My Life on Ritalin

“Here,” she said, holding out her hand, “quick, before they start to melt.” I pinched a handful of the small opalescent orbs from my girlfriend’s outstretched hand and flicked them into my mouth. Within seconds the Dexedrine disintegrated underneath my tongue, providing my nervous system with its first taste of amphetamine. For the next four hours we sat rooted to the bench in the middle of one of the parks in my neighborhood. We had freshly lit new cigarettes in our mouths before the ones we were smoking had a chance to burn out. The amphetamines she boosted from her older brother gave every cigarette a candy-like sheen. We smoked and talked and smoked all afternoon until the rush-hour commuters began to clog the highway bordering the park.

I didn’t touch my dinner that night. Not only can stimulants repress your appetite, they can make the tiniest scrap of food hit your stomach with the weight of a Thanksgiving meal. I fidgeted, tapped my feet, and dismissed myself as quickly as possible. That night I couldn’t sleep; the aftershock of the chemicals wouldn’t wear off for another 12 hours. I spent the next day in a neurotransmitter hangover, lurching from class to class as my swollen synapses struggled to function without its regular ration of dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine.

I was immediately hooked. Amphetamines made everything exhilarating. It didn’t matter if I had to complete math problems, vacuum the rug, or play the guitar; a few doses of Ritalin allowed me to take part in and enjoy the grist of life in a profoundly enjoyable manner. At least, it did for the first few hours. The brain-on-fire high was always followed with a painful period of self-enclosure. I wouldn’t want to move or participate in anything. Even talking hurt. It also was instrumental in reviving my academic career. My SAT scores shot up 400 points and, for the first time, I was able to meet deadlines. I needed it, but I was unable to control myself around it.

When my girlfriend broke things off with me a few days later, I knew I had to find more. My own brother, then about to graduate, had been taking Ritalin for many years. Never before would I have considered sneaking into his room and taking anything, much less medication. Yet that afternoon I rummaged through his things with feral intensity. I burned through my brother’s monthly allotment in days. I just assumed it was an endless resource he could refill at a moment’s notice, not realizing that I had just screwed him for the rest of the month. I began to steal Ritalin from my best friends, digging through their backpacks whenever they went to the bathroom.

Within a week or two of finding my brother’s medication, my parents called a family meeting. I kept my eyes glued to the empty pill bottle sitting on the dining room table, nodding along as my mother explained about insurance, controlled substances, and how the former restricted access to the latter. It was decided that I should talk to a psychiatrist. My mom had been thinking about having me checked out for ADHD for years. She was concerned because I would test into the ‘advanced’ classes only to drop out of them when my classwork failed to measure up. Teachers told her that I was ready for the harder material, I just made too many simple mistakes.

After I was in the system I was hooked. My grades went up and my academic self-efficacy grew. But I couldn’t out-think my growing addiction to them. I would gulp down a month’s supply in days, requiring me to make up stories to my psychiatrist about how I wanted to try out different types of medication. Ritalin didn’t last long enough. Adderall lasted too long. Each new prescription I scored bought me another week’s worth of uppers. By the time I cycled through enough medications, the month had passed and I was able to go back to Ritalin. It took only a few days before I’d memorized the correct sequence of directional commands to navigate the complex phone tree at my local pharmacy. Welcome to the CVS Pharmacy. Press Zero for the pharmacy. Press 4 to check to see if your refill is ready. Please enter your social security number and press pound. Please enter your medical ID number and press pound. Please enter the prescription ID number and press pound. Your prescription is now ready.

This lasted until college when my mom had to drive to my dorm (I went to a local school) once a week in order to drop off the week’s supply. We would meet in the parking lot and exchange plastic bottles. It was the only way I could manage. But by my senior year I was back. I would implore girlfriends to hide my pill bottles only to wait for them to fall asleep before I tip-toed around their apartments. I learned where to find things (bottom of purses, sock drawers in closets) and how to hunt for something at a moment’s notice (an impromptu phone call, someone at the door).The abuse continued until I was taping eyeballs closed at night, placing the tape horizontally, of course, and gulping gin in order to fall asleep.

Over time I somehow developed the ability to manage my addiction to stimulants. There was no single rock bottom, just a slow ascent out of the heart-rending static of methylphenidate addiction. When I quit drinking I knew I had to cut down on the Ritalin. As I matured and entered into the work force, the rhythms of adult life required me to maintain a consistent and dependable sleep schedule.  While I still relish the rush of the day’s first dose, I’m able to keep my addiction in control. My daily allotment (30mg) would have been an appetizer ten years ago. Luckily my body never developed much of a tolerance.

Even though my Ritalin use is under control, I am still addicted. They are crucial to my success. I have no idea what life without Ritalin feels like. I’m just too scared. While I’m sure my brain would eventually adjust after a rocky period of chemical imbalance, I’m not willing to risk it. I don’t see a need to. I have no guilt about using medication to improve the quality of my life, and I function at acceptable levels of adult capitalist productivity.

Stimulants have become a necessary component to managing my life with severe ADHD. When they wear off it’s almost impossible to concentrate. Everything I access through my senses seems important and worthy of examination. Every object, aberration, corporeal figure, audio cue,  etc., screams at me, beating down my senses with the incessant demand to be noticed and accounted for. My working memory is non-existent. I move through life in an impenetrable fog, able to experience only what’s directly in front of me. And I can’t stop talking. The words just spill out. I used to have a hand-written sign taped above the television that read ‘STOP TALKING’ as a reminder to try and spare my wife from my endless commentary.


I originally wanted this piece to move into what it’s like teaching with ADHD, but I’ll leave that for another post. I wanted to explore a part of my life that has helped me survive while providing me with so many opportunities to fall.



  1. Pingback: Can You Host Our Club This Afternoon? A Slice of Life | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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