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I can easily understand the appeal of Adderall, a drug that treats ADHD by increasing focus and attention span. It has taken me three months to finish this article, several weeks of which was due to Facebook; I wrote the last draft in a caffeine-fueled mania, listening to “Reptilia” on repeat as a deadline loomed. Who wouldn’t be tempted by a drug that might make it easier to keep up in a world that runs at overwhelming speed?

Evidently, many people agree. The proportion of Americans using Adderall, and other “study drugs” like Ritalin and Vyvanse, is increasing rapidly. Between 2008 and 2012, the use of ADHD medications increased by 36 percent, according to an analysis of pharmacy prescriptions.

This is partially because ADHD diagnosis rates have increased: by 16 percent among adolescents from 2007 to 2011, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis found. But many people also use Adderall and similar drugs nonmedically, that is, without a prescription or in ways not recommended by a doctor (for example, by snorting or in very high doses).

This behavior is risky. The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Adderall as a Schedule II drug, the same category as cocaine, because of its potential for abuse. When used as prescribed to treat ADHD, Adderall and similar medications are both effective and unlikely to be addictive; when used improperly, however, they can be highly addictive, and the evidence that they significantly improve cognition is mixed.

 

image: FtWashGuy CC BY-SA 3.0

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Five Thirty Eight: Life

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