ADHD or Overachiever? Women and the Epidemic of Adderall Abuse

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Are amphetamines being used to fuel our superwoman complex?

By Charlotte Andersen

“Every generation has an amphetamine crisis,” Brad Lamm, board-registered interventionist and author of How To Help The One You Love begins. “And it is driven by women.” With this declaration Lamm goes on to describe an epidemic of abuse of prescription ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall that affects everyone from high school students to famous celebrities to soccer moms. Thanks to societal pressure on women to be perfectly thin, smart, and organized and to easy access to these drugs from doctors, a huge black market has risen to meet the demand.

Lamm, who not only runs a prominent lifestyle intervention agency but was also personally addicted to Adderall, explains that for many women it all starts with the desire to be thin. “Adderall for many women is a wonder drug, at least temporarily, for losing weight.” In addition to weight loss, the drug is fabled to give you laser focus and the ability to quickly accomplish your entire to-do list. For these reasons, abuse is rampant. Says Allie, a college student, “I have so many gorgeous, smart friends who are only skinny and smart because they pop adderall like tic tacs. Sometimes it just sucks because instead of ‘cheating’ and taking a magic pill, I wake up at 5 am every day to go run and then stay up late to finish my work like a normal person. It makes me really jealous of them.”

Unfortunately all the upsides to the drugs are overshadowed by the huge side effects, primarilyaddiction. “People holding the prescription pad often have very little knowledge of addiction,” Lamm says. “They hear a symptom and they want to help. But many doctors know less about the drug than the patient.” This ignorance makes it easy for people to learn from the Internet or friends what to say to get a “diagnosis” of ADHD so they can get the pills. I found this out myself when a mom-friend of mine offered me step-by-step instructions. But it isn’t long until it goes from the pills helping enhance the user’s life to running it and then ruining it.

Laura has seen these effects up close and personal. “My best friend is addicted to Adderall, and it’s really scary. I have tried to get him to stop, but we haven’t been able to get him to shake it. He’s gone off it for as long as two months—but then he takes one pill and is right back where he started. He has been to the ER three times (when he was shaking and his heart was beating so fast he said he thought he was having a heart attack), and even that gravity has not given him the willpower to stop. Adderall makes him incredibly withdrawn, antisocial, selfish, and uncaring—frankly not at all a fun person to be around. He supposedly received Adderall for a legitimate diagnosis, but he absolutely abuses it—hoarding it during the week and then taking it all on weekends so that he can get a bigger high for his leisure time.” She adds sadly, “I miss my non-addict best friend.”

So what can you do to counteract this problem? First, we need to let go of the image of the “perfect at everything” woman, and if you do need to lose weight or become more efficient, get educated on how to do it safely and healthfully. Concludes Liz, a young mother, “Sometimes I’m tempted to try this, but in the end I want to know that what I do and feel is really me. For better or worse.”