Messy question from a person who is a mess
December 11, 2009 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Please help me make a decision. I am exhausted and stressed and maybe I am not thinking clearly. A friend gave me Adderall. Should I take some?

Basically, I have been working very long hours (12-14 a day) without any time off (including weekends) for a couple of months. Long story short, worst semester of law school yet. I have three days before yet another exam and I am so tired and unprepared. I can't make myself do any work, and I really need to do this work.

Con side, I do not have a diagnosis, nor am i totally convinced that ADD is a "thing" or a thing that we can reliably diagnose. I am not trying to be insulting, sincerely, but I am ignorant and my ignorance makes me skeptical. Especially because I feel like it's cheating to declare that I'm not undisciplined, weak, lazy, spoiled, and so on, just "ill." Maybe some people are, but not me. I am pretty sure I'm just those things I listed.

Another con is that I don't even feel totally comfortable taking Advil... I have an irrational fear of pills. This sounds silly to me. We're taking about a 5 mg pill. I think that's the lowest available dose. But it still freaks me out.

I also fear that it either won't do anything or will be revelatory and life-changing and boom: dependency.

On the pro side, my three days to study are now 2.5 and I've made very very little progress. I also have been struggling for such a long time with what I think could fairly be characterized as a total inability to focus... part of me wonders if it really is "cheating" to take a drug that helps with that. Isn't that just a character flaw? But what if it's not? I don't know.

I think maybe this is a ridiculous question. I apologize. I'm probably just being ridiculous because I'm so tired, and so stressed, and feel so bad about how little I am able to do, and I feel like this is maybe me being tempted to do the wrong thing.

So here I am in the library surrounded by people who are sitting there doing work for minutes and hours at a time. It makes me feel inadequate and ashamed. The bottom line is I need to get my work done. I don't know what to do. I do not feel like I am thinking straight at this point. Please share your wisdom with me.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest get some sleep if you can.
posted by laukf at 1:06 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Instead of taking an adderall, it sounds like what you need is a good night's sleep. You're not going to perform well on your next exam if you don't get enough rest, and it seems to me that if you took the pill it would just put off your sleeping for a few more hours but not help you with the underlying problem.
posted by miss tea at 1:07 PM on December 11, 2009

Yes, I think getting a full night's sleep as soon as you can is your best bet. Give yourself an additional 4 hour break or so to do absolutely nothing but relax. Try and recharge, and then go into work mode.
posted by DeltaForce at 1:09 PM on December 11, 2009

It's never a good idea to take a prescription drug not personally given to you by a doctor. Call me old-fashioned, but there are too many things that you may not be aware of that could interact with your own physiology. Also, my dad's an ER doctor and he's told me too many stories of people taking all kinds of drugs given to them by friends as an act of kindness or for many different reasons - with terrible results. Please don't.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:09 PM on December 11, 2009

Don't take it. If you're already stressed and tired overextended, stimulants will not help. Do what you can for another few hours, then block out some time tonight to really relax and go to bed early. Do whatever you need to do to relax. I have an exam tomorrow. I started studying yesterday. I have two more at the middle of next week that I've done nothing for. I'm a little bit worried, BUT I know that I have a few 12-hour blocks that I can devote to studying in which I'll be well-rested, well-fed, etc. I promise you the point of diminishing returns is less than two days of rote learning.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:10 PM on December 11, 2009

This won't get me any After-School Special points, but:

You're clearly not in a state to get much work done right now. Taking a few hours to take a nap, get a snack, and do something fun could refresh you enough to get down to business. Adderall will probably help you focus now, and, depending on the dosage, for a few more hours.

Be aware that:
1. If you're never taken Adderall before, you will crash pretty hard after a few hours of intense energy. You will be pretty useless until you get some sleep or take more Adderall (I don't recommend taking more after you crash-- you'll be energetic but miserable).
2. Many universities look poorly upon students who use "performance enhancing" drugs like Adderall without a prescription. I'm not sure how I feel personally about the ethics of it, but if you do choose to take the drug, don't talk about it a lot unless you want to find yourself in front of a frowning dean.
3. For many people, the feeling of being on Adderall is very addictive. It's basically speed. If you find yourself wanting to use it often or recreationally, get some help.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:12 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

It seems to be that you are worried about bigger implications than just taking this pill once. I think you are looking at this decision in the wrong context. This is a short term decision not a long term one. It may lead to a second long term decision after you are finished with exams. You sound like you will not do the work without the pill as you are all anxious and wound up with a lack of sleep. If it were me, I would take the darn thing. IF it turns out to be "great" and helpful, then get an appointment with the appropriate doctor and find out if you have a real need for them or it was a one time event.

I must disclaim that I am not a doctor or any type of professional who should be recommending the use of pills. I am however a Dead Head who understands the risks and rewards of taking a pill.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:13 PM on December 11, 2009

Adderall is on my very short list of pills I would never, ever take unless specifically diagnosed and prescribed by a physician and/or psychologist. So, no, don't take any Adderall someone gave you.

In case you have difficulty sleeping, my son swears by melatonin when he needs to get some sleep. Try that.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:13 PM on December 11, 2009

You shouldn't take the Adderall, if for no other reason than that neither you nor your friend (I assume) is a doctor, and therefore neither of you is competent to determine whether the medicine and the dosage are correct for you. You may have a condition that you're unaware of that doesn't affect you on a regular basis but could be a contraindication for the Adderall. This is why you should never take someone else's prescription medicine unless you've taken the exact same thing (in the exact same dosage) recently.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:13 PM on December 11, 2009

Seconding getting a good nights sleep tonight. Meaning 7-9 hours. Re-assess the situation tomorrow.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:15 PM on December 11, 2009

I am however a Dead Head who understands the risks and rewards of taking a pill. Should be: of taking an unprescribed pill
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:15 PM on December 11, 2009

Get some sleep; you can do a lot in the next three days. Anecdotal data point: 5 mg of Adderall will likely have very little effect on you anyway. I was on 40 mg/day at one point in my life, and the effects were not that noticeable.
posted by halogen at 1:15 PM on December 11, 2009

I don't think a pill is your answer, but it's unlikely that you're lazy or weak. Focus problems are common in these situations, as things such as law school are fairly unnatural for the brain to deal with. We're cavemen made for hunting and gathering and being social - not for studying 14 hours a day for months. Give yourself a break.

What you may be lacking are some strategies to deal with this situation. As a grad school veteran myself, I always figured that if I were too tired to get some work done properly, the work that I got done (especially where studying is concerned) isn't likely to be any good anyways. Drop everything today, give yourself a mental break and start fresh tomorrow morning. Either get some sleep, get some exercise or go out and do something you otherwise enjoy to get your mind off things. Don't sit and stew.

A well-rested brain concentrates much better and is able to get good work done. Whenever you find yourself waffling like that, step away and do something else until you feel you can come back to it with some focus.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2009

I'm confused -- are you in law school in addition to working 12-14-hour days, 7 days per week? Or are you saying you've been studying those hours for the last couple of months?

If you've been studying that much, you're definitely not "undisciplined, weak, lazy, spoiled, and so on." You're utterly exhausted, and with good reason. That's a punishing, unsustainable schedule for almost anyone.

Get some sleep and reassess once you're better-rested.
posted by palliser at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2009

I'm going to be a wet blanket and say you should not take prescription drugs that were not prescribed to you - even if they may not actually do you any "harm."

In case you have difficulty sleeping, my son swears by melatonin when he needs to get some sleep. Try that.

Seconded. It's worked MIRACLES for me in terms of actually sleeping at human hours and for a full 8 hours at a stretch.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2009

The problem is, to me, that you don't KNOW how it's going to affect you. It might help, which would be great. It might do nothing. But it might make you feel worse, too hyper to actually work or to get any sleep. With the level of anxiety you have about it, I am pretty worried you might end up in that last slot. I remember how stressed law school finals and the bar exam and all that were; the best things I did were to listen to my then-fiance-now-husband who forced me to take lots of breaks and get plenty of rest. Good luck, and remember - this won't last forever.
posted by bunnycup at 1:23 PM on December 11, 2009

Lawyer here, but I've never taken Adderall, so I can't address that part. However, I do know about exam stress.

It sounds like you're either burning out or at severe risk for burnout. I believe you'll get more out of taking the afternoon and/or evening off and going back tomorrow morning than you would out of continuing to work in the state you're in. As Inspector.Gadget suggested, you're well past the point of diminishing returns.

If I were you, I'd set out a rough outline of what you plan to do over the next two days, and then do my best not to think about law school until tomorrow morning. I'd also consider visiting the school's health service to see if they have any programs to help students deal with exam stress. However, I'd stay away from campus until tomorrow morning with the exception of the health service and maybe the gym.

I'm so tired, and so stressed, and feel so bad about how little I am able to do

So here I am in the library surrounded by people who are sitting there doing work for minutes and hours at a time. It makes me feel inadequate and ashamed.

Trust me: everyone else in the class feels more or less the same way.

(On preview: seconding palliser's argument that anyone who keeps that kind of schedule is definitely not lazy, and grapefruitmoon's melatonin recommendation.)
posted by tellumo at 1:27 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are like me, your response to ADD meds may be to become insanely stressed. Which is probably not a good garnish for a big hot heaping bowl of already grinding your teeth.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:35 PM on December 11, 2009

It may give you more physical energy, but it's very likely that if you're already tired that it will actually hurt your concentration. 8 hours of sleep will be far more of a help.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2009

If you're going to take it -- and I'm not sure you should for all the reasons listed here -- consider doing so AFTER you get some sleep. I realize you're worried about a time crunch, but I think it would be more effective for you after you've gotten a little rest. 2 days with a decent rest > 2.5 days tired and possibly strung out on a pill you've never taken. And if during those 2 days, you decide to take the pill, I am certain your 2 days will be more productive than the 2.5 days.

Think of it this way, if you took it right now, you'd be taking it to get out of a hole. If you rest, the hole will be filled in. And if you take it, it will be much more effective. You may also find, after some rest, that you don't feel you need it.

Good luck! A truly weak lazy person would not be so worried -- but try not to be your own worst enemy (don't mean to sound rude -- I'm only speaking from experience as someone whose self-doubt has often been his biggest obstacle.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:40 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I took adderall at 1am the day my intermediate drawing final pieces were due.
I took it, sat in front of a mirror and began drawing self-portraits and did not move from that spot for 8 hours. My attention span was limitless.

That's just my experience.
posted by ad4pt at 1:46 PM on December 11, 2009

Don't worry about the rightness or wrongness of this in a moral sense right now. Don't worry about whether ADD exists. Don't worry about what other people are doing. The reason not to do it right now is that you have a finite amount of time left and you don't know how this will affect you. It could make things worse, even if just somewhat. I was prescribed it and took it briefly and and it took some real getting used to. I ended up giving it up after a little over a week because of how it made my brain feel and how it made me volatile.

Take a walk, do some push ups, drink some water, eat some fruits and vegetables, get some sleep. Identify the things you could accomplish with your remaining time that would give you the most bang for your buck on your exam and let the others go. You won't go into this exam ideally prepared. Accept that (which will allow you to release some of the anxiety) and maximize what you can. Wishing you luck.

As someone who is here on the site instead of working towards his own deadline, let me say to you - get off the internet!
posted by Askr at 1:49 PM on December 11, 2009

Seconding MCMikeNamara-- if you choose to take it, it will definitely be way more effective after a good night's sleep.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:49 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing getting some sleep. Just reading your post I can tell you're in the kind of crazed, self-defeating cycle that comes from sleeplesness and anxiety. Also, Adderall could really backfire on you if you don't truly have ADD - as in amp you up and enhance your anxiety, not to mention making it even harder to sleep.

If you are trying as hard as you say you are to focus and can't, that is absolutely not a 'character flaw'.

You will feel so much better and be able to focus better after some rest, I promise you.
posted by mattholomew at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get some sleep, save the Adderall for when you're well-rested but have to be REALLY ON THE BALL.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:12 PM on December 11, 2009

One thing needs to be said right now, to dispel all the silly illusions you seem to have:

Adderall will not help you focus.

I will repeat that, because it's a very, very important point that you need to let sink in and digest.

Adderall will not help you focus.

I don't think this is a ridiculous question – on the contrary, good for you for having the guts to ask it, since asking other people what you should do in this situation is probably the best thing you could do. However, Adderall is not a drug that helps people focus. That's not the purpose of Adderall. In the same way, I wouldn't recommend you undergo chemotherapy in order to prevent cancer, on the off-chance that you might have a tumor somewhere. Why? Because it would do a good deal more harm than good. Adderall won't make you feel as awful as chemotherapy might, but it won't be very fun.

There's a dramatic misconception that a lot of people have about ADD; I'm diagnosed, and I take an Adderall equivalent (dextroamphetamine) which is prescribed to me for it, and I hear this dangerous idea perpetuated all the time. People seem to have the idea that Adderall, Ritalin, and other ADD-treating stimulants are drugs which generally promote focus. I think that people believe that because, without thinking about it, they assume that ADD-diagnosed people have pretty much the same brain chemistry as everybody else. But the fact is, even if you don't believe ADD is a real thing, the drugs which are used to treat ADD won't get you what you're after.

I could preach to you about how my condition is real and should be taken seriously, but honestly it's not something that worries me in this case so much. I'm more concerned that people seem to be constantly getting the wrong idea about these drugs; I get asked for them all the time by people who should know better.

So, minus the preaching, and without laying any claim to whether ADD is real or not, here is a summary what we know via scientific study:

(1) Most people generally become more agitated and less prone to focus when exposed to stimulants which they're not used to; they get jittery and shaky and their ability to approach problems broadly from a calm perspective decreases.

(2) Studies seem to show that a small proportion of people strangely have the opposite reaction to stimulants. These people become calmer and more apt to focus when given certain specific stimulants. This is a strange phenomenon that doesn't exactly make perfect sense yet; but it's the scientific basis for the prescribing of Adderall, Ritalin and other ADD-treating drugs.

Whatever you do, don't forget that first bit: that, whether you believe in ADD or not, it is highly unlikely that you are in the small subset of people for whom select stimulants promote calm and focus. Seriously, these stimulants do things to me that they do not do to other people. Most people can't sleep better if they've taken an amphetamine; I can. Is this normal? No, and I don't think you should bet on being as weird as I am.

Adderall will make you jittery, and it will only aggravate and annoy you; believe me. Most important of all, Adderall will destroy your ability to focus on any given thing. That's what it does to people who aren't in this rare group. And I have a feeling you really, really do not want that.
posted by koeselitz at 2:26 PM on December 11, 2009 [7 favorites]

Anon, I'm a second-year law student and a person with ADHD. I was not diagnosed until the summer between 1L and 2L, so I've seen the difference that diagnosis and treatment has made in the way I work and study. With that in mind, here's my advice:

1. No matter how tempting it is, DO NOT TAKE THE ADDERALL NOW. Sure, it's only 5 mg, but as many commenters have astutely noted, you have no idea how you'll react to it. The neuropsychologist who diagnosed my ADHD told my psychiatrist that he strongly recommended I try a combination of meds and cognitive behavioral therapy. Even with a strong recommendation from a colleague she knew well, my psych would not start me on Adderall until I'd had a heart and bp check. My bp was high and the dr. heard a faint heart murmur, so faint that you could only hear it when I was lying down, and I still had to get an EKG and an echocardiogram before she gave me a prescription. Now I'm taking both Adderall and an antianxiety medication, and she still keeps an eye on my vitals. We also started on very, very low levels, and gradually I worked up to a level that works for me. But it takes time and communication. You definitely don't want to do this when you're exhausted and panicking.

2. I'm guessing that you've been in law school for more than one semester, so you don't need me to tell you how stressful and awful finals are. Everyone's big on saying that 1L finals are the Worst Ever, and I think they're right, but I was still kind of surprised by how stressful my 2L finals have been, even though I'm now able to focus much better, I can participate in class without feeling stupid, and I have a decent handle on the material. It's still arduous and still awful. I don't know a single person who feels prepared for finals. I don't even bother asking my classmates how they feel, because they look at me as if I had just personally eaten their puppy.

3. On preview, what Askr said. The next few days are about two things. One is the exam. The other is your own self-care. The importance of drinking water can't be overstated. If you can't make time for exercise -- I know it's really hard for me during finals -- get up and stretch at least once every hour-90 min. Get as much sleep as you can. Just do what you need to get through -- except taking the Adderall when you are exhausted. When you are done with all of your exams, that's the time to think about whether you have ADD, or even believe in it. (I won't try to proselytize, because brain chemistry is an incredibly singular phenomenon, the original YMMV.) If you have questions, please feel free to MeMail me -- after you get through your finals.

Good luck. I promise you that you are not alone here.
posted by bakerina at 2:26 PM on December 11, 2009

Read this whole thing, please. Of course you should not do anything without a legal prescription for this controlled substance. Etc, blah.

I'm not going to tell you not to take the Adderall, I sure as fuck would take it in your situation (and have).

I like pills, pretty much the opposite of your feelings towards them, and I like Adderall more than most pills. I get warm and fuzzy and happy when I think about pills. You, on the other hand, are freaking the fuck out. If you're freaking the fuck out, think twice about taking Adderall. There is a good chance that it will increase your anxiety, so if you want to take it, you need to relax. In a (perhaps futile) attempt to relax you, I will share some of what I know about this drug.

--You are not going to become a freaky Adderall addict dependent weirdo giving blowjobs for mixed amphetamine salts. I am supposed to take 20 mgs IR a day, and it's so habit-forming that I forget to take it. That's right, I love it, and I still forget to take it. Now, I have been on some habit-forming drugs, Xanax among them, and you'd better believe I never, ever, forgot to take my Xanax. I wasn't even abusing it but I sure as hell was physically dependent on it. Adderall, on the other hand--if you don't abuse it, it's not going to be a thing. Like alcohol is a thing for some people, but it doesn't have to be a thing. That's not a great comparison, because coming off of Adderall doesn't give you a hangover, and Adderall makes you a better driver.

-- Instant release (little blue pills) Adderall only lasts about 4-6 hours, then you're done. If you hated it, don't take more. If it's XR (a little caplet with tiny balls inside it), it will last--and keep you up--for 8-12 hours after you take it--don't take it at 8pm unless you hate yourself. You might want to pull an all-nighter but your body does NOT.

--5 mgs is a very small but effective dose. If you want less, you can cut the pills, you can also open the capsule and only take some of the contents. Maybe, in your situation, I would take 2.5, wait an hour, and if I felt okay take the other 2.5 mgs.

--When it starts to wear off you might get heart palpitations, especially with the IR. It feels like your heart is beating really hard and fast. That is completely normal, not harmful to your heart, and does not mean you're dying of an overdose. Of course this is my non-doctor opinion.

--Don't forget to eat a decent amount of food and drink water, even if food seems gross to you.

--DON'T COMBINE WITH CAFFEINE. Pick one or the other. Caffeine + Adderall + Stress= jittery anxiety freakout mess. If you usually have caffeine and take Adderall instead, you might need to add a pain reliever to the mix lest you get a caffeine-withdrawal headache.

Now to address your semi-unspoken question about you having ADHD, whether it exists, whether it should be medicated, whether you should be medicated, etc.

...I'm not undisciplined, weak, lazy, spoiled, and so on, just "ill."

Let's play pretend: you, and I, and everyone else who is diagnosed with ADHD, doesn't actually have it. Instead, we have various character flaws that make us sucky, un-Protestant-work-ethic losers.

Okay, well, guess what? We can fix our various character flaws by popping some pills. They're even generic! Take that, idle hands, you're the devil's plaything no longer! Bye, lack of discipline! See ya, laziness! I don't feel like being spoiled today, I better take some Adderall! Yay! I'm not a loser anymore! Thanks, Adderall!

Maybe ADHD is made up or secretly nonexistant...does it really matter, if the end result is the same? People being happier, more productive, better listeners?

On a broader note, law school is really important, but please re-think your approach to it, up to and including taking time off to get your mental health/studying skills together. I know that's not a law-school "thing" and you're supposed to do x, y, and z in one specific order like you're on a conveyor belt. But consider it anyway.

You let a hangnail turn into some sort of arm gangrene and now you're calling 911. Next time deal with the hangnail, yeah?
posted by kathrineg at 2:26 PM on December 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

follow up from the OP: "I have been getting plenty of sleep, 8-9 hours every single night. Because sleep is the only other thing I do besides go to the library. Everyone in the thread seems to be basing their advice on the reasonable assumption that I am sleep deprived. I am not."
posted by jessamyn at 2:36 PM on December 11, 2009

Huh. I wasn't basing my advice on that assumption in the least.

You've been studying AND sleeping,'s not really sounding like you have ADHD to meas much as it's sounding like you are panicking, maybe mixed with a little low-self-esteem. Again, panic and Adderall are not a good mix.

Pulling an all-nighter would probably be counter-productive if you're studying (vs writing a paper), although Adderall will help you study, you learn the most when you study over a long period of time. So is the lost sleep, and the accompanying loss of cognitive function, going to be worth the few hours of sub-optimal study? I doubt it.

For reference, 5mgs of Adderall XR at 3pm used to keep me up until 4am, easily. It's up to you whether you use that info for good or for evil.
posted by kathrineg at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to take 40mg of Adderall every day. I often gave it to my friends, who always loved it. It absolutely helped me focus, every time I took it, and never have I heard a single story from a reliable source about it not doing what it's supposed to do.

One thing to note: helping you focus and helping you prioritize are not the same thing. So, sometimes I would be on adderall looking at porn instead of studying. Boy, did I focus on that porn. So make sure you're already committed to whatever activity it is on which you're trying to concentrate.

Finally, 5mg is very little. I predict that if you take it, you won't end up feeling that much different than if you drank a lot of coffee. You won't get addicted. You won't freak out. It will probably help you.

It won't take away your anxiety about cheating, whether or not there is such a thing as ADD, etc. In my view, it's all very clear: it's not cheating, there is definitely such a thing as ADD, and labels like undisciplined, weak, etc. were basically invented to keep peasants in line so they would buck up and protect the manor. But you have to make your own decisions there.

Anyway, my recommendation is that you go ahead and take it. It will help you a little tiny bit with your focus, and maybe it will help you with your pill phobia as well.

It's a pretty good bet that I've taken more adderall than everyone here put together, even though I haven't had any since about 2002. This won't be a popular piece of advice, but I do know what I'm talking about.
posted by bingo at 3:22 PM on December 11, 2009

Thanks for the update.

1) You're not lazy. Quite the contrary; you're tired from overwork.

2) Your classmates are not machines. A very few may have the kind of extraordinary stamina that allows them to work 14-hour days, 7 days/week, for 2 months straight and still have something in the tank. But in general, they can't do that, either, and they're the relevant comparisons for grading purposes.

3) It seems from what other commenters have said that Adderall may amplify anxiety. I don't think that's a great idea. I think the relaxation suggestions above -- take a break, get a little exercise, eat some real food -- would do more for your ability to concentrate than a stimulant.
posted by palliser at 3:41 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Warning: this is an unpopular opinion, coming from a non medical professional.

I am diagnosed AD/HD. I take Vyvanse (dextroamphetamine). The idea that amphetamines will "destroy focus" for anyone and everyone who is not in the "rare group" of people who have ADHD is, frankly, horseshit. Why do you think it's so popular as a study drug?? Because it WORKS.

Note: I am NOT saying that AD/HD does not exist. I am not saying that adderall has the same effect on people who have AD/HD as it does on people who do not have AD/HD, but that doesn't mean the drug is necessarily working differently in my brain than it would in yours, just that my brain is deficient to begin with. Amphetamine is a stimulant--I take it to get up to speed (no pun intended) with everyone else. Me on adderall is you on not-adderall. You on adderall is me on even more adderall. (Full confession time--I sometimes take more than I am prescribed when I am in a position like you find yourself.)

However, it IS true that some people react badly--increased anxiety, heart palpitations, jitteriness, feeling agitated. You might clench your jaw or grind your teeth, which can be uncomfortable. Instead of doing your work, you might hyperfocus on surfing the internet or watching TV. You might get a bad headache.

There's also a chance that it'll do absolutely nothing. 5 mg is a VERY small dose. You don't say if it is XR or IR, but the recommended starting dose for adults is 30 mg for XR. The average adult dose for IR is close to 60 mg. You'll probably get better results from drinking coffee.

The point is, you have no way of knowing how it will affect you. If you take it tomorrow morning (don't take it after noon, because it might give you insomnia), you might lose a few hours (maybe even a whole day) of studying if it makes you feel horrible. On the other hand, it might give you the boost you need to really buckle down (or the placebo effect might). Only you can weigh the risks and decide if it's worth it to you.

I understand that this is an unpopular opinion. I am not a doctor, and I understand that you're not supposed to take any medication that's not prescribed to you. However, I bet that a ton of the people you see studying in the library are on adderall that is not theirs. Go ahead and take it, but be prepared that it might be a shitty experience, or it might do nothing noticeable at all. Unless you are crazy sensitive to amphetamines, I bet it will be the latter.
posted by cosmic osmo at 3:58 PM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, REALLY consider how you feel right now, before you take it. You say that you're exhausted and stressed but you're getting enough sleep. You NEED to give yourself a real break because you sound completely BURNED OUT. Pushing through is COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE, because two and a half days of ineffective studying is not as good as one and half days of studying while feeling calm and centered. Take the evening off, watch mindless TV, take a bath. Forget the books. If you do this, I bet you will feel a lot better in the morning and more prepared to do your work and won't feel like you have to take the adderall after all.
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:08 PM on December 11, 2009

Here's the thing: you are contemplating taking speed.

I can't recommend to anyone to start down the road of taking amphetamines without a doctor's prescription. I'm sure you will be just fine, but meth is just a dirtier, less fun form of adderall. Using speed under a doctor's supervision and for a specific reason is one thing, taking pills to get more hours out of the day is abuse, pure and simple.

cosmic osmo- I guess it depends on the person. When I take my prescribed 40 of Vyvanse, I feel fine. When I took 50 (at my doctor's suggestion), I feel like I'm on speed and can't concentrate. Stimulants have a limit, yours is clearly higher than mine. But that's the point- don't go around telling people they will be fine when you have no way of knowing.

Stimulants are a good tool to help people with certain problems. But there are tradeoffs- regardless of the neurological condition the stimulants are there to help, you are still putting speed into your body. When you use it therapeutically to correct some deficiency and get one's performance to 100%, that's fine. But when you use it to go beyond 100%, that IS abuse.
posted by gjc at 5:15 PM on December 11, 2009

Oh, and it can make stress worse.
posted by gjc at 5:15 PM on December 11, 2009

cosmic osmo: “The idea that amphetamines will "destroy focus" for anyone and everyone who is not in the "rare group" of people who have ADHD is, frankly, horseshit. Why do you think it's so popular as a study drug?? Because it WORKS.”

(1) It's popular as a study drug because people are stupid. Seriously. Believe me. I've been prescribed these things for twenty years, through high school, college, grad school, the works. I've given dozens upon dozens of pills to friends, and I've seen what always happens: they take the stuff and they 'zone in' and they fail to do what they probably would've been able to do without it. I know a few people who swear it helps them, but I've seen them on the stuff: they can't focus on a normal level.

(2) My statement that amphetamines "destroy focus" wasn't horseshit - it's borne out by all the scientific studies that have been done in this area so far, and what's more I think you'll see what I'm getting at if you only examine yourself and the effect they have on you.

What most people don't realize - ADD people as well as non-ADD people - is that there are various levels of focus, and only one of them is suitable for 95% of the tasks any person might face in a given day: a calm, easy focus which is in complete control of the mind, and ready to shift at will, so that a person can concentrate on three or four things at any given time and hold them all running concurrently in their mind. Those of us who are ADD don't suffer from an inability to focus generally - we suffer from an inability to control the level of our focus, and are prone to completely random distraction interspersed with what is clinically called 'superfocus.' When non-ADD people - people for whom the proper level of everyday focus is natural - take ADD-treating amphetamines and other stimulants, they tend either to go into non-focus mode, getting completely distracted, or instead to go into superfocus. ad4pt actually described superfocus pretty well up above:

“I took it, sat in front of a mirror and began drawing self-portraits and did not move from that spot for 8 hours. My attention span was limitless.”

... and that's well and good, especially for an art project. But, first of all, amphetamines are just as likely to cause extreme inability to focus in non-ADD people; and, second of all, even if amphetamines bring superfocus, that's not actually a good thing, especially in a study that requires paying attention to a lot of extraneous details rather than focusing intently on a single image in front of you. And when amphetamines create that superfocus, it's usually difficult for the inexperienced to control it enough to be able to do anything productive whatsoever; a law student like anon, for example, would probably just spend the entire time staring at the first page or two of the text, intently focused on it.

And, again, you're completely ignoring the fact that about half of people won't have the focussy reaction to amphetamines at all, and will just get jittery and aggravated.

I don't want to have an argument about this, but it's an interesting thing, this spectrum of focus, and I think people misunderstand it; extreme focus is not actually a good thing when it comes to studying, especially when you're studying something like law, because it creates an inability to see the whole picture.
posted by koeselitz at 5:55 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Adderall is not a terrible drug. It is very unlikely that you will get addicted to it. It will keep you awake, and make you focus intensely for the next 6 hours or so, and then you will collapse in a heap and sleep for 12 (especially since you are running on very little sleep to begin with). I know what it's like when exams roll around - you are a walking zombie fueled only by coffee/red bull/ and the terrifying adrenaline drive of fear. Taking Adderall once will most likely have no long term side effects.

However, the fact that you are so upset by the very concept of even using it that you've taken your time to submit a lengthy question to the hive tells me that you probably shouldn't use it. It seems to me that you have moral questions with taking Adderall, and drugs in general. If that's the case, the don't do it. Get a few hours of sleep, brew a fresh pot of coffee, and settle in for a long night. I completed my senior thesis driven by nothing but fear. You can do it!
posted by bloody_bonnie at 5:56 PM on December 11, 2009

Do they cover this in law school? I mean, about the laws for taking unprescribed medicines? If you are looking for more cons in your pros/cons list, you could look that up.

If you had to defend your illegal action in court, would you be happy with the defense you sketched for us in the question (from your pros list)?

When you finish law school, will you ever need to swear that you've disclosed all illegal activities, or will you ever need to swear that you've not engaged in illegal activities?
posted by Houstonian at 6:38 PM on December 11, 2009

I am not trying to be insulting, sincerely, but I am ignorant and my ignorance makes me skeptical.

Then educate yourself, schoolboy. Ignorance would be a legitimate excuse if you lived in some backwater without access to a library and the Internet, but that's clearly not the case.

Here's the general rule about medications: you don't know how you're going to react to them until *after* you've taken them. You don't know what dosage is going to achieve what medical people (note: I am not one) call a "therapeutic effect." Essentially, everyone's body chemistry is different. That's why dialing in the right dose of a medication for any particular person involves a lot of trial and error--for people with medical degrees, mind you.

Your whole post could be paraphrased as "I'm completely freaked out, and I'm contemplating taking a pill I know nothing about, which I obtained illegally, which is prescribed for a condition I don't have and which I don't really believe exists, and, in fact, I have some anxiety about medications in general. On top of all that, I'm in a really crucial situation where time is of the essence, so if this experiment goes south, I'm totally screwed. Should I take it anyway?"

Dude, what you need is a reboot: a few hours of shut-eye, a nice shower, a fresh pot of strong coffee (assuming you're familiar with how coffee effects you), and a high-protein, low carb meal. Hit the books with renewed energy. Get through as much as you can and then hand it over to the fates. You can only push your body so far before it pushes back.
posted by wheat at 7:35 PM on December 11, 2009

koeselitz--I would love to read the studies to which you refer. Do you understand how Adderall works?

It's not that adderall does one thing in one person's brain and another thing entirely in someone else's. It elevates levels of dopamine, full stop. The "paradoxical effect" to which you allude, that a tiny group of people with AD/HD respond one way and everyone else responds another is complete bullshit, a myth that was disproved thirty years ago. How someone will react to a certain amount of adderall depends on their level of dopamine to begin with. Everyone has a threshold; people with AD/HD have a higher one. That's it. When you talk about people not having the "focussy reaction," what you're talking about is being overstimulated.
posted by cosmic osmo at 8:20 PM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, as someone who does not have ADHD, I've got to say that stimulants still make me focus. Doesn't mean they're for everybody, but there's a reason that Adderall's a hot commodity on college campuses and in high-pressure jobs (it's not because everyone has ADHD).

There are plenty of good reasons not to take it. It will make you able to study hard, though.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:39 PM on December 11, 2009

I have taken Adderall a couple of times when I have had trouble focusing on school work. It works.

Here's the trouble: the first time, it worked too well. I took 5mg at 2pm, and I was up irritable and up half the night (being anti-social is certainly a possible side-effect). But I did get a huge amount of work done.

In contrast, others take many times that dosage for to get the effects. Know that different people have very widely different effective dosages. I would start with as little as 1.25mg or 2.5mg and work up from there.
posted by zxcv at 10:57 PM on December 11, 2009

Why betray your own natural aversion to pills, especially with meds that weren't prescribed for you? Get off the internet and do something physically tiring: a very long, hard walk; a run; a gym workout; a power yoga class; whatever.
posted by Paris Elk at 1:48 AM on December 12, 2009

Anyway, as you can see from those of us who have ADHD who are populating this particular thread, Adderall is good for writing a lot but not always so good for quiet, calm, contemplation. Think about it! If you can get us a follow-up, that would be awesome.
posted by kathrineg at 5:17 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can't focus because you're freaking out? Have you tried chamomile tea or something else calming to see if it helps you focus? (This trick works for me sometimes.)
posted by salvia at 9:49 AM on December 12, 2009

a very long, hard walk; a run; a gym workout; a power yoga class; whatever.

I'll classify this one with the suggestions that people "go volunteer for charity!".
The OP needs to catch up on their sleep.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:33 PM on December 12, 2009

follow-up from the op
I hate when Ask threads remain cliffhangers, so I am asking Jessamyn (who has been very kind) to post this follow-up. I have not taken the Adderall. I expect to do very badly on my exam (tomorrow), and I know that's almost entirely because I don't seem to be capable of sitting down and working steadily for more than a minute at a time. I think I created the impression in my original question that this is a one-time problem and the result of months of overwork. That's not the case. I have never been able to sustain concentrated focus on my work. That's why I have to sit in the library for 12 hours a day: it's the only way I can do 4-5 hours of work (on a good day). I don't know why I am this way, and I have gotten better over time (went from failing out of high school to doing well in law school), but this semester I haven't had enough time to afford my inefficiency, and the result is that I am unprepared and feel that I have failed. So I was so upset when I posted (and I apologize for, um, vomiting my drama all over y'all) in part because I am exhausted but largely because for me this isn't just about this next exam but my whole life... I don't know what to do about my lack of discipline, and it fills me with deep shame, frustration, and saddness.

Ooops, long story. Short version: thanks, everyone, for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I appreciate it very much.
posted by jessamyn at 12:03 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thank you for following up with us. You sound miserable and hopeless. I'm sorry to hear that. You have been spending 12 hours a day in the library, and you're still not prepared for this test. How frustrating! You're putting in the time and thinking about this, and that's important. I do think there is help out there for you, whether it's ADHD-related, or something else. Please feel free to MefiMail me or email me.

Good luck!
posted by kathrineg at 3:23 PM on December 13, 2009

Well in that case, go see your doctor. Tell the doctor what you've told us about your inability to focus and the lengths you have to go to to get things done. He or she may tell you you're a great candidate for Ritalin or Adderall or Strattera or something. Or maybe you get referred to a mental health person who then makes that determination. Or maybe they'll say you're right, it's just up to you to buckle down. But it's worth looking into. If you do nothing, you know things will stay this way. If you do something, there's a possibility they'll get better. Good luck.
posted by Askr at 9:00 PM on December 22, 2009

I don't know what to do about my lack of discipline, and it fills me with deep shame, frustration, and saddness.

One possible solution: Take Adderall. Or some other drug actually prescribed to you by a doctor.
posted by bingo at 7:14 PM on January 9, 2010

No problem, and once again, please allow me to re-suggest the health service. Any health organization with a significant population of lawyers or law students among its patience will know a lot about how to help people deal with stress.
posted by tellumo at 11:12 PM on February 2, 2010

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