I have never taken Adderall. In my baby boomer, Pitt Law days, I relied on hot coffee, “Vivarin,” and “NoDoz” for those law school pre-exam all-nighters on the rare occasions I studied. Once cocaine became part of my life, it became my Adderall equivalent. Cocaine took over my life, much as Adderall can do.
One only has to look through law school message boards, talk to current students or recent grads to get a feel for how prevalent Adderall use is for both law school and bar exam study. There is also data on the topic. One study found that 14 percent of students responding had taken a prescribed drug without a prescription within the last 12 months. Seventy-nine percent of those students reported the drug taken as Adderall. Adderall XR, Ritalin and cocaine were also mentioned.
Here are Ali’s story and observations on Adderall use. Ali is a millennial West Coast attorney not long out of law school. She starts with her bar exam observations.
When I took the bar exam, there were limits on what we could bring into the testing area. A small zip-lock bag that could hold identification, a pen or two, as well as individual tablets of medication. I remember seeing a sea of colors through those clear baggie. The unmistakable hues of Adderall, categorized by dosage. The vast majority of those around me had at least a couple of pills.
Every exam taker’s personal stash out in the open echoed the norm in the law library around finals time. There was a good chance at least one person in a study group either had a prescription for Adderall or knew somebody who did. Students often bought off each other and shared the pills within the group. The prevalence made it easy to forget that those of us who partook without a prescription, were doing so illegally and dosing ourselves with an addictive substance. An unwise choice for the subset of law students already prone to addictive tendencies and substance use issues. While I knew classmates who had legitimate ADD diagnosis, they were the minority.
I survived my first two years without ‘needing’ an Adderall prescription. I outlined early and often and had the self-discipline to stay in the library for long hours. When I would bum a few pills from a classmate, studying flew by. Adderall made outlining, note organization, and repeated reviews easy to do. It made me confident in doing it. As a stimulant, Adderall also made a perfect sidekick to study groups. I would debate hypotheticals for hours on end.
By my third year, Adderall was almost mandatory for my study group. It was no longer a study aid. It provided artificial motivation that once came on its own. By this point, I had secured a prescription. I never took the required test and was never diagnosed with ADD. ‘”To get me through graduation,’ soon turned into, “To get me through the bar exam.’
When I returned to the small law firm I clerked at, I hadn’t gotten legal work completed without the help of Adderall in over one year. I had convinced myself I required it to stay on top of work. My tolerance had also gone up. I was taking more pills than prescribed which meant I would exhaust my script early each month. Luckily, the attorney in the office next to mine had his own prescription. We’d often pool our resources, but unlike law school, my workload never got lighter. The competitive and adversarial litigation atmosphere was intimidating. Adderall however, always made me appear confident and in control.
In practice, this meant that I attributed a lot of my hard work and success to the fact that I had help in the form of a pill. This had a terrible downside. If I forgot my Adderall or ran out of pills, I would often find myself staring at my calendar and to-do list frozen and not knowing where to begin. I didn’t think I could accomplish the work and meet my deadlines without a pill. As a person who always has had a stellar work ethic, this was an unfamiliar feeling for me and an unhealthy one at that. After being in practice for only one year, taking Adderall as often as I did had also caused me to shed 25 pounds that I did not have to lose. Adderall wreaked havoc on my natural self-confidence and work ethic. I looked unhealthy as well.
A new job lowered dosage, and more courtroom experience had positive mental and physical effects. I still always keep a script filled but no longer work in a job environment where my coworkers and direct superiors also used the drug (and its cousin, cocaine). I no longer believe that I need Adderall daily to succeed. I am doing well without it.
I know old classmates and coworkers who came out on the other end of the spectrum, though. A prior coworker graduated from Adderall to cocaine, then to crack. Another is in outpatient treatment.
My casual use of Adderall that began in law school became a much more slippery slope than I had imagined. And while I was able to call it quits on daily use, not everybody has been able to do this. The pill is very addictive.