This is a pill. Not just any pill, but one that has shaped a great deal of my life and of a larger scale, and one which is indicative of several social processes.
It is, of course, Adderall. An amphetamine stimulant, for those ticking the boxes, so connected to narcotics like meth, believe it or not. It is used, of course, to treat ADHD. I have ADHD. It’s always impacted how I can interact with the world. It’s a source of limitation for me within social systems. In elementary school, for example, I couldn’t escape the fact that no matter how good my grades were, a day where I didn’t fall out of my chair was a rarity.
Adderall is intended to change that. It’s interesting that that’s how society approaches ADHD. It’s always rejected people with it. In a past generation, I’d be given far worse than pills, punishments and ostracism and the like. I’d be seen as lazy, useless, no good. Sometimes I even still feel that. Sometimes it just gets too hard for me to get working on the things I need to, no matter how much medication I take, and it’s very difficult to not resent myself for it. There are expectations of behavior in society, and people with ADHD are not wired to conform with them. These pills are a way of enforcing that conformity. They helped me function normally, but I can’t say I was ever happy about it.
The side effects seem endless. They make me moody. Grim. Serious. Kill any chance of an appetite, let me tell you. You might need a meal desperately, but your stomach isn’t gonna want to accept anything. Middle school lunches were fun that way. Sleep? Forget about it. These thing will keep you up as long as they’re going. Creativity kinda gasps for breath a bit with their stranglehold. I took my exhuberant demeanor for granted, I used to be the sort of kid who skipped basically everywhere and did cartwheels on basically every available surface. Adderall and other stimulants to treat ADHD, well, they strangle that out. They’re necessary to function in life, but they rather take the joy from it, too.
I still take them (well, actually, I switched to a different sort of ADHD treatment with less unpleasant side effects, but still don’t enjoy it), because I know I have to. Plenty of people do. And we’re greatful. We know they give us a chance to make it in life in ways we couldn’t on our own. We know we’re less pathologized than we would have been before modern medical science, and we’re given tools to help get through life. Organizational classes and pills and the like. I feel ungreatful, but I just feel limited by it all. My brain is treated as a problem and I’m given things that make me unhappy for the solution. Conformity over identity. It needs to happen. Even now I’m struggling to just type this, to not check every other tab imaginable, to not do an excessive Wikipedia binge on tea leaves or some other random useless information that captures my attention all of a sudden. But it’s hard to embrace as a life. It’s like many queer issues, when I think about it. Non-binary genders, sexuality defying categories, all of those are about the brain defying the narrow confines of our society. So’s struggling with, what’s the term, neurodivergence? And society responds the same to them, on the whole. It tried therapy to take the gay away. It gets away with therapy to take away the ADHD, and that’s just how it is.
These little pills are also something of a problem for wider society. College kids like us in particular. Students love them. Extra energy to get through the night and extra focus to work on assignments, it’s like a miracle. Like I said, they kill any chance of sleep for me and do reign me in. It’s little surprise that students embrace them. The sleep preventation is also used for soldiers in the field, to keep them awake and alert. That’s not the only use they’re put to, either. The way they kill the appetite, like I complained? People embrace that for weight loss uses. If you don’t want to eat, you won’t get fat, and thus you’ll soon be slim as you like. What for me almost feels like an oppressive institution at times is for others a miracle cure. A tool for militarism and for pathologizing weight and for desperate students to scrape by with the grade. The global impact is huge in so many issues.
And there’s always risk of abuse. Students using them to stay up all night, for example, should know the risks. These are drugs. They carry tremendous risk of abuse, as they are highly, highly addictive. They also very quickly build up tolerance. I know I certainly quickly leapt up in doses with them when I was taking them, as my body quickly adjusted to each level I was filling it with. According to this site I’m looking at for some contextual information, “It is recommended that those intending to cease use of amphetamines or methamphetamines do so under the care and supervision of a doctor or with the assistance of a drug rehab program and related therapy.” That’s serious stuff, concerns about addiction and a need for rehab for something I was prescribed to take and that half my family is still taking something like a decade later. But it’s what we as a society have deemed the preferable alternative. ADHD is the problem, and that is the cure.
I’m not trying to take an anti-medication slant. Stuff like anti-vaccination concerns me just as much as many others. Modern medicine is an amazing thing that does improve our lives. My own life would probably be in a messier state without pills like this. But I think it’s worth asking, what does it say about our society if this is how we handle radical difference?