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In Defense of Adderall

Google the word "Adderall" and there are literally thousands of negative news stories about the horrors of the popular ADHD drug.

With headlines glaring about the dangers of the drug -- everything from "The Truth About My Adderall Addiction" to "Adderall Abuse Increases Among High School Students" -- it seems that on top of the supposed Adderall abuse epidemic, there's also an epidemic of slamming the drug.

Well, perhaps that's not so responsible.

Here's the thing. Chances are, the majority of the people -- whether they are children or adults -- who take Adderall, or some form of ADHD medicine, probably need it. I am one of those people.

I never really understood that my brain worked in a different way from most people's until Adderall swooped in to save the day. I just thought that I was incredibly stupid. That's what happens to kids with undiagnosed ADHD, though. They feel like they're broken when they see their peers grasp concepts that just don't click. ADHD medicine, if it's the right type and the right dosage, tends to fix that broken feeling. It's a good thing.

That feeling of utter stupidity wasn't always looming in my brain, as I suspect it isn't for most kids with attention deficits. I spent my elementary school years excelling in school. I was creative, I could draw and words came easily, as long as they were written rather than spoken. I knew I was smart.

But as the concepts grew harder and formal math became a step-by-step process that required the understanding and recollection of a specific formula -- take algebra, for example -- I could no longer keep up. Those vast expanses of time where I would daydream could no longer be covered up by my ability to fill in the gaps. My test scores dropped. I was terrified at the idea of exams, and I was a failure.

I still excelled at being creative; hand me a paintbrush or a pencil, and I could make amazing things, as a lot of kids with ADHD can. But hand me a pencil and a line of numbers, and I was utterly fucked.

Fail at something enough, and it's easy to give up trying. It becomes embarrassing to keep failing after honest attempts at grasping concepts, especially in front of a group of your peers in school, and eventually it becomes easier to give up. I found that if I gave up, I didn't let myself down when I failed. I had set out to just not do the work from the beginning, and I had succeeded at failing. That's the unfortunate reality for a lot of kids -- and adults -- with unmedicated ADHD.

 

Things got better, though. A closer look at why I was struggling, thanks to some amazingly patient adoptive parents, along with a proactive doctor, and the puzzle pieces began to fit together again. One small blue pill, a bit of therapy and a ton of failed but improving attempts, and my academic self-esteem began to surface again.

These ADHD medications, for a large number of people, are necessary. They may not be the cure for cancer or the resolution of erectile dysfunction, but they're the key to my brain. And they're the key to my ability to have a normal life, and a normal thinking pattern, in which my thoughts are allowed to be lassoed into something manageable.

I like to equate the effect that ADHD medicine has on my brain with thinking in a straight line. Without it, my thoughts shoot out manically, broken into pieces and all headed in different directions. Struggling with thinking, just the mere process of thinking, makes it incredibly difficult ever to feel good at anything. On ADHD meds, I get to think in a straight line, and I get the relief of feeling like my brain is finally working in the manner that it should.

Is there a chance of abuse with ADHD drugs? Sure. Those stories recalling the horrors of stimulant addiction are real, and those people who suffered with the addiction are both brave and admirable for coming forward. But the use of a drug like Adderall does not immediately equal addiction. It equals addiction in some cases. Not all.

There is a risk of abuse with quite a number of things, and all addictions are dangerous, including Adderall addictions. But that doesn't mean we negate the usefulness of things like food simply because there are people who struggle with food addictions, or emotions, when people become co-dependent and addicted to the highs and lows of feelings. Folks who are predisposed to addictive behaviors will probably act on those behaviors, whether it involves Adderall or not.

And is there a chance of misdiagnosis? Absolutely. Any medical condition with merely symptoms rather than cold, hard physical evidence laid out in front of the doctor runs the risk of being misdiagnosed. But again, should we start shaming antipsychotics or schizophrenia drugs merely because the diagnosis pulls from a DSM rather than a lab report? Nope. Those people, just like the people struggling with ADHD, deserve to have the ability to be treated with medications, should they so choose.

The reality of ADHD numbers really isn't as harrowing as it seems, either. There are, according to the CDC, 6.4 million children, ages four to 17, that have, at one time or another, been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as of 2011. That is approximately 11 percent of the nation's population. That's not the number of children taking ADHD meds, though. That figure is at about 6.1 percent, which is significantly lower than the percentage of the population that have received a formal diagnosis of ADHD.

Not all of the folks who have been diagnosed with ADHD choose to take medications to treat it. There are people out there who have found alternatives to medication intervention, and they're able to cope with the symptoms and still function as productive members of society.

And then there are the people, just like me, who haven't been able to find a way to alleviate the hardships of that struggle with other alternatives. And we have stories, too. Stories that involve failed classes, self-esteem blows, and the feeling of being mentally inadequate because we just can't get it.

What I'm saying here is, if we're going to throw out these stories about the folks who have found themselves on the dark side of legal stimulants, we should also be looking at the folks who genuinely benefit from their usage in order to give both sides of the coin.

For every horror story detailing the abuse of Adderall, there is one waiting to be told of success. There is one of relief, and of thankfulness for a drug that is often looked at in a negative light, and as a crutch. And neither story negates the other.


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