Here’s What Happens When You Take Adderall But Don’t Have ADHD

I’d wondered for years about ADHD drugs. Then I decided to try them for myself for a week. Here’s what went down.

Ten years ago, my husband and I faced a question so many parents face: Should we put our son on ADHD drugs? Jake had so many hallmarks of the disorder: He was disorganized, inattentive, perpetually late, and generally moving to a different drummer—one that nobody else in our family could hear. He was driving us crazy—and our chronic nagging was making him crazy. I wrote about our dilemma in my parenting column, Loco Parentis, in a piece called “Whose Attention Deficit Is It, Anyway?”

I’ve been fascinated by ADHD and the drugs used to treat it ever since. Why do so many American children have the disorder—especially boys? What are the long-term effects of daily doses of methamphetamine on kids as young as four and five? Why are so many college kids—and hardworking young professionals—using Adderall to give them an edge? How do ADHD drugs work, anyway? After years of reading and wondering about these drugs, I decided it was time to try some for myself.

Thus began my very own Electric Kool-Aid Adderall Test, which I wrote about in this month’s Philadelphia magazine. I took Adderall for a week—while I was at work, when I went to the gym, when I was just kicking around my house—to find out what would happen: what it would do to me, and how it would affect my brain. I never expected the drug to be so powerful, or for it to change me as profoundly as it did. That was scary. What was even scarier was my discussion with Penn neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee, who told me drugs like Adderall are the wave of the future—that someday soon, employers may require their workers to take such drugs to improve focus and stamina. After all, it’s just one more way to increase productivity, right?

But there are important questions to be asked about these “cognitive enhancement” drugs, and they’re the same ones my husband and I were asking when we worried about Jake a decade ago. These days, one in five American male high-school students are diagnosed with ADHD. That’s 20 percent. Do 20 percent of teenage boys need drugs just to cope with daily reality, or is there something out of whack about our culture’s relationship with Adderall and Ritalin?

I hope you’ll come along on my Electric Kool-Aid Adderall Test with me.

Photo: Shutterstock

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  • Chuck Winston

    This is a stupid and poorly researched article. As soon as I read:

    “What are the long-term effects of daily doses of methamphetamine on kids as young as four and five?”

    I knew the author was lazy and sloppy, therefore, I couldn’t be bothered with reading the rest of the article, sorry.

    There is a HUGE difference between “amphetamine” (Adderall) and “methamphatamine” (street drug).
    The difference is that “meth” is the basic amphetamine molecule with an additional methyl group
    (CH3) added to the amphetamine.

    “meth” is highly addictive and lasts for 12 hours and can result in not sleeping for days – it leads to
    psychosis, crimes and other things that happened when I was on it in the 80’s ;)

    In summary, these are two totally different compounds – give me an informed article and I’ll read it…

    • Kyle

      You didn’t do your homework either. While yes she is wrong adderall is not methamphetamine. However methamphetamine is indicated for adhd, marketed under the brand name desoxyn if memory serves.

  • Kelly

    I don’t understand why Mom would take Adderall to see how it felt if she were not ADD…It’s out there in the research that someone who is not challenged by ADD will not have the same effects as someone who is challenged. I struggled with decision, consulted many doctors (including a cardiologist) and have seen positive effects in my sons’ academic and social lives after making that decision. Having an open dialogue and listening to their feedback about what works and what doesn’t has been absolutely invaluable.

  • Health Animated

    Our video reviews the safety and efficacy of Adderall using stop-motion animation. It is evidence-based and gives you an objective view of using Adderall as a study drug.

  • bob the builder

    To answer your question: “Do 20 percent of teenage boys need drugs just to cope with daily
    reality, or is there something out of whack about our culture’s
    relationship with Adderall and Ritalin?”

    No, to both questions. And yes to both. The problem is that the way human beings live, the civilization surrounding us all the time, and the conditions within that civilization, are highly unnatural (in terms of how humans have evolved to live). For millions of years, humans have been very similar to other animal species. None of this electronic, distracting, noisy, polluting garbage was here. But suddenly, in the blink of an eye in terms of the age of the world, and through the history of humankind, suddenly there are cars and planes and trains and television and MTV… and there is anxiety and depression and ADHD… everything is connected in some way. Drugs – antidepressants, stimulants, and anxiolytics in particular – are tools that are useful for some people in coping with the insanity surrounding them. That’s nature, and it’s the same reason we have antibiotics. And why only some people need antibiotics. For others, antibiotics are detrimental. Likewise for psychiatric drugs.