative journalist friend said that it helped him transcribe faster and meet deadlines, but it also led to an inability to think creatively, a mental fogginess, both while using it and after. I use it to write, but I suspect it has led to my more punishing bouts of writer’s block too. Then there’s this rather frightening account of an Ivy Leaguer’s Adderall journey, a must-read for those who have started upping their amphetamine use. And I am definitely concerned about possible long-term effects, even though my psychiatrist isn’t.
I’ll know little about my level of addiction until I force myself to take a significant break. Will that mean a break from writing too? Maybe creative writing will come easier. I’ve resolved that the next time I go to the doctor, I will press him about it.
This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.