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.

I work in a dying profession. Every day, I wake up to news of layoffs, job losses, newspapers and magazines folding. Thousands of journalists my age have been thrown out of work in the past five years. And yet every semester brings a new crop of interns to our office, bright-eyed and eager, fresh from journalism classes where they learn about search engine optimization and cross-platform brands and embedding metadata in .jpg files (though not about subject/verb agreement). They are on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and Vine and Instagram. They watch videos of cats. They have never used a landline phone.
For a writer who is used to—well, not nine-to-five work, but eight-to-eight or nine-to-nine, the 24/7 news cycle is exhausting. I thought Buzz Bissinger put it well in his leather-fetish GQ confessional last spring:

There was a time earlier in my life when I loved to write, the same feeling of orgasm that I now get with clothing. But in my mid-50s the words were harder to find, the excuses to fuck around more pronounced, the anxiety multiplied. …

And it’s not just journalists; it’s my entire generation. We’re not where we expected to be at this point in our lives. Our houses aren’t worth what they should be. We lost our savings—and our sense of security—to the Great Recession. Our children haven’t launched the way we’d hoped. Our parents live on and on, stretching our love for them thinner than pizza dough.

Just as the world is getting faster, we’re getting slower. We forget people’s names. (I call all the interns “Jessica.”) We have bum knees, arthritic ankles, bad backs. We can’t remember where we put the car keys. We’re the Americans most likely to be depressed. We have the highest suicide rate in the nation—a 28 percent rise between 1999 and 2010.

Meantime, young people are taking drugs that rev them up even more than their youth does. Psychostimulant abuse at colleges is so rampant that a number of schools, including Penn State, don’t allow their student health services to handle full evaluations for ADHD. Two years ago, Duke University added “the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance academic performance” to acts forbidden under its honor code. And it’s not just colleges; in May, star-crossed starlet Lindsay Lohan threatened to leave court-ordered rehab at the Betty Ford Center if she couldn’t take her Adderall. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz served a 25-game suspension after he tested positive for it last fall; in the spring, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Branton Sherman told a reporter that “about half the league” is on the drug. And a “leadership” blogger for the website of staid Forbes magazine recently laid out ground rules for executives using Adderall to get an edge.

Which got me thinking: Why not me?

I’m not especially brave—I’m scared of heights, spiders, bats, you name it. But when I was in college, if you handed me something and told me it would get me high—pills, powder, mushrooms, tabs of LSD—I’d take it. I liked exploring unfamiliar parts of my mind. Maybe Adderall—the Forbes guy called it “rocket fuel” for the brain—is just what I need to keep up with the generation that’s trying to steal my job.


It’s a lot harder to score illegal drugs than it used to be—at least, for a respectable 56-year-old woman. I turn first, naturally, to my own children. When my mom was dying of cancer back in the ’80s, didn’t I procure pot for her to ease her pain?

My kids, however, are appalled by my request that they find me Adderall. “That’s illegal,” my daughter, 23, says coolly. “Nobody I know does drugs. We just drink.”

“That’s a terrible idea. Drugs are dangerous,” says my 20-year-old son. God, who knew D.A.R.E. worked so well?

So I turn to the young people in my office, announcing at a staff meeting that I could really use a week’s worth of Adderall pills. I don’t know where all the illicit amphetamine-takers are working, but it’s not at Philly Mag. Not one of my young colleagues offers to help me. And to think of all the dangling participles I fix for them.

In the end, an older staffer comes through, with a single capsule. “All I could get,” he says apologetically.

I take the capsule at noon on a Saturday, since there’s no way I’m taking it and then driving the Schuylkill to work until I know what it does. A friend with medical training has agreed to monitor my vital signs. That’s another difference between now and 25 years ago; back then, we considered drug interactions a bonus. (Coke and MDA, yes!) Now, I’ve researched the side effects of Adderall. It can cause heart problems and a spike in blood pressure. My blood pressure’s a little high, for which I take Losartan.

“I don’t have high blood pressure if it’s under control with drugs, right?” I ask my wary friend as he slaps the blood-pressure cuff on me to get a baseline reading. My data: 98 percent oxygen saturation, 78 heartbeats per minute, 130 over 80 BP. “Those are pretty good numbers,” he says.

“Want a sandwich?” I ask while we wait for me to turn into a raging speed freak. The refrigerator drawer that holds the lettuce is stuck, though, so I wrestle it out, take it to the sink, and wash the edges off. Then I clean the bottom of the fridge where the drawer goes; there’s something sticky there, too. Then I pull out the other drawer and wash it clean. Then I empty the shelves on the door and wipe them down. Then I pull everything off the other shelves and wash those. Then I notice something spilled under the side of the fridge, so I move the fridge and scrub the floor tiles underneath it. I see that the coils on the back are dusty, so I wipe those down. I wash the outside of the kitchen trash can, and the wall behind it. The bottle of Mr. Clean I’m using is smudged, so I wipe that, too.

“Never mind about the sandwich,” says my friend.

I’ve turned into the whirling dervish of housecleaning. I wash the walls. I wash the floors. I wash the windows. I vacuum. I dust. I clean the oven and stove. I launder rugs. I swab the radiator covers. I take a toothbrush to the baseboards. With every task I complete, I feel reenergized, awash with self-satisfied pleasure. I’m so competent! So tidy! I don’t stop to eat; who wants to eat when there’s more to clean?

My friend takes my vitals every couple of hours. The highest they go is 98 percent oxygen, 95 heart rate, 178/90 BP. “That was with activity,” he says, noting that I’ve just scrubbed all the lawn furniture.

As darkness falls, I stand in my pristine kitchen holding the Mr. Clean and the last roll of paper towels, belligerent fulfillment coursing through my soul: Who else? Who else wants a piece of this?

All day, I’ve been afraid the drug would wear off. By 10:30 at night, I’m afraid it won’t. I pour myself a gin gimlet to try to come down. The irony of the fact that I’ve spent my first illegal high in a quarter-
c­entury cleaning my house isn’t lost on me. But really, when you’re 56, what the hell else are you going to do?