Let me state forthright that I do not, in any way, endorse the use of illegal drugs. This article primarily addresses the legal use of a criminalized substance by way of doctor’s prescription.
ADHD sufferers*, unequivocally, have a hard time in school and in any work environment; it is often what defines their lives. Some cases go undiagnosed until adulthood, at which point stimulants are usually prescribed. As the ladder often goes, Ritalin, Adderall, Desoxyn. Or more plainly, methylphenidate, amphetamine, and then as a last resort, methamphetamine. Adderall mostly consists of d-amphetamine, which is commonly referred to as the “benchmark” by which all other stimulants are judged. I haven’t met anyone who has tried or been prescribed methamphetamine. Much of this is probably due to the hellish stigma attached to it; simply mentioning “meth” or “crystal meth” in any interaction is bound to be followed by an awkward silence.
Through the media we’re fed before-and-after images of meth addicts, as a blunt (and deservedly so) depiction of the havoc that it can wreak on one’s body and mind. Yet it only takes a bit of digging to realize that it is legal to prescribe in the U.S., albeit under strict regulation.
The Japanese invented the drug around the early 1900s and only in World War II did it find a use; Kamikaze Pilots used it; Hitler used it; Allied forces dabbled in it as well. More than any other substance it made people “brave” with an inflated sense of power and self-assurance, enough to run headfirst into machine gun fire (and presumably through the bullets themselves, if that end scene in “Scarface” has any basis in reality).
But this article isn’t about methamphetamine; it’s about the class of stimulants that it belongs to. Cocaine and Amphetamine are closely related in their effects, with the latter tending to be safer and longer-acting. When most people think of Adderall, though, they probably don’t think of it as basically pure amphetamine – “speed” by street parlance. College students who use it to get good grades probably prefer that little factoid be kept under wraps. Just as valium and the benzodiazepines became “mother’s little helper” in the 60s, it seems Adderall is fast becoming this generation’s “study drug”.
I never used it in college, nor did any of my friends. Long after graduating, a friend of mine was diagnosed with ADHD for the second time, and cautiously put on stimulants. He began on Ritalin, which had a very minor effect, and eventually moved to taking 30-45 mg of Adderall per day. This is a slightly above-average dose for an ADHD-afflicted adult; some take 60 mg or more. The effect was dramatic for him; it turned chaos into order; anarchy into serenity. For once he was able to maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle as well as maintain a level of productivity throughout the day. Whereas before the only thing that held his attention was MMORPGs (e.g. World of Warcraft), now he could pursue his dreams rather than be forced into being content with them as they always were, un-realizable and unreachable fantasies.
Just as all this happened, he reached the brink of financial ruin and the inevitable breakup with his long-term girlfriend. “Starting life in my late 20s” is how he puts it. There remained a fair amount of bitterness over having to swim upstream for most of his life whilst others cruised, knowing there was something wrong but never being able to articulate it. The anger over being ripped out of bed every morning on 6 hours sleep (at best) and thrown into the extreme social sphere that was middle and high school, lingered. To him it was a 10-year, excruciating haze, if anything worsening his preparedness for the “real world” after college (a 5-year, less-excruciating haze).
And so it goes, a brutally simple, elegantly efficient drug can become the secular messiah of one’s life. Suddenly one can see oneself and the world around it with clear eyes. But nothing can hide the creases and the dark lines around them, the scarred soul that lies beneath. I would infer that no drug will ever be a panacea for mental illness, much the same way that mental illness always is unique to the individual. “I may or may not have ADHD,” he says, “but I do have trouble concentrating.”
*The existence of Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder is still a topic of contention; most doctors accept that it exists, yet it remains poorly understood. Source information for this article comes from various articles and videos as well as first- and second-hand experience.