Adderall - am I cheating?
February 24, 2014 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Not academically - I'm not in school. I'm afraid of cheating at life.

I'm 34 and have bipolar II disorder. I will be on meds the rest of my life (have been on for more than 15 years, have tried going off multiple times and it was Not Good). I have my little cocktail that makes me functional and "normal". I'm grateful I've found something that works for me.

My doctor added Adderall after I admitted that I was working a few hours late most nights because I couldn't focus. She said as long as it didn't make me manic/hypomanic that it was worth trying. I did, no mania - in fact, it sometimes makes me feel a little sleepy, especially when we tried upping my dose. I went off it soon after when I was pregnant and nursing my son, but went back on about a year ago after he weaned. I've only taken it during the work week and then not even every day. The main reason I started again is that I no longer have the luxury of working until 8 or 9 at night since I need - and want - to get home to my son.

On weekends, or when I'm off work, I've still been low-level functional. Before I had my son, it wasn't unusual for me to sleep for an entire day at a time. If I didn't have a two-year-old, I still would - I often nap when he does. My house has always been a disaster zone. I could frequently go entire weekends without leaving the house because I was just meh. Again, I still would if it wasn't for my son. It's not what depression feels like for me, it's just my typical state of being. (I have been tested for other medical conditions. I am hypothyroid and take Synthroid for that, and my TSH is at a great level. I can tell when it's not.)

Then, out of curiosity, I took an Adderall on a day off when we were stuck inside after an ice storm. And Holy Crap. I hauled my butt off the couch and made muffins with my little boy. I was able to work on cleaning my house. I don't mean "scrubbing the faucets with a toothbrush," I mean "consider tackling some of the piles of stuff that render entire rooms unusable". I could look at my messy kitchen and didn't want to cry - I could figure out where to start. I didn't feel wired. I would say I felt "normal", but I don't know *what* normal feels like. I had energy. Not the hypomanic kind, the "let's tackle the day" kind. I'm not used to that feeling. I took it again today, and while I'm sitting on my butt, my son is napping and I'm not. That's huge for me.

I've not been diagnosed with ADHD - my doctor wasn't sure if my inability to focus was due to a form of ADHD or was related to my BPII disorder, but she said if something helped, then the diagnosis itself was secondary. The doctor I see now is a different one (my previous one moved) and he feels the same way. I'm an extremely self-aware patient, always have been.

I have no problem at all taking my other meds. They keep me alive, literally. They let me live my life, with a good job that I enjoy and a family I adore. I'm happy even when I'm exhausted. But I'm not classic ADHD. I didn't have that "flipped a switch in my brain and the noise turned off" experience I see so many references to. I don't think I feel better than normal, but I do feel better than MY normal. Even if that "better" only means it gets me that last bit of the way from "not depressed" to "hey, I can do something on the weekend other than sleep". It feels like the final piece of the puzzle. But I hear so much talk of abuse, and I'm afraid that the very fact that it works, that I DO feel better than my own normal, means taking it is abuse.

I guess the short version of my question is, "Adderall makes me feel better and function better. Is this a bad thing?"

Any thoughts or experiences would be very welcome. If it's not something you can share here, throwaway email to use is
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Good for you! I don't think you should feel guilty if this helps you function better. It's a good thing.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:36 PM on February 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Dear god, no, don't obsess about this. Take the Adderall, it sounds like it really works to improve your quality of life.
posted by lydhre at 2:37 PM on February 24, 2014 [27 favorites]

I have my little cocktail that makes me functional and "normal". I'm grateful I've found something that works for me.

That's it. Stop there. If you're responsible with psychiatric medicine, that's as much thinking as you need to do about this.

This isn't any different than complying with your other medications which also make you feel better than "normal" as "normal" is "untreated psychiatric condition." Your personal "normal" needs help, and this is the help and it's working.

I know that if you've had a Rough Time with a mental health issue for a long time and suddenly you're having a much easier time, it might feel too easy. And "too easy" generally feels like you're getting one over or cheating and there will be an inevitable comeuppance. But you're not; you're doing the right thing at the right time and it's working.

And if you're on a cocktail, you know as well as anyone how ridiculously imprecise psychiatric medication can be. Don't worry about not being diagnosed this or that. If it works, it works and if anything, there's a very good reason the concept of an off-label prescription exists.
posted by griphus at 2:42 PM on February 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

If Adderall improves your functioning on a day to day basis, that is not abuse. That's what it's for. It's not odd or wrong that tweaking your cocktail makes it work better. Pharmaceutical synergy is a real thing.

If you are snorting Adderall in order to be able to drink more or so you can stay out dancing later, that is abuse.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:42 PM on February 24, 2014 [15 favorites]

Not a bad thing. Don't feel guilty because you found something that helps. Even if you didn't have a child, you should do what helps you. Since you do have a child, do it for him, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:44 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

In my entirely non-medical opinion, you should discuss this with your doctor--I wouldn't be surprised if your doctors have already assumed you would basically take this daily for help with functioning and focus, and would be surprised to find you have not been.

Also in my entirely non-medical opinion, I don't think this is "abuse" of the substance any more than I am "abusing" caffeine when I brew a cup of coffee in the morning. I'm a nicer, more alert, more focused human after a cup of coffee. It's not a fake me, it's an optimal me.

For comparison: I sometimes wish I had some Adderall. I am spacey, and forgetful, and bad at focusing on dull tasks, and sometimes slack at work, and at the moment my house is a mess. But my doc doesn't give me adderall, because:
- I am mostly capable of kicking myself into high-functioning gear (even though it's no fun),
-and I suffer no ill effects from my state of mind apart from minor annoyance or stress.

This doesn't sound like your situation at all! I feel confident that if I ever went to my doc and said, "you know how I used to forget about dishes, well now I can't use my kitchen anymore and when I look at it I want to cry and also sleep all day" he would totally reconsider my need for medication.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:50 PM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm afraid that the very fact that it works, that I DO feel better than my own normal, means taking it is abuse.

This makes no logical sense. When my sister was little, she had seizures, that was her "normal." She went on medication for it and didn't have seizures anymore. Was that abuse?
posted by cairdeas at 2:50 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's no such thing as cheating! It sounds like you found something that helps you; maybe you should run with it!

As a matter of fact, if I were you I would enjoy your new found energy and willpower as much as you can. You're in what is known as the "honeymoon" period of ADD medication - the first few months when you can feel the focus. Not that is stops working after that, but focus becomes your new normal and your perception adjusts accordingly. Knock out all your messes while you're on the crest!
posted by Willie0248 at 2:54 PM on February 24, 2014

"Adderall makes me feel better and function better. Is this a bad thing?"

No. That's what Adderall is for.
posted by tel3path at 3:02 PM on February 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Adderall makes me feel better and function better. Is this a bad thing?

Oh golly, no. I say this for two reasons: first, one of my kids was diagnosed with ADD a few years ago and he decided this year he didn't want to be on his meds anymore, to see how he could do without them.

Okay, said his prescribing psychiatrist, let him make this decision.

5 weeks into freshman year at high school, he was getting straight D's and F's. He could not do school. He got his first progress report and decided to get back on the meds.

The very next day I got 4 emails from his teachers; the change in his behavior was absolutely a 180. He was focused, able to do work and most importantly, he seemed very happy and not stressed. His next progress report was all A's and B's (and this kid is no rocket scientist).

And secondly, here's how I know it's not a cheat. Because I am by nature a curious person who doesn't always think things through, I once took one of his pills to see what he felt like. Except, I don't have ADD.

I felt like I had millions of little ants and electrical bolts running through my brain and body. I was actually afraid to speak because I was pretty sure pure gibberish would come out. I couldn't even form a sentence, I was so whacked out.

It was a horrible terrible feeling.

What I'm trying to say is if a person's chemistry doesn't need a stimulant, they will not have a good reaction to that class of medication.

You are having what appears to be a very good reaction. Embrace it.
posted by kinetic at 3:04 PM on February 24, 2014 [15 favorites]

I would advise you to talk with your doctor about this, but like someone said above, I wouldn't be surprised if your doctor already assumed that you were taking it every day (unless it is specifically prescribed for weekdays, but you don't say that in your question).

What you are doing does not sound like abuse. Regularizing your sleep schedule, being able to leave the house to do things during your time off of work, making muffins with your son, not wanting to cry while you are in your kitchen because it is so messy... needing help with things like that, and finding that Adderall helps? That isn't drug abuse. It sounds like what you are doing is very responsible. Ask your doctor, but I would be absolutely floored if he or she did not agree.

It seems like a shame to have all of that productivity energy ability stuff only happen at work, too. Work is great and all, but it's just wonderful to be able to enjoy the times that you are not doing it as well. I am so glad that you have found a way to improve your quality of life. This is exactly what Adderall is was made for. It isn't "cheating" - it's just figuring out how to balance the chemicals/neurosteroids/whatever in your brain, not just for performing at work, but for your life in general.
posted by sockermom at 3:09 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I need insulin injections to survive. Without them I would slowly wither away and die, quite literally. It isn't cheating when I shoot up, it is doing the bare minimum to be a living being. Neither is taking psych meds.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:11 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Outside of games and exams, in real life, there's no such thing as 'cheating'. There's only optimising.

I guess the short version of my question is, "Adderall makes me feel better and function better. Is this a bad thing?"

In short, probably not. But if you're worried about it, and it seems like you are, talk to your doctor about how you are using it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:15 PM on February 24, 2014

IANAD. The only thing I would be (even mildly) concerned about is addiction. Keep a journal of how much you take and how often, and how it makes you feel. Review it every month for changes, and if you notice any, discuss them with your doctor. Not that needing a different dosage is by itself a sign of addiction; a lot of people eventually develop a tolerance and need a higher dose. If you're honest, and your doctor is attentive, you're not likely to abuse your meds accidentally.
posted by d. z. wang at 3:17 PM on February 24, 2014

I agree with the general sentiment in this thread. Probably not a bad thing. You should keep in mind, however, that the fact Adderall makes you feel and function better is not necessarily evidence that you have any condition for which Adderall is generally prescribed; almost anyone given a proper pharmaceutical dose of Adderall will feel and function better.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes! Of course, mention it to your doctor and of course, don't exceed the stated dose.
posted by tel3path at 3:23 PM on February 24, 2014

I agree with the others. It may be helpful for you to consider that, by taking medication(s) that make your life more livable, you are correcting a chemical imbalance, not getting an unfair advantage. You're fixing something that's out of whack.

If "normal" people walk through life with a metaphorical set of two working legs, and you're walking through yours with only one, then getting a prosthetic leg isn't cheating - it's evening the field.
posted by hootenatty at 3:42 PM on February 24, 2014

I'd fall asleep at my desk and get fired right now if I didn't have my fourth cup of coffee? Do I deserve to be fired?
posted by jjmoney at 4:14 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

What's the difference between taking it to get muffins baked and taking it to get work emails written? I doubt your doctor had some particular work in mind that he wanted you to be taking Adderall for.

Anyway, it is medicine. The whole point is that you're supposed to feel better when you take it. That it works doesn't mean you're abusing it.
posted by rue72 at 5:23 PM on February 24, 2014

No matter your TSH reading, having a low-functioning thyroid usually means you have less energy. Also, women's hormone levels have a lot to do with activity levels, etc. I think Adderall is the bee's knees, especially as estrogen levels drop. Don't overthink this--your kid would rather have muffins, a clean house and a happy mom.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:10 PM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I came to ask the same question about your priorities as rue72 is asking. The subtext of your question seems to be that you consider it ok to take Adderall during the week because you need it to get your work done and avoid having to stay until 8 or 9 pm - that, to you, is a valid justification to take the drug. On the other hand, you consider it cheating to take Adderall to bake muffins and clean your house - that, to you, is not a valid justification to take the drug. But is this really a fair representation of your values? You could argue that having your family time be functional and happy is actually more important than being able to be a productive worker bee. If the "disaster zone" of your house is bad enough - if you literally have piles of stuff that make rooms unusable - your house could be an unsafe environment for your child. Having enough energy that you can have fun playing toddler games would be high on my list of important things in life.
posted by medusa at 9:50 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was writing this as a thank you to Kinetic when I realised that Anonymous and I have a great deal in common (feel free to me mail OP) so figured it might be worthwhile in thread.

I could have written the Adderall question, except my prescribed drug is better known as speed. For some reason, (my morning dose has worn off, and I'm not inclined to take it in my leisure time - so I can't articulate why) your response struck a major chord with me. I had read before that people who don't have ADHD become acclimatised (a wrong word, I know) to the drug, but two years on - with a very late in life diagnoses - I can really really feel the difference on low-focus days with same dosage I started with. So I should feel justified in taking it, but I got this far without it, and there's no absolute scientific proof that I have ADHD so maybe I'm just a junkie. Except it works just as it supposed to.

So it works, eh. But we feel guilty for using a crutch. We are influenced by the media conversation (not as loud as it used to be) about the over diagnosis of attention disorders. We know about doctor shoppers. We were raised with that work ethic thingy, and up until now, we suffered agonies in achieving in complicated projects and thought that was how life was meant to be, even though its not that way for everyone. And because its not (usually) a life threatening condition like asthma or diabetes, and because the diagnoses is often subjective, we - well, I, feel like I'm on some sort of unjustified public assistance.

So yeah, OP, how's about you and me drop the guilt? We're not trying to scam the medical system. We're not taking the drugs so we can dance all night. We're not using them excessively, but monitoring our behaviour and response, and noting how it works. We wouldn't have a problem with someone having coffee (a stimulant) to start their work day. And also, how fucking amazing are we, that we got this far without drugs, and what sort of potential do we have now? (Boast: I completed a bachelor degree before diagnosis, with stupidly high GPA, and some days my POMODORO times were 5 minutes study, 15 minutes doing something else, because my focus was so crap. That is not normal. And it's not a sign of laziness or lack of commitment).

And on top of that, I'm now able to discuss with my boss how and when and why I lose focus. Admittedly, I quite possibly have THE best boss in the world, but when I was initially diagnosed, she thought it was a mistake. Now, when I tell her I'm losing focus on a task because its becoming boring, we work around it together.
posted by b33j at 11:49 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Good grief... take the Adderall and go make muffins with your son! He'll thank you later.

I have unstable bladder. Taking meds so I can not have to pee every 15 min and can do other things is not cheating. I'm not cheating and neither are you!
posted by jrobin276 at 12:03 AM on February 25, 2014

I'll also add that my husband would have loved his bipolar parent to be even a fraction as functional as you are. You're doing a good job and sound like a great mom... and that's your priority. Making muffins with your kid, and all that goes with that, results in a functional well adjusted member of society. It's important.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:17 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good Heavens! Use the Adderall.

If the drug helps you 'wake up' and get going and do things, things that are positive for your son, then you'd be doing yourself and your child a disservice by NOT taking it.

On Adderall, you clean the house and do fun activities with your baby. Off of it, you're a lump on the sofa in a room full of unfolded laundry and stacks of newspapers.

Life dealt you a shitty hand with your brain chemistry. Most of us feel normal and productive without drugs. You need the help of drugs.

Just as a diabetic will need insulin, your brain needs adderall to help you get through your day.

It is what it is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
First, thank you to everyone. I almost cried reading these responses. I don't know why I had to "hear" someone say that it's just as important to function outside work as it is to function at work, but for some reason I did. My doctor does know that I only take it at work and is OK with it; he'd also be OK with me taking it more often and prescribes it with that assumption. I'll talk to him more about it next time I see him.

I was hung up on the fact that Adderall *can* make (almost) anyone feel and function better. I forgot that one of the elements of assessing mental illness is looking at distress and impaired functioning. Y'all are correct - I'm not taking it to party, or study for 18 hours straight, or even to be super-mom. I would be taking it at home because I want my son to grow up in a house where he can use all the rooms and with a mom who does more than sit and snuggle with him while we watch TV. He needs more than that. I may not believe that I deserve better (which is another issue), but HE does.

It's funny because I am usually the first one to advocate mental health treatment, including medication. For crying out loud, if something's wrong and you can fix it, DO IT, no guilt. It's why I have no problem with the other meds I'm on. I think this was different because those meds got me to a normal that I could live with - the possibility of there being something that could help with that last hurdle I couldn't seem to get over felt, as griphus said, too easy.

But the thing is, is it's not a magic pill. It doesn't magically make me into someone productive and focused. I still have to kick myself in the butt. The difference is that my kick in the butt is more likely to be effective as opposed to making me feel guilty and overwhelmed and want to hide. Which, as so many of you said, is the whole idea.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my mess of a post. Internet cookies are on their way. ;-)
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:16 PM on February 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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