When Eben Britton received a prescription for Adderall, along with a diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the former NFL player said in the new Netflix documentary "Take Your Pills" that she "has a medical problem" In contrast, when she and her friends used Adderall as a study aid at the university, "I basically regarded it as abuse."
These conflicting views of the prescriptive amphetamine blend reflect the culture's ambivalence toward drugs, affecting mood and perception. With a few historical exceptions based on work and play, Americans prefer to treat psychoactive substances as medications that are issued only with the release of a doctor who confirms we need them. ADHD, an out-of-focus "mental disorder" that many critics think is over-diagnosed, is devastating with the wrong assurances of this approach.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Handbook of the Psychiatric Association of Mental Disorders, ADHD "is a stubborn pattern of inattention and / or hyperactivity ̵
At least some symptoms should occur at age 12 but ADHD is no longer just for kids. While 6 million American children (almost 1 in 10) have been diagnosed with ADHD, most ADHD medications such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse are adults.
This raises some concerns, those of "Take Your Pills." Are too many children taking the pharmaceutical equivalent of speed? Do adults play as if they have ADHD so they can take medication to increase attention and productivity? The answer to both questions is probably yes, although it is difficult to determine the "actual" incidence of a condition that can not be objectively verified.
In her favor, director Alison Klayman gives a number of views on the pros and cons of stimulants for children. A mother, an African-American special education teacher, who was convinced that ADHD drugs were used too quickly as an "instant cure" for the behavioral problems of "little black boys", rejected her for her son. He is now a musical artist manager taking Adderall, saying it definitely "helps you to be a better capitalist."
Another mother thinks that her son did not finish high school without Adderall, whom he took in third grade. Now he's a student and aspiring artist, he's mad at all the pills he had to swallow, though he realized that they helped him focus.
The people in the documentary who consumed or started prescription stimulants as adults generally report on the drugs they should do and help them to shine in school and at work.
"Side effects can be fantastic in everything," jokes a software engineer who would have been unable to do his job without Adderall. "That could be because I have really severe ADHD and it's hard to act the way I need it or it could be because it was kerosene and it took me to where I had to go do not try to draw a line between them. "
The question is, does anyone have to draw this line? Although the law requires otherwise, drug use that enhances someone's life, either by helping them to produce or helping them to relax, will not result in "abuse" without medical certificates. Why do not adults decide for themselves whether the benefits of drugs like Adderall outweigh the risks?
"Take Your Pills" takes the risks, but the results are less frightening. "Most people can use amphetamine without becoming addicted," admits Lawrence Diller, a pediatrician who has written a book on Ritalin. "But in the end, too large a group of people become addicted, so it's unacceptable for society to show so much speed out there."
In 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 18.4 million Americans used prescription stimulants, both legal and illegal. Based on their answers to survey questions, about 3 percent of them experienced a "substance disorder". The corresponding number of drinkers was 9 percent.
Even more than addiction, "Take Your Pills" invites us to engage in the "hyper competitions" that drive people to stimuli, which the political theorist Wendy Brown of UC-Berkeley thinks could "creativity, art [and] rob extraordinary moments of human attachment. "
But these are very personal matters that are best left to individuals. An Adderall-assisted student interviewed by Klayman says, "It's just a balance to figure out."
Jacob Sullum is executive editor at Reason and a syndic columnist.