Photo by Diana Percy
*names changed to protect identity
Only 20 milligrams of Adderall wasn’t enough. I need more so I can do better, senior Emma Ruby* thought. Sitting in first hour, she popped the stronger 50 milligram pill of Vyvanse that her friend had given her. Immediately, she could feel it through her veins. She felt like she could accomplish anything.
First, the anxiety kicked in, her heart racing. Her thoughts overwhelmed her mind. Five hours later the depression hit, leaving her curled up in a ball on the floor of her room, crying.
“I started thinking things like ‘why am I in this world’,” Ruby said.
Adderall, the brand name for dextroamphetamine-amphetamine, and Vyvanse, the brand name for lisdexamfetamine are viewed as quick fixes to some high school students. Whether a time-crunching pill to survive finals week, motivation to attend a class or a way to obliteration an appetite, students use these drugs to enhance performance.
Adderall and Vyvanse are designed to be helpful for people with ADHD. Yet, for non-prescribed users, it creates the illusion of cosmetic psychopharmacology: You may be normal – you may be great – but you think you will be more successful with the medication.
This is where addictions begins.
According to Ruby, junior Ashley Riley* and sophomore Jack Lang*, the stresses of achieving certain GPAs and the pressures of appearance in high school were their motives for abusing prescription medicines. They are not alone. Nationally, ADHD prevalence has not risen, yet the use of ADHD medication has sharply increased, according to drugabuse.com.
Ruby started taking Adderall in eighth grade. During finals week last year, she would take three to four 25 milligram pills of Adderall with her friends to ensure she would be able to stay up all night cramming. Yet, the side effects overwhelmed her body.
“It wouldn’t even help me study because I was so focused on how much I was shaking,” Ruby said. “Finally I went to bed at 3:30 a.m. and then had to go to school the next morning and ended up doing terribly on my finals.”
Lang has also become dependent on the use of ADHD medication to try to increase success in school.
According to drugabuse.com, people who abuse Adderall and other ADHD medications like Vyvanse are given a romantic high, much like cocaine or methamphetamines. Their minds trick them into thinking they are invincible. They are addictive because the mind believes they are better with it than without it.
Every week, he sneaks into his brother’s bedroom, stealing his prescription Vyvanse. He empties the capsule into a water bottle then replaces the unfilled pill so his brother won’t notice it’s gone. Without the drugs, school is unbearable and good grades are unachievable, Lang said.
Most nights he’ll stay up, anxious and sleep deprived.
“Once when I was staying up all night, I became so bored that I wrote a whole mixtape,” Lang said. “12 rap songs. All original.”
Unable to fall asleep, he’ll just pop another pill the next morning to keep himself agile.
While on the medications, both Lang and Ruby find themselves going days without eating. Periodically, they force something down their throats because they both know they need to eat. According to drugabuse.com, amphetamines cause the brain to forget that the user is hungry, leaving them disgusted by the sight of food.
This year, Ruby got a prescription for Vyvanse to counteract her depression from the withdrawal of non-prescription Adderall. The cycle of medication and depression continues. Since she has been prescribed to Vyvanse, her appetite has been completely wiped out, causing her to lose 25 pounds.
“I have not eaten a full meal on Vyvanse,” Ruby said. “All I ate yesterday was a cookie. And like, I genuinely like to eat, it’s not like I’m trying to starve myself. I just can’t bring myself to eat.”
While Ruby and Lang are now forcing themselves to eat, Riley started taking Adderall so she wouldn’t. Through a mutual friend who had a prescription, Riley discovered Adderall would make her lose weight. All she wanted was to be skinnier, so she started stealing pills from her mom.
Riley had only been abusing Adderall for a month when it became habitual. Her current 3.8 GPA and 112 pound body wasn’t good enough. She needed to be better.
One night at 3 a.m., her heart was beating uncontrollably. Tossing and turning in bed, she began to hyperventilate and panic. Why am I freaking out? She thought to herself. Her limbs quivered. She had taken three pills of 20 mg extended-release Adderall pills to suppress her hunger from the previous day. She just wanted to look like everyone else.
She could feel her heart beat through her chest. Am I having a panic attack? Am I dying? She Googled the side effects of Adderall, her phone illuminating her face in the dark room. The website read, Adderall can cause severe chest pains, heart attack and stroke.
Alone in the middle of the night, she prayed.
Dear God, please just let me live. I will never take Adderall again. I promise.
Riley woke up that morning, alive and thankful. Her weak body climbed the stairs to her bathroom, and dumped the pills down the toilet. Since that 3 a.m. prayer, she hasn’t taken Adderall once. The promise she made to God motivated her every day to say “no.”
For Lang, the high that prescription medication gives him would be unbearable to let go of.
“I can never see myself quiting,” Lang said. “I don’t think I would be able to function without it.”