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Addled on Adderall
Pills helped me study, but wrecked my social life
Anonymous
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Names have been changed.

My dad thinks that, because the private school I attend is so expensive, he should get the results that he’s paying for. When either my brother or I falter, he blows up.

Once, in 7th grade, what started as a dinner conversation about what I could do to pull up my grades ended with my dad shouting at me for being lazy and not working hard enough. When he said those things to me, I felt like a loser and a disappointment. I also felt guilty that I was wasting his money.

I resolved to try harder in school and prove to my dad that I cared about his sacrifices. This, along with my own personal desire to do well and a school environment where my friends whined over getting a B+, made me feel an immense pressure to succeed. I developed a competitive side that was fueled by insecurity and anxiety about not being as smart or hard-working as my peers.

Daily Stress

By the time I was a high school freshman, my anxiety—and my schedule—was out of control. A typical day went something like this: Wake up at 7 a.m. and grab a Red Bull to drink on my way to school. In class, I remind myself to raise my hand and force myself to concentrate. I solve an equation in Algebra 2, but I have the wrong answer, and my face flushes red with embarrassment as some other girl raises her hand and flawlessly corrects the mistake. Time for English, where I try hard to say something that will make my teacher exclaim, “Brilliant!” I fail.

Walking to lunch, I hear a junior complaining about the SATs, which sends a wave of panic through me. Now lunch. Tara’s mad at Samantha for some reason and wants me to agree with her that Sam’s a bitch. Then Sam pulls me aside and tries to convince me that Tara's a bitch. Truth is, I don’t really care. Before I’ve eaten half my grilled cheese, the bell rings and my half hour lunch break is over. It’s time for more tests, more hurdles for me to jump over, more chances for me to prove myself, though I never quite feel like I’m doing anything right.

The stress doesn’t end after school. I need to write articles for the school paper or volunteer at a homeless shelter or design a layout for the yearbook. I feel an intense need to get into an amazing, impressive college, and in order to do that, I think I have to do a ridiculous amount of extracurriculars. Almost all of the kids at my school go on to top colleges; in fact, the whole point of my school is prepare us to get into top colleges.

I finally get home at 7 p.m., watch TV while snacking, then take a nap until 10:30. I miss dinner, but I’ve filled up on Pringles so it doesn’t matter. I wake up panicked, remembering the massive stack of homework I have sitting on my desk; I down another Red Bull to get motivated. Whenever I encounter a difficult math problem or English question, I have a moment of panic. I worry that my answer will be wrong, so instead of giving it a shot, I procrastinate and focus on Facebook.

Finally, at 1:30 a.m., I collapse into bed, not quite ready to resume the routine in just five and a half hours. I’m still wired from the Red Bull, so I toss and turn, thinking about how something in this routine has to change.

I should have tried to increase my energy by getting to sleep earlier, eating healthier, limiting my extra-curriculars, and cutting down on Facebook. I did all of these things eventually. But back then, none of these ideas occurred to me. Maybe I didn’t think I was capable of making these changes on my own. Instead, I found the answer in a pill.

A Capsule of Focus

One day, I was surfing the internet instead of studying for a biology test, when I read an article about how college students were using the prescription drug Adderall, usually prescribed to people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), to get ahead. According to the students interviewed, the drug allowed them to concentrate better, and gave them enough energy to stay up late studying for hours at a time.

Even though the article listed the dangers of using Adderall without a prescription—irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures, potential for heart failure or seizures, feelings of hostility or paranoia—I was fascinated by the idea that a drug could help someone do better in school.

In my mind, I was way behind my peers and needed all the help I could possibly get. I was sick of feeling inadequate, sick of getting the wrong answer in math class and never feeling like I was working hard enough. My insecurities had been building during the first months of freshman year, and I would do almost anything to get rid of them. After watching another documentary about Adderall on YouTube, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. But how?

I had my own blog on the website Tumblr, where I posted pictures, videos and quotes that I liked. None of my friends had Tumblr blogs but me, so I felt that I could express myself freely. However, the blog is also public, and lots of other people use Tumblr.

An idea occurred to me. What if I created a post asking if there was anyone who lived in New York City who would sell me Adderall? I didn’t have my name anywhere on my blog, so I figured I couldn’t get in trouble for it. I impulsively created the post, then hit “publish.”

Drug Deal at Barnes & Noble

The next day, a girl named Sarah replied, telling me that she had access to the drug. I was terrified to meet up with a stranger, but her blog gave the impression that she was a normal high school kid in need of some money. I knew she could have been lying and that she might not be who she said she was. And, of course, purchasing Adderall without a prescription is illegal. Though I was vaguely aware of these dangers at the time, I was so focused on trying to get ahead that my better judgment was obscured.

We planned to meet at the Union Square Barnes &Noble after school. While going down the escalator, we made the trade-off: 4 pills for $20, one week of my allowance. During the cab ride home, I popped in one of the pills, $5 gone in an instant. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but once I got home and started my homework, I felt the effect quickly.

I started my homework at 5 p.m. The next time I looked up at the clock, it was 8:30. I had focused on my homework, without a break in concentration, for three and a half hours. I’d never done that before. I was starting to feel good and very energized, like I could do anything I put my mind to, so I decided to get ahead on the week’s work. By the time I had finished all of my history reading for the week, I realized that I had forgotten all about dinner, but I wasn’t even hungry. I felt superhuman.

After spending an hour cleaning and organizing my room, which was unusual for me, I headed to bed around 1:30 a.m. I was still keyed up. I’m a naturally anxious person and the Adderall intensified my anxiety; I spent four hours worrying about almost every aspect of my life before I finally fell asleep.

A Magic Pill?

The next morning, after just two hours of sleep, I was completely exhausted, foggy, and grumpy. After pulling myself out of bed, I remembered that I had Adderall, my secret power. I took another one of my pills, $5 gone, and pretty soon felt almost as energized as I did the night before. And thus the cycle began.

Despite the side effects, as the week wore on, I came to the conclusion that Adderall was the solution to all my problems. I could concentrate for hours, my mind felt sharper, and I felt more energized than ever. I realized, though, that at this rate, four pills wouldn’t cut it. I had about $400 saved up in my bank account from birthday and holiday presents, and that kept me going for a while. I was getting my homework done at record speeds, meeting with Sarah to replenish my stash about once a week, and I felt good.

My friends, however, started to notice that I was acting weird. Whenever we’d talk, I would always gear the conversation towards school and homework, which got old after a while. I’d always ask them what grades they got on papers and quizzes and tests so I could compare myself to them. They didn’t like how competitive and obsessive about schoolwork I was becoming.

image by Sharla Sava

I hardly had fun when I was hanging out with them, either. Because the Adderall amplified my anxiety, it caused me to ceaselessly compare myself to my friends, and kept me from letting loose or joking around them. On Adderall, I wasn’t really capable of having fun.

Though, at the time, I felt like Adderall was helping my school work, it was actually hurting it in unforeseen ways. Because Adderall sped me up, I lost the ability to thoroughly analyze my work. I didn’t take the time to edit and perfect my essays, and I often made careless mistakes in math and science.

One English essay I wrote when I was on Adderall was returned to me without a grade. I met with my English teacher, who said it wasn’t up to my usual standard, but mercifully gave me a B. He said that, while my paper had a lot of interesting ideas about the novel we were reading, the writing style was sloppy, repetitive, and unpolished. I had turned it in without proofreading it, and it was riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes.

I was also developing a resistance to Adderall, so I was using increasingly more of it to get the same effect. This was draining the money that I had carefully saved through the years. Worse, I was feeling dependent on it. In order to feel powerful and intelligent, I had to take the drug. When I wasn’t taking it, I felt sloppy and lazy. The longer this went on, the worse I felt about using it. I wasn’t proud of my work, or myself.

A Dangerous Combo

All of this culminated at my friend Maggie's party, about three weeks after I started taking Adderall. It was one of my first real high school parties, and my friends and I had been looking forward to it all month, carefully planning the guest list, making a playlist of good dance music, and cleaning her basement to be a party space.

People started arriving, and all of my friends were having fun, mingling and flirting with guys. But I couldn’t lose the intense anxiety brimming in me. I had taken a pill earlier in the day and it hadn’t worn off yet. My usual anxiety over schoolwork was now translated into social anxiety. I was scared that no one would talk to me or that I would embarrass myself. I am usually a bit nervous during big social situations, but it usually goes away quickly. This time, it wouldn’t go away.

In order to calm my nerves, I drank some of the Mike’s Hard Lemonade that Maggie's friend bought with a fake ID, but it only made me feel worse. Because Adderall severely reduced my appetite, I hadn’t eaten anything in a while and so the alcohol hit me stronger than I expected.

Adderall can hinder your ability to tell whether or not you’re too tired or intoxicated, so while on Adderall, you can end up drinking more than you’re used to. Although your mind might not recognize that you are drinking too much, your body is feeling the effect of the alcohol. This may have happened to me that night, because I started to feel very sick, even though I didn’t think that I drank too much. I was feeling so ill that I left the party extremely early, without saying goodbye to my friends.

Cut Off

I didn’t like how Adderall was crippling my social life, and it scared me how anxious I was becoming. I was sick of never getting a good night’s sleep, and going through my days feeling like an anxious, work-obsessed zombie. Plus, I could tell my mom was beginning to get suspicious about how often I was asking her for money.

I pushed my doubts away, though. I decided that I would have to sacrifice my emotional well being and my social life in order to succeed academically. I would continue to take the drug. It wasn’t completely up to me, though.

About a week after the party, I was sitting in assembly, fiddling with my cell phone when I got a text from Sarah. I almost had a heart attack when I read it. She said that she couldn’t sell me Adderall anymore because her little brother, from whom she was getting the Adderall to sell, was being taken off the drug.

I knew she was lying. When I saw her a week earlier, she had seemed concerned about me. When I told her I wanted 10 pills, she said, “Are you sure you want that many? Don’t take too much…” as she giggled nervously. I could tell she was having doubts about selling to me, and didn’t want to be responsible if something bad happened.

Now, I’m really grateful that she decided to stop, but at the time, I was pissed off. I texted her desperately, asking if she had any other hookups and to stop lying, but she wouldn’t change her mind and eventually stopped replying. I got in trouble for texting during assembly, but I didn’t care. I was on my last pill.

Changing My Habits

That week was difficult. Without the pills, I felt tired, irritable, hungry, and lazy. But these feelings went away within a few days and I began to feel more like my old self. I felt almost like I was waking up from a dream. I realized, though, that if I wanted to succeed without drugs, I had to make some kind of permanent change.

I decided to start small. I began to use my free periods to do homework instead of socialize, so I’d have more time to relax when I got home. I stopped napping after school, since I would always wake up groggy and not in the mood for homework. I set aside some time after school to use Facebook and socialize with my friends, but I closed social networking sites when I was trying to do homework.

These changes had a big impact on me, because they allowed me to complete my homework at an earlier hour, really concentrate while I was doing it, and get a better night’s sleep. I found that, when I was more rested, I could focus more in class, and my mind felt clearer. I even felt happier when I got more sleep.

These small changes added up, and pretty soon, my Bs became A-minuses. This success made me feel more confident, and I began to trust myself more. The confidence made me feel more comfortable asking questions in class. At first, asking questions for me was difficult and my heart pounded when I raised my hand, but eventually it got easier and easier. Asking questions helped me better understand what I was missing before, and improved my academic performance as well.

I Won’t Throw It All Away

I finished my freshman year with a good, but not perfect, academic record. I was proud that I had finally learned to adapt to high school life. However, my insecurity didn’t entirely vanish after my freshman year. It still pops up, and I have to make sure I manage it in a healthy way.

Right before midterms in my sophomore year, I didn’t do well on a geometry test that I had studied for. I was crushed, and thought about turning to Adderall again. After all, I reasoned, it was going to be midterms, and everyone does Adderall during exam season, right? A lot of the older kids at my school talked about it, so it couldn’t be that bad.

I went on another website, where there was a forum called “Adderall NYC.” I contacted a complete stranger, username Undercover Dolphin, about buying Adderall. We set up a time and a place to meet, but in the end I decided not to go.

I thought about all the progress I had made since freshman year, and reminded myself of the dangers of turning back to the drug. I reminded myself that just because I didn’t do well on one test doesn’t mean I couldn’t handle midterms. Before, I would compare myself to everyone else and wonder why I was so bad at geometry. This time, I pumped myself up and focused on doing the best that I could.

I finished the year with almost an A average. Even though my parents and teachers are proud of me, what matters most is that I am proud of myself, and that I earned those grades using my own capabilities.

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(WEB-2012-10-22)

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