• Jennifer Barnick

Adderall America

Students in Class

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s essential that I state first that if you or a loved one is currently being treated with the drug Adderall by the doctor, then do not cease or adjust your medication without consulting with your doctor. One of the largest aspects of the mental health crisis in America is the stigmatization of mental illness. Seeking out help is an incredibly brave and important part of self-care and parenting, and it is my sincerest wish that this essay in no way stigmatizes or insults parents or individuals seeking out treatment and following their doctor’s orders.

Netflix has a new documentary out titled Take Your Pills (2018, TV-14, 1h 27 min), directed by Alison Klayman. The description is as follows: “In a hypercompetitive world, drugs like Adderall offer students, athletes, coders and others a way to do more—faster and better. But at what cost?”

Nobody wants something wrong with their kid, and when you have to confront the fact that something is wrong with your kid, it can be an emotional landmine. Now, if that something happens to be mental illness, it can feel more like a full-on terrorist attack. Guilt (maybe I messed up potty training?), shame (what will people think?), and worry are just a few of the places parents’ minds go when they learn their child is not acting like the other children at school. One aspect of the documentary—parents seeking help and choosing to medicate their children—was, in my opinion, under-developed and should have either been omitted or better fleshed out. One felt as though they were blurring the issue of medicating children for mental illness and people abusing Adderall for other reasons. For me, I think they are two different issues. There is a lot of debate surrounding the soundness of the diagnosis of ADD and ADHD as well as the early, and often long-term medicating of children. However, that is a very separate issue from teenagers and adults intentionally ‘gaming’ the tests at the doctors’ office solely with the intention to get a prescription for Adderall. I think the movie would have been better served if it had fleshed out the two very separate issues and made it very clear that those are two very separate issues.

Where the movie really shined was the candid interviews with college kids and professional adults who used (or use) Adderall as a performance-enhancing drug. I felt the movie did a great job in questioning our hyper-competitive world where people genuinely feel like they need drugs simply to keep up with the world. What kind of world are we collectively building? The movie also really shined when it took us through the history of Adderall regarding how and why it was originally made. One thing I was not prepared with was how genuinely sad I felt for the college kids and the professionals who were taking Adderall as a performance-enhancing drug, and I was genuinely moved to want to rethink some of my own ways that I am ultra-competitive and have been a part of the fast-paced, competitive American lifestyle. I think it’s a great documentary when the film can move you to look at not only the world around you but also what resides in your own heart.

In not wanting to spoil the documentary for you, I will leave out some of the larger consequences of taking Adderall and how the individuals the movie followed were affected. I will say that like many drugs there is a tremendous illusionary aspect to Adderall, and it becomes very clear that it is not necessarily delivering everything Adderall’s reputation promises. Alongside that, the movie does touch on some interesting and complex issues surrounding taking drugs and identity. People do actually miss themselves—and I think that is a very intense thing to contemplate. When we drug ourselves—we miss ourselves. So, there is a kind of deep love or relationship that is very complex when it comes to personal identity. We may put ourselves down; we may think we need a pill to make us stronger, faster, or smarter; however, we may find that the not as strong, fast, or smart self is somehow wonderful too.

The movie is cool—it will make you think about a lot of deep things. I personally found myself wanting more personal stories surrounding Adderall. I love personal stories (hence, I am a dedicated youtuber). All I did was punch in “I quit Adderall” on the YouTube search bar and found personal story after personal story chronicling why and how the person quit Adderall. Some of the people had lied to a doctor to get a prescription, and some had been on the drug since they were young children and had decided as young adults to quit. All of them had come to a place in their lives that they did not want Adderall to be part of it.

After seeing Netflix’s Take Your Pills and watching videos of people who personally decided they did not want to take Adderall anymore I came away feeling a little sad and a lot more enlightened about the world around me. I felt true compassion for the individuals both in the film and on youtube, and I wondered how many people I pass in the grocery store or sit next to at the dentist had to take an Adderall that day just to feel like they can keep up with the world.

Trailer for Take Your Pills:

Mark G—Overcoming a 5 Year ADDERALL Addiction (Story and Tips) (8:24)

Jennifer Barnick

Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”

Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.

Really Really Terrible Girls