Design by Pichamon Chamroenrak
How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is one person’s powerful perspective.
Further, we urge you to work with your healthcare provider to address any physical or mental health concerns, and never stop a medication on your own.
“Well, you definitely have ADHD.”
This was my diagnosis during a 20-minute appointment, after my psychiatrist scanned my answers to a 12-question survey.
It felt anticlimactic. I’d been researching attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and its treatment for months prior, and I guess I was expecting some kind of sophisticated blood or saliva test.
But after a quick diagnosis, I was given a prescription for 10 milligrams of Adderall, twice a day, and sent on my way.
Adderall is one of several stimulants that are approved to treat ADHD. When I became one of the millions of people with an Adderall prescription, I was looking forward to experiencing its promise of more focus and productivity.
I didn’t realize that it would come with other consequences that made me reconsider whether the benefits were worth it.
Young and undiagnosed with ADHD
Like most people with ADHD, my issues with attention and focus began young. But I didn’t fit the profile of a typical kid with the disorder. I didn’t act out in class, wasn’t in trouble often, and got pretty good grades throughout high school.
Reflecting on my school days now, the biggest symptom I showed then was a lack of organization. My backpack looked like a bomb had exploded among all my papers.
In a conference with my mom, my second-grade teacher described me as “an absent-minded professor.”
Surprisingly, I think my ADHD actually got worse as I got older. Getting a smartphone my freshman year of college was the beginning of a slow decline in my ability to pay attention for a sustained period of time, a skill of mine that wasn’t strong to begin with.
I started freelancing full-time in May 2014, a few years after graduating. A year or two into self-employment, I started feeling that my lack of focus was a problem more serious than having too many tabs open in my browser.
Why I got professional help
As time went by, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was underachieving. It’s not that I wasn’t making decent money or enjoying the work. Sure, it was stressful at times, but I genuinely enjoyed it and was doing fine financially.
Yet, some part of me realized how often I’d jump from task to task, or how I’d walk into a room and forget why seconds later.
I recognized it wasn’t an optimal way to live.
Then my urge to Google took over. I opened up tab after tab researching Adderall dosages and ADHD tests tirelessly.
Stories of kids without ADHD taking Adderall and spiraling into psychosis and addiction underscored the seriousness of what I was considering.
I’d taken Adderall a few times in high school to study or stay up late at parties. And I believe taking Adderall without a prescription had actually made me want to be safer with it. I knew the drug’s power firsthand.*
Finally, I set up an appointment with a local psychiatrist. He confirmed my suspicions: I had ADHD.
Since I only took Adderall during the work week, getting off the couch on the weekends often felt like a massive undertaking.
The unexpected downside of Adderall: weekly withdrawals
The focus I enjoyed those few days after filling my prescription was wonderful.
I wouldn’t say I was a new person, but there was a noticeable improvement in my concentration.
As someone who was looking to drop a few pounds anyway, I didn’t mind the suppressed appetite, and I still slept decently.
Then the withdrawals hit me.
In the evenings, while coming down from my second and last dose of the day, I became moody and irritable.
Someone not holding a door open or my girlfriend asking a simple question was suddenly infuriating. It got to the point where I just tried to avoid interacting with anyone while coming down, until I either went to sleep or the withdrawal wore off.
Things deteriorated that first weekend.
On Friday, I had plans to end work a bit early and hit happy hour with a friend, so I skipped my second dose, not wanting to take it without having work to focus on.
I still remember vividly how drained and sluggish I felt sitting at the bar’s high-top table. I slept for over 10 hours that night, but the next day was even worse.
It took all the energy I had to even get out of bed and move to the couch. Exercising, hanging out with friends, or anything that involved leaving my apartment seemed like a Herculean task.
At my next appointment, my psychiatrist confirmed that the weekend withdrawals were a real side effect.
After four straight days of consistent doses, my body had grown dependent on the drug for a baseline level of energy. Without the amphetamines, my desire to do anything but veg out on the couch disappeared.
My doctor’s answer was for me to take a half dose on weekends to maintain my energy. This wasn’t the plan we had originally discussed, and maybe I was being a bit dramatic, but the idea of taking amphetamines every day for the rest of my life to function normally rubbed me the wrong way.
I still don’t know why I reacted so negatively to being asked to take Adderall seven days a week, but reflecting on it now, I have a theory: control.
Only taking the medication while working meant I was still in control. I had a specific reason for taking this substance, would be on it for a defined period, and wouldn’t need it outside this period.
On the other hand, taking it every day meant that my ADHD was controlling me.
I felt like I’d have to admit I was powerless over my condition — not how I see myself, as a guy doing decently whose natural brain chemistry just makes me more distracted than the average person.
I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of ADHD and Adderall controlling me then. I’m not even really sure I’m comfortable with it now.
I may try to analyze my decision and revisit Adderall at some point down the road. But for now, I’m satisfied with my decision to stop taking it.
Deciding the benefits of Adderall weren’t worth the comedown
My doctor and I tried other options to treat my focus issues, including antidepressants, but my digestive system reacted poorly.
Eventually, after about two months of Adderall consistently making me irritable and fatigued, I made a personal decision to stop taking Adderall every day.
I want to highlight the phrase “personal decision” above, because that’s exactly what it was. I’m not saying that everyone with ADHD shouldn’t take Adderall. I’m not even saying I’m sure that I shouldn’t be taking it.
It was simply a choice I made based on the way my mind and body were affected by the drug.
I decided to embark on a non-pharmaceutical quest to improve my attention. I read books on focus and discipline, watched TED talks about mental toughness, and embraced the Pomodoro method to work on only one task at a time.
I used an online timer to track every minute of my work day. Most importantly, I created a personal journal that I still use almost every day to set goals and a loose schedule for the day.
I’d love to say this completely cured my ADHD and I lived happily ever after, but that’s not the case.
I still deviate from the schedule and goals I set, and my brain still screams at me to check Twitter or my email inbox while I’m working. But after reviewing my time logs, I can say objectively that this regimen has made a positive impact.
Seeing that improvement in the numbers was motivation enough for me to continue working to get better at concentrating.
I truly believe that focus is like a muscle that can be trained and made stronger, if pushed to the point of discomfort. I try to embrace this discomfort and fight through my natural urges to get off-track.
Am I done with Adderall forever? I don’t know.
I still take one of the remaining pills I have once a quarter or so, if I really need to focus or have a lot of work to get done. I’m open to exploring pharmaceutical alternatives to Adderall designed to soften its withdrawal symptoms.
I also recognize that much of my experience was colored by my psychiatrist’s style, which probably wasn’t right for my personality.
If you’re struggling with concentration or focus and aren’t sure if prescription amphetamines are right for you, my advice is to explore every treatment option and learn as much as you can.
Read up about ADHD, talk to medical professionals, and get in touch with people you know who take Adderall.
You may find that it’s your miracle drug, or you may find that, like me, you prefer to enhance your concentration naturally. Even though it comes with more moments of disorganization and distraction.
In the end, as long as you’re taking some action to take care of yourself, you’ve earned the right to feel confident and proud.
*It’s not advised to take medication without a prescription. Work with your doctor or mental health provider if you have health issues you’d like to address.