I just watched an interesting documentary by Louis Theroux: America’s Medicated Kids. You can find it on YouTube, although it isn’t viewable in my country.
I find his documentaries fascinating… he seems unbiased, or at least willing to change direction midway when his biases appear to be wrong. He doesn’t draw conclusions so much as draw his subjects into exposing enough of themselves so that the audience can make up their own minds.
In this particular show, he got close to parents and their children who were diagnosed with ADHD (among other things) and who were prescribed Adderall (an amphetamine).
Although the drugs do seem to be helping the children, there was one segment of the show that really stood out for me. This was when he spent some time with a girl who was off her medication for the day. The girl’s older brother, who also had an ADHD diagnoses, was no longer on his medication, and described his life as being easier without the drugs. He described being able to relate to other people better and have improved relationships without the drugs. But this is an expected side-effect of amphetamine cessation.
The girl became anxious and then insisted on taking her medication, and this made me really sad. I’m not sure if everybody watching the show picked it up, but as someone who was addicted to amphetamines for several years, I recognised her behaviour immediately. That fifteen year old girl was addicted to the amphetamines. I have no doubt in my mind. Although it could be perceived that she needed her medication and felt anxious about it because of her condition, that’s not how ADHD works, is it? No, the fact is that she felt that she needed her medication because she had come to depend on it for its mind-altering effect. She was craving amphetamines, even if she didn’t know it. This is no different to any amphetamine addict who craves their drug.
I’ve read forum posts by American people with ADHD, where they claim that amphetamines work differently on people with their symptoms than on other people, and it always saddens me to read such nonsense. They claim that the drugs allow them to focus and concentrate; the drugs allow them to get into a zone.
But that’s how amphetamines work for everybody. It really is. Thinking it to be otherwise is simply ignorant and uninformed – it means you base the “normal” response to such drugs on fictitious stereotypes that you’ve learned from watching movies or television. Every addict who has used more than a trivial quantity of amphetamines for more than a day or two develops tolerance for the drug. With tolerance comes a single-minded focus… That is the most dangerous aspect of amphetamine usage. One becomes addicted to that single-minded focus, also known as tweaking, often conflated with having “energy” by addicts.
When my girlfriend and I used methamphetamine heavily back in 2006, we didn’t know that meth users were called tweakers elsewhere, but we did have a word for the meth high: We called it zoning. Call it what you want… tweaking, zoning, tripping… it doesn’t matter. That state of mind is what the amphetamine high is all about. If you become dependent on amphetamines for that state of mind, I don’t care how beneficial you think the drugs are or why you started using them: You are already addicted to amphetamines. It makes no difference if you use the drugs illegally or if the drug was prescribed (and likewise it makes no difference if you use street meth or a legally obtained amphetamine medication – they work the same way).
It is a dangerous drug, and those people are quite ignorant about what it really does. I don’t believe that there is ever a valid reason to use amphetamines, not even for ADHD. Amphetamines in small, controlled doses may appear to put people in a “zone” where they can concentrate and focus, which alleviates the worst of ADHD symptoms, but at a terrible cost. Being in that zone, and wanting to stay in that zone all the time, is precisely what makes amphetamines so addictive. (Believe me, I know. I wanted to be in that zone all the time, and I used every day for several years before I was able to realize that such a state of mind is not normal. It was very difficult to get out of that cycle, and honestly I still miss the feeling.) I’d be interested to see if there are studies that indicate the percentage of children such as those in the documentary, who go on to become meth addicts. (I know of two personally.) I do believe that those who do use it, even if it was prescribed, are going to find out sooner or later that the consequences of using the drug are worse than whatever drove them to use it originally.