Why I Stopped Taking Adderall

Right around this time last year, a reputable psychiatrist and a desperate college student made a BIG mistake. One year later, I am still a desperate college student, minus a quasi-addiction to Adderall, and in the market for a new doctor. This is a story about bad mistakes and good intentions, procrastination, and how society is sucking the life out of young innocent teens like myself. If this sounds melodramatic, it's because I wish I was asleep right now, but I have two papers due tomorrow and a don't-even-get-me-started amount of readings. This is also the story of the Adderall addiction I developed during my first semester at Barnumbia. I know right? Groundbreaking: A student at an American College popping Adderall? The difference is, my doctor told me to. 

 

"Why don't you just do your work instead of writing a Her Campus article complaining about how much work you have?" BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO. I'm emotionally exhausted and I want dumplings. Leave me alone. 

 

I remember feeling the exact same way my first semester at Barnard, only on steroids. I had just moved to New York from Brazil, and I was far away from everyone I loved (and by that I mean my dog). In São Paulo, my identity was established: I was the editor of my high school newspaper and head delegate of my MUN team. I acted in every school play and hosted fundraisers for my school's Amnesty International chapter. In college, I was just some girl. People at Columbia didn't understand my outgoing-introvertedness. Spec’s open house scared the shit out of me, and the audition for Columbia's theatre production felt so foreign to me  that I went back to my dorm before I even had the chance to go onstage. 

 

Now that we've established that I was a messy, stressy, fussy Freshman, let's get into the biggest catalyst to all this stress : my body refuses to produce serotonin. That's my fancy way of saying I have “The Depression”. Although I knew then (and am certain now) that I am not the only person at Columbia who struggles with mental illness, it still felt that way sometimes. I remember sitting on the lawn and wondering why everyone else seemed to be thriving academically and socially while I needed to nap three times a day just to get by. So I did what I had been doing for the past couple of years before that: I went to see a psychiatrist. 

 

In the early fall of my freshman year, I went to see  Dr. Mothball (name changed to preserve her privacy because I'm an ethical journalist). She had a fancy office on Columbus Circle with around twenty diplomas crammed on the wall behind her desk. I hated her gloomy, musty office; but she was qualified and I was desperate. I told her I couldn't focus; I couldn't read, write, or party. I didn't feel like a college student, I felt weird and tired. She prescribed me Adderall as the solution to my problems. 

 

Some facts about Adderall that will be relevant to my oversharing: 

  1. "Adderall is an addictive prescription stimulant with effects similar to meth."

  2. "Stimulant drugs like amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) make you less hungry, and make your body burn calories faster than usual. Some of them are even used to help people lose weight."

 

I'm no doctor, nor do I feel the need to trash this particular health professional - she was the one who prescribed me sertraline, and it's done wonders for me. HOWEVER, I did tell Dr. Mothball that I had an addictive personality (my previous doctor's words, not mine), a couple of diagnosed eating disorders, and a whole lotta anxiety. So, in hindsight, Adderall was probably not the best idea. 

 

  1. "Adderall works by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the central nervous system. Dopamine, the body’s “feel-good” chemical, creates a rewarding effect. Although dopamine occurs naturally, drugs like Adderall produce unnaturally high levels of it. This can cause users to come back for more."

  2. "Over time, those habitually using Adderall develop a tolerance to the drug and are unable to function normally without it."

 

It was too much too fast. Too many feelings, too much energy. I didn't have to nap anymore - hell, I didn't even have to sleep. When you haven't been happy in a while, it's easy to confuse euphoria and anxiety with happiness and bursts of energy. I loved my newfound productivity: I was a machine, and dare I say I felt happy? The energy and the concentration was amazing, but the real winner was the lack of appetite. All my wishes had been granted: I no longer wanted to eat. My years of work to regain my health after so much time fighting off my anorexia felt meaningless - I felt in control again, and food couldn't hurt me if I didn't even want it, right? 

 

Wrong. I dropped 15 pounds in a couple of weeks and slept for 5 hours every other day. When I felt like I was about to pass out, I took another Adderall because "I was finally productive again" and "at the weight I wanted to be". I felt like everything was going according to plan - I was the machine college needed me to be, unstoppable. I thought that not taking time off for myself (or even sleeping) in favour of doing work was what I needed to do to feel accepted at this school - and I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who has ever felt that way. 

 

By December I was spending most of my days in my room or on the phone with my dad telling him how wonderful Adderall was, and how I had finally gotten my life back. Of course, he didn't know I hadn't slept in days, and that I wasn't eating a single meal, ever. After being depressed for so long, I finally felt alive. I remember thinking,  is this how "normal" people feel? 

 

In reality, I was dizzy and exhausted. Even the simplest of things, like climbing up Low Steps, felt like hell. But I couldn't stop. My teeth were grinding, my jaw hurt, and all I could think to do to curb the exhaustion was pop another pill.  

 

This went on until I went back home to Brazil for winter break. I told my dad I needed my Adderall because I had take home essays to do over break, but the truth was I didn't want to eat and had no idea how to sleep anymore. No matter how exhausted I was, sitting still didn't feel like an option - to me, rest had become synonymous with depression, and I never wanted to go back to that. Ever. 

 

That is, until my sleeping and eating habits became unmanageable. Despite my fears, I eventually realized what was happening and gave my dad my pills. At first, I felt lost and exhausted. I was scared of gaining weight, or that I would have to nap three times a day again. But away from college and free from the overwhelming energy and chemicals Adderall had been pumping into my body, I began to understand the problems, despite the benefits (of which there are undeniably many) of psychiatry for teenagers and young adults in the 21st century: 

 

Any sadness I felt HAD to be depression, and my dosage was pushed up. Any stress HAD to be anxiety. Any systematic behavior HAD to be an obsessive-compulsive tendency. I don't want to be mad at my psychiatrists: maybe they were just making the links between behavior and mental illness that their college classes had taught them. And if that's the case, the psychiatric community needs to do better with young people struggling with not only mental illness, but life and growing up - and most importantly, telling the difference between both these things. 

During this period of my life, I didn't feel like I had the right to feel anything anymore because I was always chasing a "healthy neutral." The problem is, I'm not even sure what my neutral is. I've been diagnosed and medicated for so long; so many doctors have told me so many things about who I am, and what I should be.  It took getting lost in a whirlwind of Adderall and bad therapy to figure out that a psychiatry diploma does not equal absolute knowledge of all things Gaby.  I'll just have to figure out some things for myself.