Can Adderall Save the Boomers?

The baby boomers are slowing down while the millennials are speeding up. Maybe what the boomers need is ADHD medication.

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It’s been 25 years since I last ingested an illegal substance. In all that time, I haven’t gotten so much as a parking ticket. I raised two kids—one an Eagle Scout, the other Phi Beta Kappa. I was a Girl Scout leader and a Touchdown Club mom. I stayed married to the same man.

The capsule is orange on the bottom, clear on the top. The pellets inside are dead ringers for the sprinkles I put on Christmas cookies. I set the capsule on my tongue, take a sip from a water bottle. “That’s that,” I say, and sit down at my kitchen table to wait.

The capsule is Adderall XR, the extended-release version of a drug currently prescribed to some four million American kids between the ages of four and 17 for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It contains amphetamine salts that stop transporters within cells from clearing dopamine away, thus preventing its reuptake and leaving it puddled in the synaptic gap. Dopamine is a hormone that affects the brain’s experiences of reward and pleasure; heightened levels are thought to increase one’s ability to focus and concentrate. Cocaine also inhibits the reuptake of dopamine.

Twenty-five years ago, coke was my favorite drug.

I’m not expecting Adderall to be anything like coke, though. After all, millions of parents give this to their children every day. And lately, millions more young adults take it—in 2011, 14 million monthly Adderall prescriptions were written for Americans ages 20 to 39, two and a half times more than just four years ago. Beyond that, as many as 35 percent of all college students use Adderall or its cousins, like Ritalin and Vyvanse, illegally. They’re not taking these drugs for kicks, the way we used to do coke. They’re using them as study aids—to help them plow through textbooks, cram for exams, stay up all night writing term papers.

As the drug begins to take effect, though—and it doesn’t take long—I experience the onset of … well, the word that comes to mind is “euphoria.” The sunlight through my kitchen windows seems brighter. The lilies-of-the-valley in the jar in front of me smell sweeter. I laugh at the sensation, and my laughter makes me laugh again.

Then I laugh even louder as the realization hits me: Study aids, my ass. The little shits are getting high.

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