It’s hard to know how to begin this blog, as there are so many places to start. This is a story that I’ve been wanting to share for awhile. I’ve been wanting to share because I feel like there are so many other people in similar situations, feeling guilty, isolated, confused, and addicted. It is my hope that I can lift the burden for people who have to carry the heavy weight of adderall addiction. I share this with the risk of judgement from those who don't know me, and probably even more so from those who do. But my desire to de-stigmatize a truth that is quite frankly an epidemic facing the millennial generation is stronger than my fear of judgement. If we share our struggles and the reality of this addiction that plagues so many, then we de-stigmatize it, and create awareness and understanding. This is how we can create change.
I formed an intimate relationship with this drug for 10 years. A drug that came above all else, no matter what. A drug that changed me, sustained me, and hurt me.
Here’s the thing. For as long as I can remember, I haven’t felt good. I’m not sure why, but I’ve struggled a lot with my health. I have a history of abuse in my childhood, and I think the immense amount of stress wreaked havoc on my body. Adderall was the kind of self medication I needed to get through a series of difficult seasons. I’m sure therapy would have been more productive, but someone at the age of 18 isn’t necessarily going to be consciously aware enough for that. Adderall masked my emotional pain and baggage I carried from childhood and masked my physical symptoms of a disease that really hurts and makes it difficult for you to function. For the first time in my life, it was like a burden was lifted that I had carried inside for so long. I feel no shame when I look back. I feel for the past me. A me that was hurting and damaged. We all lean on a crutch when the burden is too much to carry.
So this is my story. My addiction to adderall, how I believe it instigated and masked my autoimmune issues, hindered my healing, and left me struggling with neurotransmitters to this day.
This story starts a long time ago. 20 years ago to be exact. When I was about 8 years old, my doctor tried to prescribe me adderall because I struggled to engage in the classroom. At the time, I really didn’t like it and was embarrassed to be on it, so I stopped. Once I got to college, the same problem resurfaced and that same doctor recommended I try the drug again. I can still remember the first day I took it again at 19 years old…
I was in my living room and it hit. 10 mg instant release. Sweet clarity...like I was seeing stars. All of a sudden I'm pacing around my living room, telling my mom story after story about my physics class that summer. I then delve into my homework, bracing my stomach as it growls at me and burns. With a dry mouth and sweaty palms, I picked my cuticles as I answered question after question correctly, with interest and enthusiasm. “This...this drug is MAGIC. I feel like a superhuman.” (was what I was thinking). I had struggled with depression in my latter years of high school after the death of my father, and I carried the weight into college. It all dissipated with the adderall. The increase activity in my neurotransmitters just made everything better. And that moment in the summer of 2010 is when it all started.
Adderall changed me. My previous complacent, depressed and sometimes anxious, less self-controlled and academic self was a distant memory I no longer wished to revisit. By sophomore year I was kicking butt. I lost 15 pounds in about two months and I was getting compliments left, right, and center. I had a perfect GPA and what seemed like photographic memory. Everyone could see I was a "better version" of myself, and the validation from friends and especially family, felt good. I could drink until the early hours without getting too drunk at parties and then hit the library early in the morning and focus at 100%. Superhuman, right? Well, for every action there is a reaction. And I believe my reaction hit 1 year later, when my body started to attack itself because I had been living in a state of fight or flight, day in and day out, for 1 full year.
My health deteriorated quickly. By junior year I was sick...like really sick. I had lost another 10 pounds and weighed about 90 pounds. Rumors of an eating disorder circulated around campus, although that wasn’t the case. My skin became dull. I couldn’t keep food in my body. This is when my gut broke. I also developed severe anxiety. I upped my dosage. I had to perform in school. So 10 mg went to 20, went to 30, and even sometimes 40. Here I am, this tiny person, with a racing heart and anxiety that could keep a 200 man awake for days, and I’m shoveling in amphetamines to get me through exam after exam after LSAT class.
Something was really wrong. I felt like I was going to die everyday. I purposely kept myself up at night because I was worried I wouldn’t wake up the next day. I knew the adderall was making it worse, but I was hooked. Besides, without it, everything was just as bad, as my symptoms continued to increase and I had no tools to stop them.
I started going to doctors, but for one year, nobody could get to the root of the problem. Finally, in the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with Graves disease. This explains a lot of the symptoms. Weight loss, rapid heart rate, gut problems, and anxiety. With a heart rate at 181 per minute, I was in a dangerous place. Even still, I popped the pills. Pushing my heart rate to its absolute limit. I just couldn't get out of bed without it. It felt completely out of my control. This is what happens with adderall addiction. You don't know what's happening until it has happened, and then it is a very difficult situation.
Unfortunately, my doctors kept me on the drug throughout my treatment. Not one endocrinologist told me to get off, or even seemed to recognize the dangerous position I was in. I was desperate for someone to take control of the situation and help me. I felt like I was destroying my body but I was powerless to stop myself. The validation of the doctors around me helped me sleep better at night and put the guilt and shame to one side.
Here we are in junior year. I’ve undergone radioactive iodine...even taking 30mg on the day of the procedure, and everyday after as I lay at home on medical leave, trying to heal, addicted to a drug that’s destroying me. I’m crushing beta blockers and drinking them in emergency situations because my heart rate is so high, but I’m crushing alongside my adderall. Sick, fragile, and definitely at a low after Graves disease diagnosis, treatment, shifting hormones, and adderall addiction, I sucked it up and got on with it. I got on with school, friends, a relationship, and fun. And I never told anyone what was going on.
Things started to level out for me health wise. It took about a year, but my hormones stabilized. Or so I thought...I never really gave myself a chance to “feel” my new normal after they destroyed my thyroid. Unfortunately, part of the job of the patient is to tell their endocrinologist how the synthetic thyroid medication is making them feel. Because I was on about 30mg a day at that point, I felt as though I had synthetic energy, even though my levels read hypothyroid (AKA- I didn’t have enough thyroid hormone). So, I went 6 years operating as hypothyroid because I said I “felt energy”.
So I’ve graduated college, gotten a job I love at a startup that requires 60 hour work weeks. I am doing it all and still staying thin without hitting the gym. I’m becoming the top performer in my company, getting promotion after promotion, wearing a size 00, and eating whatever I want. The dream, right?
Behind the scenes, my health is deteriorating again. Mentally, my heavy reliance on the drug has left me with an inability to produce my own neurotransmitters. Dopamine (which motivates and rewards you), serotonin (which makes you happy), and norepinephrine (mobilizes the brain and body for action)...all these neurotransmitters were sort of dead. Without the drug...I literally couldn’t get out of bed. At the same time, the odds were not in my favor. Whereas a healthy person would have a thyroid to help with the production of these neurotransmitters, my thyroid was still operating in a hypo state. So my baseline, even without the addiction, was to be depressed, unmotivated, and tired. We do what we need to survive. I sort of subconsciously self medicated my way to a “normal life”.
Finally, it was my fiance who challenged the addiction. Without releasing too much personal information about my relationship, I have to give him a shoutout for his persistence in the matter of my well-being and mental health. We have a great relationship and an unusual ability to work through disagreements calmly and logically. But when it came to adderall, he was unmoving. He said it in the beginning, middle, and every single week...he wouldn’t marry me if I was addicted to the drug. He thought it changed my personality and masked my emotions. What he didn’t understand is that it wasn’t as simple as just “stopping it one day”. This ten year addiction had a complete hold over my life, and I honestly thought there was no hope for me. It wasn’t a conscious effort. I wanted to stop for him and make him happy, but I couldn’t get out of bed without it. It was completely out of my hands.
So.....in 2018 finally I had had enough. Something clicked. I had been working inwardly, and independently, to build up the courage and strength to stop it on my own. I wanted to get married, but more so, I did it for myself. I wanted to work through my problems once and for all. I wanted to confront all the demons. I wanted to get healthy. Eat well. Confront the debilitating emotional baggage I carry inside on a raw level. So, I stopped. I read a lot of blogs about it and I decided to taper off. Every week I took 5mg less. And after 2 months, I was done. This was in August of 2018. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I wanted to do it on my own, as I have done most important things throughout my life.
It took me awhile to detox the drug I think. I had pretty much done 10 years without skipping a single day. I believe it took me about 5- 6 months. Then it all hit ...My body went crazy. Without this crutch that I had used for so long, everything was hard. No motivation, no energy, no happiness. My hypothyroid state became increasingly obvious without the drug and I was a bed zombie!
My ability to cope with stress or problem solve was non existent at this point. So after a series of highly triggering and stressful events in December, my fragile state of what was trying to grip to “homeostasis” collapsed. And here I am. After 10 years of battling with this toxic, mind altering, superhuman giving, drug, suffering from the “reaction” of my actions and others.
It’s not fair to blame everything on adderall. Maybe I would have still gotten Graves Disease without it. We will never know. But I am of the belief that this constant state of fight or flight that adderall, or any amphetamine puts us in, is at the root cause of many illnesses that would not have come about if we spent more time in rest and digest.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. So many positive things have come from stopping the drug. The biggest thing that I have noticed is that I don’t feel numb anymore. Whereas before, I didn’t really have my own interests or hobbies, unless it was drinking or working. Now, I have leaned into my passions. Adderall numbs passions. The sort of right brain, creative side seems to somewhat shut down with amphetamines and you become a left brain zombie. I have used this time to look inwardly and delve into what makes me...me. My desire to help others, live gently and kindly, connect with people, and importantly, spend time learning about true health and wellness. My passion for helping others find true, clean health has sprung forth, and my pursuit of launching my own business is alive and well.
Adderall numbed all of those things. For 10 years I just rolled with the punches. Success meant being promoted, making money. Friendships were focused around drinking and partying. Deep, meaningful connections were difficult, and emotions were tucked away, deep deep down, just waiting to be acknowledged in the moment where the drug wasn’t in full effect.
I know my story isn’t completely unique. Unfortunately, many many people struggle with adderall, or amphetamine addiction. My deeply intimate relationship with the drug is not dissimilar to others. No matter where you are in your journey, I hope my story allows you to have grace with yourself. To feel understood and not isolated. When I look at others on a similar journey, I feel a deep sense of compassion and understanding. And no matter what you choose, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Raw happiness is waiting for you, if you want it, and when you want it.