Why Adderall Is The Only Drug That Scares Me
Let's talk about drugs. Let's talk about them fairly and honestly, like the mature and respectful adults we are.
They're pretty f*cking fun, right?
If you disagree with me, let's take one look at your Coachella pictures from last year. Oh, you soberly put on that Native American headdress and carried a wizard staff? My bad.
(To my lovely mother, if you're reading this, you can stop here. Creative writing is fun.)
I, for one, have certainly had my fair share of drug-induced experiences. From hallucinogenics to narcotics and sedatives, I was never exactly “uptight” when it came to experimentation.
And now, for the most part, I'd say I'm doing pretty well.
I have a normal job and a college degree, and I can keep up with the amount of characters on "Game of Thrones" as well as any. (I did read the books; that's arguably a bigger feat.)
There's only one drug I've ever taken that has truly had a haunting and terrifying effect on me, one I can actually say has left scars.
I'm talking about Adderall, Ritalin and other “study drugs.”
But before I go on, let me give you a brief history of my relationship with Adderall. Like many, I was diagnosed at a very young age with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
I was about 5 or 6 years old when I was first prescribed Adderall, and I spent my adolescence shifting around to different medications, in attempt to avoid the barrage of side effects associated with them.
As I entered my teenage years, I began lying to my parents and flushing my pills down the toilet.
I didn't want to feel different than anyone else, and the idea of using a pill as a handicap hurt my prepubescent pride.
Though I was too young to articulate it, the drugs had a way of making me feel “weird.”
I stopped taking medication all together at around 13, and I spent the next 10 years of my life avoiding study drugs like they were the bubonic plague.
I recall being in my therapist's office my freshman year of college, as she insisted the drugs would help in some way.
“I'm not getting back on Adderall,” I would say firmly, which was stupid because I could have made a lot of money, but that's a whole other conversation.
I was reintroduced to the drug when I was 23, and I immediately felt a gravitational pull toward it. My friend and I bought two pills off his girlfriend to finish a project, and man, was it incredible.
I was productive, I was articulate, and I was efficient. I was intellectual, and I still had my wit.
In other words, I was f*cking Tony Stark.
During the next month, I found myself buying it over and over again. The rush it gave me was immensely enjoyable. In fact, it was the only drug I'd ever say I felt somewhat of an addiction to.
I would use menial tasks as an excuse to take it.
Have expense reports to finish? Laundry to do? Out of groceries? Adderall not only made these things bearable, but it actually made them semi-enjoyable.
However, the rush I had initially experienced was getting shorter and less fulfilling with each passing dose.
And the crashes, holy crap, the crashes were getting bad. I would be agitated, depressed and for lack of better word, evil.
Around the time of my 24th birthday, my colleagues and I went out to New York to film a commercial where we all participated in a week-long Adderall binge.
In retrospect, it was one of the worst weeks of my life, though I can't even tell you why. Nothing really went wrong, yet my moods were all over the place. I was discombobulated and incoherent.
And I was mean, like really mean. My friends and coworkers didn't want anything to do with me. They'd rightfully disregard my outbursts over the stupidest, minute details.
And it's not like the work I did that week was actually any good. It was riddled with poor craftsmanship and mistakes; I just simply did a lot of it.
Never had a drug altered who I was as a person the way Adderall did during that one week.
I've eaten mushrooms and romped through the canals of Amsterdam. I've dropped LCD and reflected about the life of rocks in the wilderness.
I've taken MDMA and told my friends how much I love them in a Vegas nightclub.
In other words, I've done everything adults always told me not to do in my youth, and I ended up fine.
And now, the only drug to ever have an addictive and negative effect on me, is the one that has been shoved down my throat by dozens of medical professionals and teachers throughout my adolescence.
And it's not like these side effects aren't well-documented. There was a clear understanding of them when I was first prescribed Adderall in the early 90s.
So, why is there no pronounced stigma against it?
I knew kids in college who wouldn't touch a glass of whiskey with a 10-foot pole, yet they popped Ritalin on the daily.
“But Daniel,” you may be saying right about now, “that's just your personal experience! What do you really know about drugs?”
So now, I summon the power of science to my aid! Ready?
Study drugs work by blocking the dopamine transmitters in the brain, causing dopamine (happy chemical) to build up in the synapse.
Dopamine is the chemical that helps us control behavior and action. Therefore, an excess of dopamine is a logical counterstrike to ADHD.
Though the chemical makeup of the study drug may vary, the effect desired is generally the same.
But there is another drug that works in a very similar way, the very drug that got Al Pacino sprayed with bullets at the end of "Scarface."
Yes, I'm talking about cocaine.
In fact, it only takes one Google image search to learn the chemical makeup of Ritalin and cocaine is almost identical.
What's the difference? The time of release. Whereas cocaine's effects hit the brain all at once, Ritalin extends the release over a period of time, thus, in theory, making it less addictive.
But it's still, in essence, a medicated form of speed. And so, when it's ingested improperly (i.e. snorting), or taken at too high of a dose, it can have some pretty terrible effects on the brain.
Improper use can easily lead to a dependency and create a pretty significant tolerance build up. Hell, even proper use can have some serious negative effects, as proven by my childhood.
In fact, I recall talking to an older writer a few years back.
“We used to do cocaine during work all the time, until they came out with Ritalin,” he told me.
It's interesting that a pill that's prescribed to six million people throughout the US can act as a substitute to a cocaine habit.
It's also interesting that 10 to 30 percent of reported cocaine addicts were previously diagnosed with ADHD.
Cocaine is commonly associated with partying. Its negative effects have been promulgated time and time again by doctors, lawyers and other people who don't enjoy fun things.
But, study drugs are associated with, well, studying or other daily routines that are traditionally done sober.
Yet, research has shown study drugs block up to 70 percent of dopamine transporters, while cocaine only blocks 50 percent.
This is proof that not only do these drugs provide a similar experience to cocaine, they actually do a much better job of it.
I, for one, have never had the same draw to cocaine as I did to Adderall, but I immediately felt their similarities.
Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't take these drugs as that would be hypocritical. I'm saying you should be aware of what you're ingesting and how it's affecting your brain.
Furthermore, I'm asking everyone to call these drugs what they are. Just because it comes in a prescription pill bottle should not make it immune to certain stigmas.
These very stigmas, though at times falsely predicated, may prompt users to actually research what they're taking.
And just like any form of drug use, the repeated intake of these chemicals can alter both personality and character.
So by all means, keep doing what you're doing. You rocked that headdress at Coachella last year better than anyone.
But it would be foolish of any of us Millennials to believe that a pill we can pawn off a friend's little brother for $5 a pop is not on par with any other serious drug of our time.
I, for one, will have to find another way to start enjoying my laundry sober.