In college, competition is steep, and it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. For students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, there are even fewer hours in the day, as some of those precious productivity hours slip away with inadvertent daydreams in the corner of the library.
Some students with ADHD opt to adjust the chemical imbalance in their brains with stimulant medications such as Vyvanse, Ritalin or Adderall. Many of them find it helpful, but a small group fall into a cycle of substance abuse or addiction.
Taylor McTague, theatre performance senior at The University of Kansas, said she is one of those students who fell into addiction. Diagnosed with ADHD as a college freshman, McTague used Adderall as prescribed. McTague eventually found herself taking Adderall, avoiding sleep for days and curbing her appetite.
“I was getting vertigo all the time, I was having mood swings,” McTague said. “I was irritable and eventually it hit a peak when I had been awake three days and started freaking out on all my friends.”
McTague said she no longer uses Adderall.
Mood swings and anxiety can be a side effect for anyone who uses Adderall, not just those who misuse it. The side effects vary greatly from patient to patient according to Dr. Tim Fong, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles. Dr. Fong said the drug has potentially disastrous side effects, such as psychosis, heart palpitations or death, when the proper dosage is exceeded or when supplemented with other substances, something McTague now realizes she was risking.
“I was mixing my Adderall with Monster Rehab,” McTague said. “I was convinced that (my best friend) was in on some conspiracy against me about everyone treating my life as a ruse … I was very paranoid that my life was actually set up like ‘The Truman Show.” I would say (this) theory I developed was definitely a psychosis moment.”
In addition to this, McTague also experienced auditory hallucinations.
“I would hear what sounded like my friends talking in the distance, but I would be alone in the room,” McTague said.
Courtney Gilmartin, 22-year-old resident of Springfield, Missouri, said although she never intentionally abused Adderall, she experienced similar problems.
“(My bipolar disorder) worsened, and my mood swings became unbearable. Between the ages of 9–16, I was admitted to a psychiatric facility 36 times,” Gilmartin wrote in a message. “I had multiple panic attacks mixing them with energy drinks or alcohol.”
Although Adderall has a high potential for abuse, Dr. Fong still advocates for its potential benefits for those with ADHD, narcolepsy and depression if used correctly.
“The first step really needs to be to get a professional evaluation,” Dr. Fong said. “Do you have either what we call an actual mental health problem or do you just have false expectations of what you can and can’t do?”
According to Dr. Fong, Adderall has a high potential for abuse and should not be taken without a prescription because it can also be a crime.
“Borrowing it from a roommate, buying it from a friend — those are all crimes,” Fong said. “It could be a felony if you excel and distribute.”
Like Dr. Fong, McTague said that while drugs such as Adderall can be beneficial for some, she urges those who are seeking it out, regardless of whether or not they have ADHD, to exercise caution before making any decisions.
“I would (say) be careful,” McTague said. “(Adderall) was affecting my life very badly.”