I was first introduced to Adderall a few years ago by a friend deep in the anorexic abyss. At the time I wrote it off as just more evidence of the all-consuming nihilism of the disease. Not only was she starving herself, working out hours every day and popping diet pills like candy but now she was taking prescription meds too – just one more thing to maintain her tortuously thin frame. To her though it was significant: it allowed her to maintain her focus and mental functioning during an illness that is notorious for compromising both. Yet, I wrote it off. Anorexics will also tell you to punch yourself in the stomach every time it growls and to drink vinegar to dampen your hunger. Crazy talk. (And you know that being stuck in the revolving door of eating disorders myself, I mean that with love.)
Other than the occasional mention of it in relation to superskinny celebs (ahem, Lindsay Lohan), I forgot about it until today when an acquaintance of mine brought it up again. To encapsulate a very lengthy conversation, the general idea is that while she does not have ADHD – the disorder for which the drug is legally prescribed – she takes it every day and sees huge benefits from it. After hearing about it from another friend (and trying out a couple of Friend’s pills), she managed to wrangle a scrip from her doctor under semi-false pretenses. But oh was it worth it, she raved. Not only does she have laser-sharp focus now but she can get an entire day’s worth of work done in 5 hours!
In addition to making her the Energizer Bunny, it’s also made her a Playboy Bunny. “I never worry about my weight now!” she exulted and then chastised me in the same breath: “You’re too obsessed with your exercise and food. You just need to learn to chill out about it, like me. I eat whatever I want and exercise when it feels good and I’m 15 pounds lighter than I was in high school!” Which is true, incidentally. I have long admired/been irritated by Girlfriend’s ability to maintain her modelesque figure without any apparent effort.
“But you’re taking drugs,” I replied pointedly.
“So?” She was entirely unremorseful. “They’re not addictive and they’re not diet pills or anything. In fact, all they do is make me more me!” I must have looked incredulous because she continued, “You know those days you have when you’re totally on? Everything runs smoothly, you have tons of energy, you don’t forget anything and you do the best work of your life?”
“Um, yeah.” While few and far between, I do have those days. They’re awesome.
“Well with Adderall you can have those days every day.”
Some scientists actually agree with my friend. In the December 2008 issue of Nature magazine, several researchers posit that we should be promoting Adderall and other cognitive enhancing drugs saying, “Society must respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement. That response must start by rejecting the idea that ‘enhancement’ is a dirty word.” They make the case that these drugs have very few side effects and provide a lot of benefit even for people without the illness or disorder they are designed for. This off-label, Brave New World use of the pharmaceuticals has been popular for a decade with college and high school students looking for an edge, not to mention the Hollywood starlet set.
Think of it: a pill that not only increases your energy, mental capacity and functioning but also makes you effortlessly thin! It is kinda perfect, right?
My mind has been rolling that one around all day. It’s one thing to be promised effortless weight management – especially when I’ve had to put so much work and energy into figuring out a healthy relationship with food – but it’s the mental acuity that really has me wondering. They say you lose 10 IQ points with each kid you have. I’d say that’s a conservative estimate. Between the exhaustion and the monotony and the making up of rules you never thought you’d have to make (“We don’t lick everything at head height in the grocery store, darling!”), my mind is like Jell-O riddled with buckshot. (True story: I actually had buckshot Jell-O once. A friend gave me a quail full of teeeeny bullets that were impossible to remove but I tried to cook it anyhow. The meat on plate comingled with my Jell-O and… gross.)
And you’re telling me a pill can fix all that? (Except for the part where I let my food touch?)
My gut still thinks it’s a bad idea though. So today I’ve been looking up all the bad things about Adderall on the Internet. And the Internet being, well, the Internet, there are plenty of bad things out there. For one thing, Adderall comes with the ominous “black box warning” from the FDA meaning it can cause death or serious harm. There are also reports that it increases anxiety – something I certainly don’t need any help with – and heart irregularities. Not to mention that these drugs haven’t been around long enough to know what their long-term effects are going to be. And I’d be lying if I didn’t add that part of it is just jealousy. It’s not fair that I have to measure up to these perfect medicated women! Whose clothes always match! And who never forget to pick up their child from preschool! And whose houses don’t look like Mordor envisioned by IKEA!
I’m already terrified of “not living up to my potential” but this self-medicating – it is a bad idea, right? I’m not talking about taking drugs for medical problems that you legitimately have, ADHD included – I have no problem with that. I’m talking here about using stimulants to give you a leg up. Have you ever done it? Would you ever do it? Anyone else ever feel inadequate trying to live up to an airbrushed-botoxed-lipo’d-Adderall’d standard??
PS> I am not now taking Adderall nor have I ever done so in the past. The only prescription drug I take is my anti-depressant. Which I will probably be on forever. Sigh. Just wanted to make that abundantly clear.
Note: Parts of this post are from one I wrote two years ago but a conversation today with a friend about her, yes, illicit Adderall use made me think this discussion needs to happen again. I’m telling you, I now know more people on this pill than I have fingers. Suburban epidemic?