The funny thing is, I actually had an Adderall prescription at the beginning. There was a doctor’s appointment somewhere in the spring semester of my sophomore year of college. At it, I fed an unfamiliar physician the magic words that prior web research had assured would grant me access to the magic pills I’d heard so much about. With only a slight bit of embellishment, I lamented my inability to focus on tasks at hand, frequent distractions, and lack of information retention. I closed my pitch with a performative “confession” that I knew would seal the deal.
“Now, I know I shouldn’t have done this, but seeing as you’re my doctor and all, I figured I oughta be honest” I began, head down in faux-bashfulness (or at least that’s how this scene replays in my memory). “A friend let me try their medication on a night I was having a particularly hard time studying. I believe it was called… Ah-dey-raul or something. Uhhh 30 milligrams, if I recall correctly. Well, whatever it was, it sure was amazing how much it helped fix my problems — and with no side effects!”
My “aw shucks” routine worked like a charm. After a few follow up questions, I was walking out the door with a prescription for a month’s worth of 30mg Adderall XR.
At first, I used them sparingly in school, for exam crams or to bang out a big paper. Still on my parents’ premium insurance plan at that time, my prescription re-upped for free each month. I was suddenly flush with a growing stockpile of pills. After a follow-up appointment where I complained about my concentration levels tapering off before the end of the school day, I was able to secure a supplementary 10mg prescription and further grow my hoard.
As you can likely imagine, these potent little performance-enhancing drugs are worth their weight in gold on a university campus. When my pill pile was so massive that it seemed as if it would never run out, I started feeling mighty generous. With my friends and roommates, I was open about taking Adderall and how great I thought it was; when they eventually asked for some in times of need, I was delighted to display my largesse with a gratis pill here and there. Then I branched out, offering one to a cute classmate who’d broached the topic of a study group. She happily accepted, and I walked away from the convo feeling pretty suave. When a stranger approached me a few days later, introduced himself as a friend of that classmate, and then asked if I’d be willing to sell him and his buddies some of my extra “Addies,” I realized I had possibly strayed too far into dangerous territory. There would be no more flirting via complimentary pharmaceuticals for me.
During my final two semesters of school, I entered a new era of my relationship with Adderall that was both magical and fraught with peril. By that point, I’d pulled a few all-nighter study sessions where a 10mg pill had emerged as the clutch MVP that carried me across the finish line. I saw endless potential that went far beyond dry textbooks in a pill that could ostensibly be used as a substitute for a full night’s sleep.
I developed a routine where, one night in the middle of each week, I would pop a 30mg around 11 PM when tiredness first began to hit and use the subsequent hours of artificially alert “me time” to catch up on pleasure reading, take in classic films that had been languishing on my watch list, and disappear into multi-hour video game sessions. I’d also occasionally go on night runs, marveling at the surreality of encountering nobody on my usually bustling state school campus. I was hacking the matrix in this 8-hour liminal space that was mine and mine alone and would manifest 17.33 bonus days per year if I decided to take it that far. I felt as if I’d finally found a way to achieve my lifelong superpower fantasy of being able to pause time to catch up on work or play. I was shocked to later learn this wish is so universal that, two years after my nightwalker era, the show American Dad produced an episode called “Stan Time” in 2009 that perfectly mirrored my situation.
There were downsides, of course. Determined to not let these long nights affect my normal sleep routine, I would re-up with another Adderall to get me through the next day until I could go to bed at an early but reasonable hour. Mentally, I was a zombie those days — completely worthless in classes. Naturally, I made sure there was never a presentation or quiz on these throwaway days. The hubris of youth allowed me to convince myself for a few months that my brain and body could handle this waterboarding of my circadian rhythm. Even a few visual hallucinations toward the end of a few 36-hour cycles weren’t enough of a sign that I should stop.
What finally convinced me I’d flown too close to the sun was a scare at the gym one evening. After a vigorous but normal workout, I was chugging water and walking down the hallway between the gym and exit when I suddenly noticed my vision tunneling. Within seconds, I saw nothing but black and felt the energy spilling out of me. I lowered myself to the floor and laid down, cheek on the cold marble, fighting off unconsciousness. I was fortunate enough to quickly regain my sight and stamina, but the experience put the fear of God into me. I was not immortal. I had not discovered a sleep-eliminating cheat code. And the sandman was eventually going to collect on my outstanding debts, one way or another.
Lesson learned, I went back to using Adderall only sparingly for finals and the like. I also knew my school-tied doctor’s prescription would end when I graduated, so I spent my final months at university regrowing a stockpile that I knew might not be replenished ever again.
In my early 20s, as I entered the workforce, I slowly and strategically chipped away at the Adderall cache. It was comforting to know this resource was there in case of emergency. In my mind, having it around was just as responsible as keeping drinking water and a first aid kit handy for hypothetical disasters.
Though I stretched it longer than anticipated, my stockpile eventually ran out right as my current career began to take off. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Once again, I was in a situation where my natural focusing capabilities weren’t able to meet demands without help. Now a Real Adult™️ with insurance and everything, I figured it was probably time to go clean and get back on a prescription from a medical professional. As I was dismayed to learn from both my physician and psychiatrist, they just don’t dole out Adderall like they used to. It seemed the pendulum had swung back in the other direction since my initial diagnosis, and doctors were now highly monitored when it came to such prescriptions. Furthermore, it was clear to them that, regardless of that earlier doctor’s call, I did not actually have full-blown ADD. After some calls revealed there was no way of finding the now-lost medical records from 7 years back for a Hail Mary precedent play, I abandoned the straight-and-narrow path only a few steps in.
As hoped, my recreational drug dealer also had access to Adderall — or what was more likely “Adderall” — and got me sorted with an order. While it couldn’t compare to my parents’ insurance policy, my plug gave me a reasonable rate and I went back to infrequent, intermittent usage.
At first, they worked as desired. Then I caught myself feeling nothing some days and way too much on others. Then I noticed drastic size disparities in a number of the pills. At this time, stories of accidental overdoses from recreational drugs laced with fentanyl were beginning to pop up everywhere in the news. I thought back to that chilling close call at the gym and — creaking with age and fully aware of my mortality — decided enough was enough. I knew there were plenty of safer ways out there to give myself energy and concentration boosts on the fly. Besides, the indignity of dying of a fentanyl-spiked fake “Addderall” in service of an incredibly stupid work assignment would undoubtedly be embarrassing enough to turn me into ghost, forever cursed to haunt the break room.
Mercifully, the lack of decent ingredients in my occasionally used “Adderauxl” made kicking them fairly easy. It’s fairly unlikely I would gone out like an infinitely-less-beloved and talented Mac Miller, but a recent warning from the DEA indicates I chose a good time to stop rolling the dice. Rather than fentanyl, the latest batches of “Ehdyrohl” have been known to contain methamphetamine (which kinda makes more sense than using the notorious opiate).
While I do see legitimate uses for legitimate Adderall and its brethren like Ritanol and Vyvanse, I now also see how much fire I was playing with by circumventing the doctors who are far more knowledgeable about these things. My Addy days may be behind me, but my unfocused days certainly aren’t. But I now see them as unique problems to be tackled with the proper remedy as they arrive, rather than an annoyance I should try to preemptively eliminate at an unknown cost to my health.