Will taking drugs help your career? Maybe you need Adderall

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Most of us have a terrible time focusing on our work.

Left uninterrupted, we are likely to interrupt ourselves. The Internet, everyone's interrupter of choice, is the most tantalizing type of reward system to our brain: intermittent but unpredictable rewards, in the form of a randomly great video or a juicy email here or there. (This is also why kids love to whine to get what they want. Parents give in only when they are at their wit's end, creating, from a child's perspective, a similar, randomly yummy reward system.)

Each time we interrupt ourselves at work, the process to get us back to that point of focus takes twenty-five minutes. So we spend nearly a third of our work day recovering from interruptions, trying to recover our focus.

The time management gurus are all over this problem.

Winifred Gallagher is the author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The thesis of the book is that the ability to positively wield your attention is the key to your quality of life. Gallagher says (in either her book or in the article that I am liberally quoting from — I'm not sure which, but I am distracted enough by the issue that I feel compelled to distract you as well) “You can't be happy all the time but you can pretty much focus all the time. That's about as good as it gets.”

That sounds true to me. We each have a certain amount of attention, and our quality of life depends on how wisely we invest our attention. I have written about how self-discipline is the key to happiness. And then I have written about how knowing that has not helped me much because self-discipline is not an easy nut to crack.

Now I am wondering if attentiveness is the way to achieve self-discipline. You find your goal—the stuff that is really super important—and you focus on it. That focus creates enough self-discipline to do what you need to achieve the goal.

But that isn't just my idea. There are others thinking the same thing.

Merlin Mann has one of the most popular productivity blogs, and he's raking in money teaching executives (who surely are too focused to have time to read blogs) to be more productive in their workday. Merlin Mann says that the key to productivity is attention, not lifehacks.

Here's a gem from Mann's interview with Anderson in New York magazine: “On the web there's a certain kind of encouragement to never ask yourself how much information you really need. But when I get to the point where I'm seeking advice twelve hours a day on how to take a nap or what kind of notebook to buy, I'm so far off the idea of lifehacks that it's indistinguishable from where we started. There's very little advice right now to tell people that the only thing to do is action, and everything else is horseshit.”

Okay. So notice this about focus: You are not actually able to be productive without focus. So we can stop looking for the ultimate moleskin notebook or the perfect Firefox extension because those are actually productivity distractions. The hardest thing about productivity is figuring out what is the number one thing on your to do list. After that, you need to focus on doing that one thing.

Mann says, “There's no shell script, there's no fancy pen, there's no notebook or nap or Firefox extension or hack that's gonna help you figure out why the fuck you're here.”
Maybe what you need instead is Adderall.

Officially, Adderall is prescribed to treat ADHD. Unofficially, it is the drug of choice for Gen Y. Adderall, or other drugs that treat ADHD, give a typical brain an intense ability to focus for long periods of time.

I got most of my Adderall information from a great article in the New Yorker by Margaret Talbot titled Brain Gain: The underground world of neuroenhancing drugs. In it, Sean Esteban McCabe, from the University of Michigan's Substance Abuse Research Center says that at some universities, up to 20% of the population is using these drugs: “White male undergraduates at highly competitive schools—especially in the Northeast—are the most frequent collegiate users of neuro-enhancers.”

Anjan Chatterjee, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania , coined the term “cosmetic neurology” to describe the trend of taking drugs to enhance ordinary cognition. He says, “Many sectors of society have winner-take-all conditions in which small advantages produce disproportionate rewards.”

That resonates with me. I have already decided that cosmetic surgery is a must-have career tool for the high performers. So why not consider cosmetic neurology as well?

Joshua Foer wrote about his own Adderall experiment in Slate, and it sounds glorious: “The part of my brain that makes me curious about whether I have new emails in my in box apparently shut down.”

So I decided that maybe I should give the Adderall a whirl.

But then I started getting worried. Because I read research from Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse that shows Adderall is addictive. Not addictive like crystal meth. But addictive like, if you have a proclivity to addictive behaviors, you are a sitting duck for this one. “Because drugs that increase dopamine have the potential for abuse, these results suggest that risk for addiction in vulnerable persons merits heightened awareness.”

That scared me.

But what really scared me is that the cost of gaining extreme focus is often losing extreme creativity. A good example is Paul Philips, a professional poker player who won more than a million dollars after taking Adderall to help him. The scary thing about the Philips example is that Adderall also helped him resist the impulse to keep playing losing hands out of boredom.

I think we have some of our most creative moments when we are doing odd stuff to quell boredom. That is, when we are not focused at all.

“Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity,” says Martha Farah, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. “There is evidence that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative.”

Maybe it's better just to do lots of things at once without great focus but with natural creativity.

Focusing on focus seems to distract from the real issue, which is knowing what you value most. Do we know that? And if we did know that, maybe our focus would come naturally from that. And our lack of time management comes from a lack of self-discipline which comes from a lack of focus which comes from a lack of knowing the meaning of life.

And we'll never know that. So maybe we should just be happy that we have our lack of focus because that enables our creativity. And we don't know the meaning of life, but we do know that we each get to create our own life, and that, in the end, may be the only guarantee we have.

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  1. Angie
    Angie says:

    This is very interesting, Penelope.It brought to mind another article that I read recently. The author showed that kids who grew up with the internet have a compromised ability to concentrate (because of the type of reward system the behavior encourages, as you mention). She maintained that the brains of kids need to be trained to focus, and that a good way to do that is to have them read books, since it requires them to sit and focus for a while.

  2. Alan Wilensky
    Alan Wilensky says:

    I tried it, it works. It causes a bit of a sweat, just a bit, break ’em in quarters.

    As a daydreamer from the earliest years, and an underachiever in school, I was a prime candidate that never got that treatment that just not there in the 70’s.

    Now at age 50, as a working (yay!) analyst, my friends who allowed me to sample the instant focus, have at least showed me that my dreamy. conceptual mind is normal.

    Is this good for the kind of buckle down that I need to do sector outreach and campaign work – no, its the worst.

    But I am a big idea man, and that has paid well. When absolutely, positively must concentrate and produce “real things”, I turn to instant concentration, widely available from the social network of parents of whacked out teens.

    Right before I crush the soma – I incant the following:

    "Oh, Fortuna, blind heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel," Ignatius belched. "Do not crush me beneath your spokes. Raise me on high, divinity." From Confederacy of Dunces.

    I’m working again P’Lope (see http://bit.ly/qwoJV), help me find a Jewish Sweetheart just like you, but not like you at all. I still live in 1.5 room shack with old cat that smells like pee, but the insulin injections seems to be helping Charlie. Sniffffff….yes, he smells much better.

    Why do the righteous suffer?

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Everyone suffers because pain protects your body and keeps you alive. Also if you want to meet a nice Jewish girl don’t be such a weirdo.

  3. Alan Wilensky
    Alan Wilensky says:

    I would also like to quote Gurdjieff here, as it seems apropos:

    “…the ability to “do”, is magic – this differentiates men 1,2,3, from 4, magnetic center. To “do”, is magic, it is rare, as most things just happen – even the famous and successful rarely have the ability to actually “do”.

    I wonder if he knew about such externally imbibed parapharm – oh yes….it’s all over his writings.

  4. Danny F.
    Danny F. says:

    What if you just focus on being creative? I don’t totally agree that the trade-off between focus and creativity is a zero-sum game.

  5. Zack S.
    Zack S. says:

    It’s an interesting question, the usefulness of neuroenhancers. It’s probably best not to present each path as mutually exclusive. Sometimes you may need to focus. And certainly, there is evidence (though, largely anecdotal) that shows that Adderall, et al is useful in those circumstances. But to counter, some very good research shows it is more important to lose yourself in a moment, as Daydreaming can have positive effects on creativity and are useful to work out pressing issues.
    It’s probably a bit disingenuous to suggest that neuroenhancers can work as some sort of Silver Bullet to productivity, and in my humble opinion, I’d rather stick to a more holistic view of the benefits of zoning out over the potential (and unstudied) health risks of chemicals.

  6. Lance
    Lance says:

    Adderall is pretty awesome shit, but I would NOT recommend it for regular use at a day job. Be very cautious because you can easily abuse it, which lots of people do. I’ve used it for graduate school exams (awesome, highly effective) and partying. The partying part is a little scary, because it makes you feel like you’re immune to getting drunk, which is super dangerous because you’ll go overboard with the drinking. Lots of fun, though. I’ve heard it compared to coke but smoother and without the kick.

    A better system for me is to break my day into blocks of 2-3 hours per project. When I get “bored” of the first project, I move onto something else and take breaks in between. Ideally, if I was working at home, I’d do something physical between blocks, like going swimming or shooting baskets in my driveway. Unfortunately, I work in an office and my time is managed for me. If you have a computer job like me, I think it’s easily possible to do my job in 4-5 hours /day vs. stretching it out over 9 hours. Get me outta here!

  7. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    When I was in college, they taught us about ‘altered states’ which causes me to wonder if the same idea applies to adderall.

    Altered states basically suggests that if you study while your drunk, high, etc you won’t remember much of it until you get drunk or high again.

    Does the same thing apply here?

  8. Joe Ganley
    Joe Ganley says:

    Easy for me to say, because I don’t have trouble with focus anyway, but I cherish that mind-wandering daydream time, and wouldn’t trade it. Talk of this sort always reminds of of this sad cartoon.

    • Stephen B.
      Stephen B. says:

      I also appreciate this comic. Like you, I don’t have much trouble with focus and relish the time spent daydreaming. And as a long time fan of Calvin and Hobbes I think this cartoon perfectly illustrates the loss of creativity and imagination that comes from self-medication. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  9. Renato
    Renato says:

    I’m not going to talk about how “awesome” Adderall is because I’m not really the type to promote drug use. Although I will say that a friend of mine, while studying throughout medical school did use it so he could focus. He would tell me stories about how when he would take it he would read through several chapters of medical text books in a couple of hours. I believe he stopped using it because it was hurting his kidneys.

    • Lance
      Lance says:

      @Renata: I’m not the type to promote drugs either and I did give fair warning in my comment about the chance for abuse. It’s effective and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said it didn’t make me feel “awesome” while using it. Negative side affects: highly elevated heart rate and you won’t sleep for an entire night if you take it the previous evening. Like any drug, it will have a deleterious effect on your health if abused. That’s my experience, take it with a grain of salt.

      Speaking of graduate school, Adderall (ab)use is rampant among law, medical, and other graduate students. I’ve heard multiple law students say that it’s impossible to be competitive without it and I had a close friend state that he wouldn’t have nailed his doctoral comps (English) without it.

      • Jay
        Jay says:

        Talking of side effects, I never see it mentioned in discussions like this but it really should be – Adderall’s ok, but Modafinil reduces the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill by about 60%. You take this stuff to concentrate better yet find yourself landed with the biggest distraction from work imaginable: a baby! Be careful.

  10. J
    J says:

    Mike… I laughed out loud reading your comment! I am currently reading this blog post at work and not focusing on my current task at hand.

    As someone with pharmacology knowledge and a Gen Y’er who has taken adderall (or d-amp as us nerds call it, for dextrose-amphetamine which is the chemical name for the generic brand of adderall) I will say this, what someone neglected to tell me in college was if you are using it to study, you also should take it while you are taking the test/quiz/exam you used it to study for.

    I have heard from people who have used cocaine and tried an AD/HD medication that the highs are similar which I could definitely understand since the two drugs work on virtually all the same neurotransmitters just in slightly different ways (one will block the re-uptake of a neurotransmitter while the other will stimulate the release of it).

    Also, another known fact is hollywood actors/actresses will use it for its appetite suppressent side effect (which is part of the reason I wouldn’t recommend taking it on a regular basis, half a day goes by before you realize you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast).

    Generally I save it for the days at work when I have a lot to get through, but sometimes you can find if you are really under the gun as far as deadlines, THAT in and of itself can be a motivator to prevent distraction (you have so much to do you don’t even have time to think about who’s emailing you or what someone wrote on your facebook page).

    I also agree with a previous comment that I wouldn’t recommend a “normal” individual taking more than 5mg of the drug at a time as it really is a stimulant and we all know what an excess of those can do to you. I will say though, my father (who is in his 50’s) and has suffered from textbook ADD his entire life is perscribed 60mg dose of D-amphetamine every morning to get through his day and he still has a hard time concentrating. That has to speak to the fact that our current reality is a little bit overstimulated and all this “lack of focus” is the result.

    • C
      C says:

      Dextroamphetemine is the chemical name for Dexedrine. Adderall is “mixed amphetemine salts,” dextroamphetemine and levoamphetemine I believe.

      The high from cocaine is pretty similar to the effects of pharmaceutical amphetemines, I guess, but I wouldn’t want to try to get much done on cocaine. Different strokes for different folks, though.

  11. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I wish I could say it was this easy, but at least in my case, it’s not. I may or may not have ADHD–they never seem to be able to tell for sure. All I know is I’m hyper and can’t focus or sit still–never could, still can’t. I’ve tried ritalin, concerta, adderall and now take strattera and none do much of anything for me. Possibly make me procrastinate a bit less, possibly make me less hyper physically–but as far as sitting and concentrating and not doing 5 things at once? Nope. I wish.

    I think maybe if you DON’T have ADHD stimulants help you focus or hyperfocus, but if you’re already inclined more towards not being a great focuser and/or are hyper and/or are a multi-tasker you may have some shade of ADHD, in which case meds like these might help you slow down some but probably won’t put you in hyper-focus “I read a textbook in one night” mode.

    Also, be careful with adderall if you’re bipolar–it will make you manic.

  12. Kim
    Kim says:

    The online world is designed to change your focus. Think about just this post. I quickly counted 22 links in this one article, all of which would take me down a different path. Just this post — nevermind my 2 open email accounts and the two other IE tabs I also have open at this very moment. Plus my desk phone and mobile phone right next to me, and *actual people* in my office.

    No drug will fix this.

    We are still in the very early stages of training our minds to manage an existence that is nothing but rolling distractions distractions. And I think the first step is abandoning the notion that focusing on one single thing is ideal.

  13. Wil Butler
    Wil Butler says:

    Focus is the destroyer of imagination.

    Focused people go to work every day, do the same thing every day, and go home, all to wake up the next day and do the same thing, until they die.

    They are extremely productive; they produce non-stop. But, all they produce is the same thing that is already being produced, because they are completely focused on their one goal, their one task. Their lives become pointless, meaningless.

    They are reduced to nothing but automatons.

    Mark my words, our obsession with productivity will be the downfall of creativity. One day we will reach the pinnacle of what we can accomplish in 24-hours, and on that day, we will find ourselves unable to create anything new, ever again.

    For we will be too focused on what we’re doing.

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      One of the few intelligent responses to this incredibly DUMB topic, thank you Wil.

      On to another topic . . .

      You know why we’re unfocused? Because most people hate their jobs, that’s why. And don’t tell me, once again, that we need to move on to something else if we’re bored or hate our job because I will say the same thing that I say in response to other topics that say this: most people can’t just up and leave jobs that bore them. The reality for most people is this: “work sucks” and that is why they do as little of it as they can get away with, and the go home as early as they can, and then they enjoy LIFE. If you’re one of the few who can 1) actually focus even in a boring job, 2) has a stimulating job, or 3) can just up and leave any job you don’t like, congratulations, you have our admiration.

      I’m pretty disgusted with Penelope’s advice in general. Take drugs, get plastic surgery; be as fake in general as you can to get ahead in your career because it IS your life. This is sounding frighteningly like the 80s all over again. I would stop reading if I wasn’t so fascinated to see what incredibly stupid advice was going to be offered next.

    • Happy Guy
      Happy Guy says:

      This is extreme rhetoric with a false either/or dichotomy. Company founders are often known for their ability to focus. You think Sergey & Larry at Google weren’t 1) creative and 2) focused on creating the best search engine?

      Creativity doesn’t always come from boredom & distraction. It just as often comes from thinking really hard about the problem in front of you. Read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity. Hell, just read the Amazon description:

      Synthesizing study results, he reports that none of the interviewees was popular during adolescence; while they were not necessarily more brilliant than their college peers, they displayed more “concentrated attention.”

      And BTW the reason I’m so late to comment on this is I’ve taken a couple weeks off from reading blogs and Twitter to help me focus. It worked. During that period I also came up with several creative ideas for my company.

      To that end, this week I’m testing a strategy of limiting my blog reading to nights and weekends, and only in the context of all my other reading. Blogs are great, but the New Yorker and these old-school things called “books” are usually better.

    • Hoggoshow
      Hoggoshow says:

      Anyone who says that Adderall affects your creativity and imagination is off their rocker. As someone who suffers from ADD (can only focus in about 10 minute bursts) and also works as an animator in the ARTS WORLD it is simply amazing! Starting out in the industry I was always on the edge of losing my job not being able to meet deadlines. I was in panic attack mode for months at a time working 14 to 15 hours a day to get the work done that many could achieve in a regular 8 hour day. I took a one month sabbatical contacted a Psychiatrist to discuss what was happening, was prescribed Adderral and now being at work every day is a joy. I went from hating my life and myself to loving every minute of it. I don’t experience any high either. My mind is calm. My thoughts focused. Its literally saved my life. If there were not drugs like these available I’d be doing a job that did not require any focus at all..probably bagging groceries. If your abusing the drug or you dont have difficulties focusing I can see how it might not be a good solution. But if you’re a candidate….I can not speak highly enough.

  14. Potteryyear1941
    Potteryyear1941 says:

    Meditation will have the same effect on your focussing abilities, and is entirely safe. Oh, wait, that requires effort over a length of time longer than, say, two minutes. Well, I guess that’s out for today’s culture.

  15. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    I, like most people, also deal with the wandering mind while trying to crank out work for a client with a time line. But I don’t think drugs are the answer. Most of us (me included) have bad eating/health habits that affect our mental focus and sharpness. We should all start there.

    Of course, I am writing this while eating the most delicious brownies (when will I ever learn).

  16. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    J above provides some important info: Adderall is a stimulant. Definitely risky in terms of addiction and overdose. Like many drugs, if users bothered to read in the PDR all the possible and common side effects, they might think twice about using it (but then again, people know cocaine kills and use that all the time anyway). Adderall sounds like the next generation’s caffeine. As a physician, I’m not as concerned about the morality of using Adderall as a performance enhancing drug (I really don’t know on which side of that line I fall) but more the medical risk. Like many drugs, the vast majority of folks who take it won’t suffer adverse consequences. But how do you know you’ll be in that vast majority? It definitely is addictive, as are all stimulants, and that should be taken into account by anyone wanting to use it.

    Near the end of your post, Penelope, you say: “Focusing on focus seems to distract from the real issue, which is knowing what you value most. Do we know that? And if we did know that, maybe our focus would come naturally from that. And our lack of time management comes from a lack of self-discipline which comes from a lack of focus which comes from a lack of knowing the meaning of life.”

    Substitute, “knowing your particular mission in life” for “meaning of life” and I think you’d have something there. People can discover/determine their mission/passion in life and pursue it. Focus is determined by so many factors, caring about what you’re doing being only one of them, but perhaps the most elusive. Focus for me comes from caring about what I’m doing, which comes from a deeply understood ultimate reason for why I’m doing it, which invariably is to remove suffering and bring joy to others. Once you’ve established a “fundamental cause” for why you live your life and then aim your interests and talents toward achieving it, focus arises out of motivation effortlessly.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  17. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    I am really scared of all addictive drugs (short of coffee). I think taking Adderall would wear a person out. I had friends in college who would take it to stay up all night and write essays when they have procrastinated all the way to the night before the due date.

    I would really recommend not taking the drug and instead learning to focus. It really is not that hard. It just takes a little bit of effort and practice. It is possible and most of us don’t need a drug to help us do it. Just a little self-discipline.

  18. Mike CJ
    Mike CJ says:

    Like many people who operate online, I’ve been seduced by all the lifehack type advice telling me how to run my life and work, and I’ve followed many foolproof plans to productivity. And you no what? I got things done, I completed my to do list, I WAS productive.

    BUT, the spark, the genius (?) just wasn’t there. Going back to being distracted, taking off and doing what I feel like doing, watching that funny video, brought that spark back. I’m all over the place again but suddenly I’m winning big contracts, getting more readers, and above all, I’m having a ball doing it.

  19. Dree
    Dree says:

    Productivity>focus>discipline>motivation>meaning of life

    I’m a little troubled that much of this seems to boil down to much the same the existential crisis stuff that was bothering me in high school.

    Back then, I dyed my hair black and wore leather pants from the Gap. Now, I’m not sure what my recourse is, especially now that those pants don’t fit.

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about charismatic leaders and productivity. Cults are SUPER productive, have you noticed that? People gtd in a most awesome/scary way when they have a beloved leader whispering in their ear. Kind of takes that oh-so-distracting guesswork out of the meaning of life bit for a time.

    And I feel that corporate culture is definitely moving away from the cultish, thanks in part to skittery Gen-Y changing jobs every two days or so.

    Do we still have charismatic leaders to lend us their sense of meaning for the day? Do they even matter? Or do we just have “gurus” telling us things we already know about not checking our email every 2 seconds?

  20. wilma Ham
    wilma Ham says:

    What and whose productivity are we talking about. What is it measured by?
    Having studied to pass exams, having been an employee has made me incredibly dumb and unproductive. I learned a lot but not the most important thing and that was thinking creatively for myself.
    Once we realized how little we can actually think, once we have created the space for ourselves to be able and have the time to really think, this focus issue will completely disappear. Do we see children having a problem with focus and productivity when we let them be and play outside?
    This article is describing how to remedy a bad situation with bad solutions.

  21. Casey
    Casey says:

    I am concerned about what I perceive as a cavalier attitude toward addictive medication and ignorance about the serious neurological disorder that is ADHD. My husband has severe ADHD that was finally accurately diagnosed and medicated with stimulant medication as an adult after eight years of therapy and four different therapists. People with ADHD have an increased risk of illegal drug abuse, auto accidents, depression, suicide, domestic violence and professional failure. He requires stimulants to function normally and they have the complete opposite effect on him than they do people without ADHD. Because of the amount of abuse of stimulant medication, it’s a royal pain in the ass to get his medication and there is always this hint of suspicion every time we call for the refill. My son has ADHD too and stimulant medication saved his self esteem as he went from a poor student who was teased because he never got his school work done to a top student in just a couple of months.

    If you don’t have ADHD (and if you think you do, just go get diagnosed–quit the self experimentation) and can’t focus and get your work done, get your shit together. You simply have bad habits. Stop fooling around with the drugs that some people really need just to get themselves on the same playing field as you. By pretending you have “society-induced” ADHD and taking these drugs to compensate with what are simply shortcomings, as opposed to neurological causes you cannot control, you minimize the actual disorder and perpetuate the ignorance surrounding it.

    • Hyper
      Hyper says:

      In Australia ADHD medication is VERY tightly controlled. 
      I had to get my initial diagnosis verified by 3 unassociated independent clinics before a final doctor verified the results and confirmed the diagnosis. When I need refills, I legally am unable to acquire it from anyone other than him without going through the process again, and even then there is a maximum which can be prescribed without direct government authorisation – each refill. 

      And I still get stigmitised for it by the rest of society who don’t understand and don’t want to understand because all they have to go off are the negative stereotypes facilitated by the incredibly lax policies in the modern US culture. 

      The hardest bit is not that others don’t understand, its that they don’t want to understand and will continue to deny the fact that they’ve made their mind up about something they don’t get and don’t give a shit about. 

      by the way people ADHD medication is not addictive if you need it. I forget to take mine and spend half a day paying for it. 

  22. Rocky
    Rocky says:

    Casey, I completely agree with you. My marijuana post above was meant to be sarcastic. Fact is there isn’t MUCH difference between using Adderall to using meth. I have a few friends recently who have rotated from being cocaine addicts to being Adderall addicts. The difference is subtle.

  23. Andy
    Andy says:

    So now you’re a drug pusher? FYI, Adderall is a controlled substance, and, unless it is properly prescribed by a physician for a medical condition for which it is an approved treatment (e.g., ADHD), it is ILLEGAL to take it and you’re no better than the junkie going out on the street to score a hit of crystal meth.

    And oh by the way…who’s paying for all this? No, let me guess – insurance, right? No wonder why our medical system is so screwed up.

    • Francine
      Francine says:

      Actually, taking Adderall (or any other prescribed substance) as long as you have a prescription for it, regardless of whether or not you meet the FDA-approved indications, is NOT illegal–it is simply off-label use. Many drugs are prescribed by competent physicians for off-label conditions. It is up to the user to trust the clinical judgment of the prescriber when taking a medication for a non-approved indication (or a self-diagnosed one), and it would be wise to read the package insert, PDR, and information from the pharmacy on the substance. FDA approval is no guarantee of safety, BTW–just look at Vioxx.

      I’m not advocating self-experimentation without a prescription for Adderall, simply setting the record straight about what constitutes illegal use of a drug.

  24. Trish  Lefkowitz Austin
    Trish Lefkowitz Austin says:

    I have to say NO to Adderall. I do not have an addictive personality. All people who take Adderall on a regular basis
    will become addicted. Unfortunately, my old doctor didn’t inform me of this fact. After a year, I have been able to lower my dose, but if I go off of the drug completely, I feel so depressed it scares me. We know so little about the brain and every one’s brain is so different…this isn’t the only drug I’m addicted to. I’ve written articles about this for Helium. Drug addicts aren’t always drug seekers. I woke up one day and realized I couldn’t function with out the medication or I felt like I needed more ex.Clonazepam to rid myself of anxiety.

  25. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Thanks for the New York magazine article … great distraction. Skip the Adderall as we would miss tweets such as “Meeting with our developer. All I need to do is listen to him. But I’m so bad at it that I schedule our meetings for dinner so I can drink.” and perhaps suffer with focused, boring tweets – ugh!

  26. Oliver Mayor
    Oliver Mayor says:

    I have ADHD inattentive type. I was put on a generic version of Adderall XR (amphetamine salts) several years ago. I felt several times smarter, calmer, etc. but this newfound attention didn’t make me more rational. I became highly successful at dismantling my life.

    Then, I lost coverage and couldn’t get the drugs. That. Sucked. I became very lethargic and depressed. Gained like 25 lbs.

    I was fortunately bailed out of this funk when my family intervened and got me the best, most reasonable, most helpful therapist I’ve ever encountered. I realized that the drugs really needed to have been accompanied with good guidance and therapy from a competent expert who gives a @$%^ about helping you improve your life.

    • Hyper
      Hyper says:

      Fascinating the first mention of type inattentive ADHD.
      I’m absolutely shocked at how behind the times the pharmaceuticals industry is in America.
      There is no ADD people.
      With greater research and development, the theory was revised. It is now (and has for a fricken’ while in the rest of the developed world at least been) known that there are three strains of ADHD – and the original term of ADD was the initial explanation for the whole phenomenon. they are:
      Type Inattentive ADHD, which Oliver mentions, which is a very difficult one to manage. A prescription counts for crap if its not accompanied with consistant therapy, exercise (both in discipline, organisational and life skills – and actual PE – yes people, diet and exercise are as essential as CORRECTLY prescribed medication itself) and self development. Without BOTH the prescription AND counseling, telling some one their problem is just self discipline is like telling a starving desert nomad all he has to do is take up fishing.
      Type Hyperactive ADHD is the more common, bouncing off the walls problem child stereotyped ADHD. It too needs a similar combined regimin for treatment, but in a different way. Type inattentives do not share the same difficulties as type hyperactives.
      The third type is a combined inattentive/hyperactive – poor things. 

      If you have been prescribed treatment for “ADD”, then your doctor doesn’t know shit and doesn’t keep up with developments in his own field and hasn’t for about a decade now. Your either not getting the treatment you need or your another one of those pain in the ass Gen Yers who do not need it, are abusing a system meant to help disadvantaged, and worst of all, aiding and propagating bad stereotypes about “ADD” medications which makes challenges faced by those of us who genuinely need it even worse. 

      Imagine living without ever being able to tell anyone why you behave the way you do and why you have such trouble controlling it. Coz the instant you say ADHD or Ritalin or Aderall, they think “oh, your one of those gullible pussies” and you’ve irreparably lost that person’s respect for good. 
      That is the worst bit about having ADHD.  

      If you don’t know which strain of ADHD you have, or you have been told you have “ADD”, then you have been incorrectly prescribed, are consulting an unqualified practitioner, and might not actually need it. 

  27. Rocky
    Rocky says:

    Maybe I just hit this blog at its low point, but it seems to represents everything I hate in contemporary American culture: overemphasis on success, plasticity, being a corporate drone. Instead of taking Adderall and working on your taxes, how about taking magic mushrooms and listening to Dvorak? You wont accomplish anything but you wont get addicted either.

    Another thing about Adderall: it turns people into assholes. (But they don’t notice.)

  28. Ohio lawyer
    Ohio lawyer says:

    Adderalll is a dangerous drug. Not only has it been associated with heart damage, but the fact that amphetamines can cause problems ranging from inappropriateness in social settings to florid pscyhosis is well documented and has been for decades. Amphetamines are also addictive.

  29. Ken Wolman
    Ken Wolman says:

    NOW I know why am a business flop and will never have a job in the “straight world” ever again! I cannot stop thinking outside the box, I can’t exclude from my field of vision anything that is not aimed at bettering The Enterprise The Enterprise The Enterprise, I can’t overlook the happy horseshit that I lived with at corporate jobs from 1976 to 2008–the politics, backbiting, rewards for real and metaphoric whores, and common indecency. I couldn’t not see all that so I developed this horrible attitude about the drones and ‘bots I worked with and for, and ended up instead–gasp!–teaching undergraduates. I ended up writing poetry, oh my God. I didn’t focus on becoming a great big fat success who looks good in horizontally striped shirts.

    I couldn’t become the corporate equivalent of Sasha Grey, letting my “superiors” (like I have any) give me facials, vomit baths, and golden showers in the name of Advancement. Maybe if I could’ve done all that, I’d be truly fulfilled instead of dedicated to the proposition that if I can’t join ’em I’m gonna rip the fuck out of them in print at every opportunity. Forget what you’ve heard about sour grapes: I am the true vine:-).

    Alderall? Is that like Princess Leia’s home planet Alderon that gets blown up in the first reel? Madame, I’m bipolar and I’ve been known to drink far too much for far too many years before God grabbed me by the scruff and said “Cut the shit, asswipe, you may die in misery but you’ll do it sober.”

    So now I find that I can get addicted to yet another drug in the name of foooooooocus and satisfying someone besides myself. Is there no end to the bad and downright dangerous advice you give in the name of career advancement without morals or scruples? When you write from your own heart you are beautifully intense and real. When you write about corporate advancement you remind me why I thank God that Morgan Stanley (Morgan Stanley, two feet from the bottom of the sludge!!) shitcanned the lot of us back last May. I tend to become what I behold and what I beheld was meretriciousness and a total lack of civility.

    That said, if I thought this crap could help me focus on writing poetry and more legally compromised blog entries, I’d steal some.

  30. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    It’s all in the brainwave frequency. The (higher) beta frequencies are your concentration brainwaves. The (lower) alpha brainwaves are your creativity brainwaves. Stimulants work on the beta waves.

    Find a good neurofeedback specialist to train your beta so that you can use it when you want it.

    Stay in your brain’s driver’s seat instead of handing control over to stimulants.

    By the way, if a person has ANY issues with ANXIETY, OCD, or related issue, they should NEVER take stimulants. Anxiety is a very high beta frequency, and stimulating that will just make it worse worse worse.

    This is why kids with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome can’t take stimulants.

    So Penelope, if you have any thoughts that you might be Asperger, run away from Adderall.

  31. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    I want to echo PLC.

    If you actually *HAVE* ADHD, for which Adderall is prescribed, it won’t keep you up all night, etc. Adderall actually makes you *calmer* so that you can sit through a meeting like a normal person! Recreational use of drugs to treat a condition you don’t have…..NOT SMART!

  32. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I had intense focus as a child, but not much creativity. Then something happened, and I developed adult onset ADD. I am now quite creative.

    I really need both. ADD is very expensive because of inefficiencies. Focus drives the creativity to its finale and makes the money.

    Being able to have instantaneous spans of focus could prove to be quite helpful.

    It would be interesting to know how I developed ADD in the first place. I wouldn’t trade the creativity to get the intense focus back. The focus thing can be trained, I’ve discovered through experience.

  33. Renee
    Renee says:

    For the last 10 years (I’m now 39) I have taken Adderall or Ritalin. I said enough this past spring and have been on vacation from these since then.

    Adderall and Ritalin both gave me an overwhelming feeling of contentedness which, as you might imagine, makes you not ambitious.

    Now that I am off it, I seem to lack the energy that Adderall/Ritalin had given me–and I miss that–but I’m also more outgoing now, chasing some dreams, and not walking around in a happy cloud all day.

  34. JS Dixon
    JS Dixon says:

    As someone with ADD I can tell you that having a different way of thinking is way better than being reliant on a prescription drug. If you want better focus, exercise, eat brain foods, and take 10 minutes to meditate. It does wonders. More importantly, DON’T MAKE EXCUSES. I was never allowed to use my ADD as an excuse, and it has become an asset because of it.

    A book titled “Secrets of Success for ADHD” actually points out that many of the features that makes people with ADD/ADHD so difficult can also be the thing that gives them their edge.

    If I can’t focus on something that I can not find any importance in than my prioritizing, and my critique of bad advertising happens automatically. Often creativity and high intelligence are listed as symptoms of ADD/ADHD, and the drugs do attack those two things.

  35. JC
    JC says:

    As a college student, I’ve taken Adderall. I’ve taken caffeine. I’ve taken them together. NEVER take them together.
    I’ve found that Adderall works like a large dose of caffeine over a long period of time. Keeping me awake, alert, and (a little) more focused, so that I can get through my crazy studies sometimes. But then, lots of caffeine does that as well.

    Which is healthier for me? Which is legal? Jury is still out on the former, but the latter is obvious.

    I stick to caffeine when I want to focus 99 times out of 100. Leave adderall for those who want to risk felony charges.

  36. Kevin Gordon
    Kevin Gordon says:

    I suggest you go to a local Narcotics Anonymous meeting and share your blog with them. They will sort you out.

  37. Ken Wolman
    Ken Wolman says:

    I find it just a trifle odd that my first attempt to post here never made it. I assume I didn’t hit the right key. So I’ll try to reconstruct the mess now.

    First, every time Penelope says something moving and profound here, as she did in talking about her own history, she is masterful and greatly moving. Every time she acts like the usual Gen Y or Millennial victim of Gimme (for you are victims), she blows her credit by sounding like the guru for the Academy of Screwing Others, a.k.a., being a big success in business because that’s all that matters. So now we are down to stuff controlled substances into our faces in order to maximize our concentration. Why? To aggrandize our precious careers and the bosses who will throw us under the bus at the first opportunity? To be able to Buy Stuff regardless of its intrinsic spiritual value? Maybe we’ll be able to donate more to our church or synagogue…who the hell and I kidding? This is Gen Y we’re talking about, they’re post-faith as well as post-human concerns

    Do you ever think about what you’re proposing, or are you so wrapped up in a Success At All Costs ethic that the moral issues of drug abuse–because that’s what it is–escape you? I used to study for finals in graduate school by popping amphetamines, a.k.a. diet pills. Yes, I got real focused. I also got to feed by addictions. You think a recovering alcoholic and addict–moi-meme–can do this safely, just because it will help my concentration and my focus on the Main Chance? Does one size fit all or shall we be a trifle discriminating? Can I be bipolar–as I am–and look the other way when someone proposes suicide in my direction?

    How anyone can endorse this as an practical method for success is beyond me. Except that there is a cadre of assholes out there who buy into a Success Ethic that excludes personal health and societal decency. You know who you are; some of you have posted comments to this blog. Others of you have seen right through the suggestion into a culture of amorality and getting yours at any price, even if the price is your own sanity.

    For Godsake, Penelope, your own life is a far more interesting subject than the horrific suggestions you make. I spent years trying to be successful and it took me some degree of honesty–after working at it from 1976 to 2008–to realize how much I despise the hand that fed me now and then, and to slap it the hell away because the candy it was holding is poisoned. I’d much rather do what I’m doing, teaching undergraduate the true and corrupt nature of business, than pretending I like it or the sick prices that were demanded of me in the name of a success that really wasn’t.

  38. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I took Ritalin for several years. Yeah I hear the cons of it but it was great for me. I was able to focus and my output was more creative because I could actually follow through on projects. I stopped taking it because I thought it was making me mean. My son was also taking it but it made him nice, he was intolerable without it.

    The other reason I got off of it is that I gained weight. I’d pig out in the evening when the drug wore off. Maybe I’ll go pick up another prescription. I have a genuine medical condition for which these drugs are the optimal solution.

  39. Kara Martens
    Kara Martens says:

    I tend to think creativity is mainly inherent, versus being tied so closely to staying focused.

    "…individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative."

    I don’t think that means that if those people stop being so focused, they’ll be able to be more creative. They are just naturally less creative.

    Although I do think that the amount of creativity you have can be enhanced and nurtured to reach its fullest potential, I think that changing up the amount of focus you have won’t significantly alter your creative abilities. I think sometimes it might feel like you’re being more creative, but maybe it’s just that your creative activity ebbs and flows over time.

    I *hope* this isn’t true – it’d be nice to know that if you set your mind to be overall a more creative person, then you could. But I tend to think you are what you are, just make the best of it.

  40. 60726x
    60726x says:

    Although better-living-through-pharmacology is interesting, I’m more fascinated by the “winner-take-all conditions in which small advantages produce disproportionate rewards” aspect. It’s a topic of my classmate’s blog today, too: http://finance.yahoo.com/expert/article/economist/178404

    These conditions occur in all professional sports. They don’t occur in recreational, participatory sports, although recreational drug use sometimes does. :) Can someone explain professional sports to me? I admire the athleticism and the dedication but why should I care who wins? Vicarious participation? Only a real stretch of imagination will enable a cubicle-dweller like me to identify with Lance Armstrong.

    Also, why do we have college athletic scholarships at all? Why is high-intensity baseball camps for 11-year-olds the best way to get a college education?

    What are the non-sport winner-take-all arenas? Why isn’t second place adequate? Does your GPA,GMAT,LSAT,MCAT,SAT score indicate mastery of a subject or just differential ability? If SAT scores only measure your investment in test preparation courses, is it still valuable? Or is this just a another instance of how management by metrics leads to management of the metrics?

  41. Liza
    Liza says:

    I read the first 3 paragraphs, then I lost focus and had no idea where I even left off…or what kind of a point your making…

    And then I saw how long the post was and decided to comment and then move on.

    So much for self-discipline. :)

  42. business
    business says:

    I’ve tried Adderall and been extremely successful at work for a period of about 6 months. It worked for me pretty well; I was able to focus on every task at hand, whip things out quickly, and keep in control of my thoughts while working. I’ve heard that if ADD medicine does work for you (helps you focus) then you have ADD, but if it counter-acts and makes you more hyper/distracted then you do not have ADD/ADHD. I guess there isn’t a proven medical test that Psychiatrists can use to determine if someone has ADD yet. Currently, I’m not taking it anymore. It’s too high-maintenance of a medicine for me to visit a Dr. every month just to get a refill.

  43. Anca
    Anca says:

    I’m waiting to read “Rapt” from the library, and apparently so is everyone else — there’s a huge line of people for it.

    I have a hard time concentrating on anything that does not easily grab and hold my attention. I’ve regularly fallen asleep in boring classes and boring work meetings. (Nothing says “I’m a star employee” like falling asleep at a meeting with your boss and all your coworkers in the room.) I tried caffeine pills in college but they failed to keep me awake. If I’m in a one-way lecture-type situation I have to force my brain to stay engaged, by taking notes or something.

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