Do Adderall Make Us Write Bad?
November 4, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Do people write differently when they're on Adderall? Do you write differently when you're taking Adderall? I am interested primarily in those taking it as directed rather than using it for studying, but I'm interested in any perspective.

Choire Sicha thinks so: "Though I can tell when you're writing on Adderall, yes I can. That is reason #52 why I hate it. All that focusing really does something to your syntax. Something bad!"

I have just been prescribed generic Adderall XR (15 mg) after a full evaluation and clinical diagnosis of ADHD-Inattentive. I'm only on my second day of it, but I see a huge difference in my focus.

The quote from Sicha that I linked above has been bouncing around my head for 18 months. When I first read it, I was just fascinated that it made a clear difference; now I have an actual vested interest in knowing what that difference is.
[For those concerned, I do not have cats. See reason #84 via the link for more information.]

I did a search on AskMeFi and saw a couple of other comments that alluded to the same idea. One person suggested that people taking the drug might write faster and then make more basic mistakes.

I'm not a writer by trade, but I write a lot. I'm in a literate profession and write every day for work, as well as writing emails and blog posts and MeFi comments all day long. I'm concerned about possible changes-for-the-worse to my writing. I'd like to know what to look out for so I can try to correct anything obvious.

What have you observed?
If you think there is a difference, do you notice it primarily in people who abuse it to stay awake to write papers, or do you notice it in people who take it responsibly as well?
I'm really more interested in working professionals than students, but I am interested in any perspective you have.
posted by aabbbiee to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Methylin here, not Adderal, but yeah, writing is definitely different. My thoughts are less nebulous and more organized, so it's easier to get them out. Instead of trying to violently wrench each sentence out of my brain (and, therefore, have time to take a look at every sentence as it comes out) there's a much quicker flow. I type at about 100+ WPM when I get a groove on, so I'm basically going faster than I can proofread on the fly. There's also a much, much higher amount of run-on sentences. That's a general fault of my writing style, but I can usually tell myself "okay put a period here, not a comma/semicolon" or "this is a new sentence, not a parenthetical." However, if I'm really in the grips of the stuff, I have to chop the three paragraph-long sentences I wrote into smaller parts when I'm done writing.
posted by griphus at 7:41 AM on November 4, 2011

Writing is a form of speech, and variation in our speech is hugely influenced by all sorts of social factors such as health, mood, personality, interests, topics and many others. So yes, there is a correlation with mood-altering drugs and how people act/speak/write. It just sounds like a stretch when you extract the conduit in between Adderall and writing, which is you. Also, it's probably not that writing is the only thing that's affected, but when you look at it in isolation, it seems like a direct and implausible connection.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:51 AM on November 4, 2011

I doubt it'll be a drastic change. Just more words, and more ability to focus and get whatever you're writing finished.

My main problem when I was taking ADD medication, if you can call it a problem, was that I day-dreamed a lot less in general, which meant less creative thinking, so I had fewer ideas for what to write about (creatively). But it was easier for me to actually write and finish something when I was taking it.
posted by empath at 7:53 AM on November 4, 2011

Also, until you get used to it, Adderal can really make you feel space-y and weird in general, which is going to cause problems with writing or doing pretty much anything.
posted by empath at 7:54 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a software developer that came from a liberal arts and writing background and I have been medicated for ADHD-Inattentive for nearly a decade now. While it's hard to quantify, there is a difference in the way I write when on Adderall. I cannot say if there is a difference in quality, however. Much like griphus' experience, my thoughts seem more organized and are more easily written, and it is a boon for the majority of my writing, which tends to be more technical.

However, I have always felt that Adderall was a hindrance with regards to creative writing, at least in early draft/idea times. I chalk it up to the disjointed nature of my thoughts in non-medicated states leading to connections I might miss while medicated.
posted by ndfine at 7:54 AM on November 4, 2011

Adderall here. I notice that when I write or type, I do tend to make more mistakes but since I'm also more focused I check and re-check for mistakes, so they don't very often get by. Since I'm not a writer, I can't say that I'm overly concerned about that. The bigger downside for me is that part of my job entails some artistic elements, and the Adderall makes it more difficult to be creative - I have the focus, but not the ideas.
posted by sephira at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2011

This is very helpful- keep it coming!

But also: if you have noticed that Adderall, etc. affects your artistic or creative process, what do you do about that? Do you feel a return to your creative processes when you take a drug holiday?
posted by aabbbiee at 8:08 AM on November 4, 2011

Haha, I was eager to poke my head in to read the answers and... ha, awkward! Hello!

Anyway, I think I would not be as harsh now about Adderall as I was when I said that. I still think it makes people write funny and weird and disjointedly and sometimes at too great a length, BUT, as with mania, I think it can also help people get it all out and go to dizzying extremes. (Maybe the ideal writing process for some would be on Adderall, followed by a later period of self-editing with a clearer head.)

I think a lot of what I was really complaining about was prolonged Adderall use too; it results in a certain fugue burn-out in some people, and that's never pretty.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:22 AM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

No difference for me. i've been medicated for about 15 years, and I've been writing for a living for about 25. I'm not writing novels, so my experience might not count. I used to have to prod myself to get started on papers, etc. but years of hitting a daily deadline for a newspaper cured me of that, more than any pill. If anything, I'm more creative and consistantly creative when medicated because I'm not dithering around, looking for lost stuff and being annoyed at distractions.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:25 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was diagnosed with ADD approximately six months ago, and started on medication right away -- first Ritalin alternating with Focalin, then on to Adderall XR for a bit, finally settling on Vyvanse. I take 70mg of Vyvanse in the morning (just had my dose about fifteen minutes ago), and supplement with 5-10mg of Adderall IR in the afternoons as needed. (We're having an Adderall IR shortage in my area right now, so I'm hoarding those for urgent needs.)

I don't notice much of a difference in my writing style, per se, but I do notice that I am much more focused and actually able to produce written work instead of just sitting here putting out a couple of sentences and then staring out the window at a crow eating a donut off the sidewalk.

Like griphus, I tend toward run-on sentences anyway, so when I go back and edit things I have written I don't really see the run-on sentences as a side effect of my meds. Those were always there before I went on meds, but now I have the ability to focus long enough to actually edit those down into digestible chunks.

To recap: IME, without the meds I have minimal output and generally do not revise or complete my writing projects. With meds, the exact opposite.
posted by palomar at 8:46 AM on November 4, 2011

(Also, pro tip! If you're just starting on meds, really really really really stay away from caffeine. I didn't pay attention when my doc said stop drinking caffeine, and the first weekend I was on meds I ended up being awake for almost two entire days. On the other hand, I did manage to get my closets organized by clothing type and color, which was... interesting.)
posted by palomar at 8:52 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I take methylphenidate (generic ritalin) and I find the way I write is different when I take it compared to when I don't. It's hard to explain though.

I write more freely without meds but I rush. Once the sentence is written it's done. I have no patience to revise my writing.

I tend to pay more attention to detail, structure, and flow when I'm on meds.

It works well for me because I often think through the structure and ideas, sometimes even do the outline, of a paper while on meds. By the time I start writing it's evening, and the meds have worn off. Other than the issue of taking too many breaks, the writing flow almost comes easier.

Meds slow me down. It's good for quality. No meds and I go really fast and ideas can flow, if I can focus long enough to do it.
posted by sarae at 8:55 AM on November 4, 2011

I hate the way I wrote when I was prescribed adderall. It was definitely easier to crap out words, but I found that I just went on tangents upon tangent, or I would become enamored of an argument or a thought and write two pages on it before realizing it was actually really stupid. When I was writing, I had no idea whether what I was writing was relevant to what I was supposed to say.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:01 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd be willing to bet $100 against some axe-to-grind anti-Adderall web writer's ability to tell who's on Adderall in a double blind test.

I haven't noticed any effect on my writing.
posted by Zed at 9:22 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I certainly write different while on adderall, dexadrine or ritalin. I've learned to not even bother writing technical topics. I do enjoy it for free writing or for pleasure, but from an academic standpoint, it certainly impacts it. I dont flow as well while on it and find myself using poor gramatical structure, disjointed ideas and run on sentances.

I do love writing though, and it can be really fun to pound out 10 pages in a couple of hours. I dont like trying to do a whole overhaul on a paper.

/I've found that speed is best for reading, absorbing information. I'm not scripted these meds but have access to them from time to time. Speed can be a very helpful drug @ times.
posted by handbanana at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2011

In regards to your creative process:

A now retired doctor told me a bunch of stories about ADD and Adderall. One of them: There was a woman who was an artist. She had a whole warehouse full of awesome artwork, but couldn't put on a show to save her life. Just thinking about all the organizing she'd have to do made her ... not do it. So she started taking Adderall. It was great. She made a list of steps, did the steps, had a great show, sold a bunch of paintings. Had ANOTHER show, sold even more paintings.

So she comes back to her doctor, and is like, "Doc, this is great, but now I sit down to paint, and it's like, I've got no ideas!" So he tells her to stop taking it for a little while, at which point she's back to painting no problem.

Long story short: Creativity and focus are impacted by Adderall differently for different people. I would personally encourage you to think about how it effects youself, and use that knowledge to decide when to take it and when not to take it. In addition, I would encourage you to try to seek out new organization skills while using Adderall to help keep you focused on the tasks you do.
posted by Phredward at 9:30 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wanted to add, Ive never taken it to cram a paper in during the evening. Its more of a '"hey, lets take this shit to get other shit done" type of thing.
posted by handbanana at 9:31 AM on November 4, 2011

I'm simply a better writer, period--a better poet, too. Make fewer wacky connections but that is made up for with sheer brainpower and focus which allow me to "grab" more ideas and connections and make good use of them.

It actually doesn't feel like I'm writing any worse when I'm unmedicated, but I am, and when I put the two writing samples side-by-side I can see an obvious difference.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:44 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to Adderall, but both Ritalin and Cylert left me pretty incapable of writing -- both shut down my ability to daydream and be creative. much like Phredward's story, I could have sat down and written a great deal but there was nothing for me to write, there was no inspiration. which is pretty much the reason I am now unmedicated.

however, I am speaking as a creative writer, your case seems like a very different thing. I think I could do those things medicated, and if in your shoes I would give it a try.
posted by spindle at 1:29 PM on November 4, 2011

I'm a computer programmer by day, and a graphic novel artist by night. I take Vyvanse, which is a drug prescribed for ADHD, similar to Adderall.

When I'm off my meds, I become a great artist and can draw some pretty amazing comics, using perspectives and point-of-views that I've never tried before, or techniques that are new to me. My art is usually bolder in color or depict a greater emotional state. If I make a mistake, I go with the flow and integrate it into my work, mostly because I don't have the patience to fix it. However, I have a lot of difficulty working on one aspect of a page, or the entire page itself, for extended periods of time. Consequently, my pieces usually don't have a lot of detail in them, and usually never get finished in one sitting, if at all.

My programming skills, when I'm off my meds, aren't so hot. I have a lot of difficulty problem-solving or understanding long-term ramifications of some pieces of my code. I also have a tendency to be less precise and make a lot more programming errors. If the project I'm working on has several different parts to it, I'll usually jump around from part to part, programming only the essentials with the intention to come back later and fill in the details. Compared to when I'm on my meds, I'm more likely to crank-out a working proto-type faster, but it's usually very buggy and doesn't have all the features included just yet. On the flip side, I also tend to generate more creative code, or make flashy programs that look super awesome and edgy. Unfortunately, like my art, when I'm off my meds I usually can't program for more than an hour or two.

When I'm ON my meds, my comics tend to become a little more...I don't know... static? I don't know if anyone notices it except me, but I feel that my art is less creative and less soulful. It takes me much longer to immerse myself into my art, and imagine myself as of one of my story characters. I guess you could say I feel a little disconnected to my characters and have difficulty putting myself in their shoes. Conjuring up fictional places are just as difficult. When I make a mistake in my art, I actually take the time to fix it and make it right. I am also more likely to create characters with consistent behavior or actions because I actually take the time to think about them. Most noticeably (I think), I am much more likely to create VERY detailed pieces and actually finish entire comic pages.

When I program on my meds, I become a much more methodical worker, and have the patience to work on each section of code, one after the other, until it's all been commented and bug-tested. It tends to take me much longer to get a program up and running, but that's because I'm be very thorough and make sure things get done right. I also have the patience to program for HOURS without even flinching. And I can sit down and learn new programming concepts, or code libraries, until I fully understand it, rather than getting bored and moving on to a different subject.

If you were to ask whether I like myself on my meds or off my meds, I'd say I like them both. Each side has its own personal advantages and disadvantages, and I think I need them both to stay employed and stay sane at the same time. If I'm on my meds for too many days straight, I start to get uptight, nit-picky and cranky. However, when I'm off my meds for too long, I start to miss deadlines, personal dates, and I become a horribly distracted driver. As a side note, I've gotten in a few car accidents due to my ADHD, so it's very important that I take my meds on days that I anticipate driving a lot, or a lot of heavy traffic.

So, on weekdays, when I go to work, I usually take my meds, otherwise I'd probably get fired for browsing the internet too much, or for not producing enough work. On weekends, I usually decide in advance whether I want to take my meds or not. Some weekends I want to be creative and stay indoors, so I don't go on my meds. Other weekends, I really want to learn something new, or I need to be at some event that requires my undivided attention (like a wedding), so I'll take my meds.

posted by nikkorizz at 2:25 PM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

In the year since I started taking Adderall, I've written a 50k-word novel, a 30k-word novella, half a dozen short stories and a bunch of fanfiction. Of the short stories, I've had two published in literary magazines and two published at pro rate. I don't think my writing is different in tone or style from what I was writing before, but now I have the wherewithal to finish things, and the drive to get them published.
posted by nonasuch at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the great responses! I really appreciate your thoughts.

(I should do some kind of MeFi penance for not realizing Choire Sicha was MeFi's Own RJ Reynolds.)
posted by aabbbiee at 7:38 PM on November 6, 2011

When I write something on vyvanse, ritalin or adderall, I'm really passionate about it in the moment. I can write for 10 hours straight. But I can also get the same amount of work done if I just try to live a balanced life, get enough sleep, exercise and avoid stress.

I really can't relate to people when I'm on stimulants. I don't get jokes (this almost never happens to me when I don't take them), physical affection feels weird, and conversations feel they either need to last 5 seconds or 5 hours.

So, maybe I can write to hit a target, but non-drugged me couldn't care less about hitting that target. I can express myself so much better when I don't take the meds, because can convey warmth and passion in speech.

In college, I'd spend hours on stimulants writing about one little phrase in Shakespeare, just getting way too into details. Now, I realize I'm better off taking a step farther back from what it is I'm studying and actually trying to say something that communicates valuable information to another human being.

Was it David Sedaris who described his paintings on crystal meth as looking as if they were created with his face pressed right up next to the canvas, unable to see the larger picture? That's what my writing on stimulants is like.

I think my best undergrad professor really noticed that my writing on stimulants was kind of messed up, but I don't think he was able to identify the cause. He's probably in his seventies or eighties and he had a much better ear for writing than most people do these days. Sad there aren't more folks like him. I'm convinced stimulants are terrible for your body, and I bet we'd be healthier if we couldn't get away with using them. There have been chunks of my life when they've really affected my decision making process. Never for the worse, but they definitely have lead me a bit off course.
posted by shushufindi at 7:30 AM on November 8, 2011

An update- it's been about 8 months on Adderall, and I've thought a lot about this effect on my writing. It makes a very noticeable difference, I think.

I used to be a grammar/spelling snob when I was young. Age made me a little humble and forgiving because I wasn't as fast with spelling or obscure punctuation rules as I moved into my 30s. I'm glad I had that bit of humility already, because Adderall has really increased this forgetfulness of details when it comes to spelling and punctuation. I don't know why, specifically, because I am better at remembering and organizing other details in my life. But my thinking is so clear and focused now that writing it down goes fast and furious. I have to force myself to take the time to slowly re-read and edit carefully after I've gotten the thoughts out. Still, the mistakes that slip through would have embarrassed the hell out of my younger self.

Overall, Adderall has been a wonder drug for me. I feel like a completely different person: competent, efficient, organized. Under my doctor's advisement, I try to take a day off from the drug every week, and more time off at holidays if I can, but days off are so unproductive and my thinking is so foggy that I can't wait for the next day to start so that I can feel right again.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:40 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Is 9 months too old to begin crate training a lab?   |   multi colored rug care Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.