Getting Off Adderall
I took a version of the prescription drug Adderall almost every day for more than five years. I recently decided to stop taking it, at least for a while, and I figured I’d share my experience.
TLDR: I’m glad I took it, and I’m glad I stopped!
Judging by which estimate you go with, something like 25 million people take Adderall in the U.S., and that’s just those who are prescribed. Lots of other people are prescribed other ADHD drugs, and of course there are plenty of people who take them without a prescription.
People take it in lots of different ways, from recreation to “study aid” to an extended release version that’s meant to help throughout the day. Though ADD/ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, more adults take ADHD meds than kids do (source).
Why I Started Taking Adderall
In a long-ago post, I explained why I started taking Adderall after being generally opposed to medication. Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve really had a hard time focusing, and for the past year or so, this problem has accelerated. I really struggled in writing my last book, to the point where I was four months late in delivering the manuscript and had to receive a lot of help from my fantastic editor. I appreciated his help, but I don’t want to depend on such a thing—and I don’t want to be late again!
I generally prefer to solve my own problems, or at least solve them naturally. But eventually I realized that my resistance to treatment was essentially a limiting belief of its own.
A friend made the analogy that if someone is diabetic, we don’t expect them to “manage themselves” without insulin. It’s just something they need! So finally I decided, OK, I’ll conduct an experiment… and I knew what I wanted to try.
This post ended up being both popular and divisive. For more than six months afterwards I’d regularly get emails from people who either appreciated my speaking up (because they too were using medication to manage ADHD) or upset because they thought I was making a big mistake. 🤷🏼♂️
As I shared at the time, Adderall was effective for me right from the first time I used it—very effective, in fact. I could take 5mg, the lowest possible dose, and focus on writing for two full hours without a break. That was amazing!
This classic live-action cam GIF sums up the feeling:
I honestly loved everything about it. My only worry was developing a dependency on it (and also increasing the dosage, but those kind of go hand-in-hand). Thankfully it turned out that for the most part, I never really felt the need to exceed the low dose I was taking.
In Which 5 Years Go By
A lot of time has passed since I first wrote that post. Since then I’ve continued to use Adderall frequently, never increasing the dosage (5-15 mg/day) but also not going many days without taking it.
I wrote more books, I had my second midlife crisis, I traveled, etc. I recorded 2,000+ consecutive episodes of a daily podcast.
And throughout all of that, I continued taking Adderall. I’ve taken it almost every day, at least five days a week on average.
Until three or four weeks ago, when I stopped.
So What Happened? Why Change Now?
Well, it’s been five years! Just because something was the right idea at one time doesn’t mean it will always be. I’ve done a lot of health experiments, but I’ve never tried to stop taking Adderall until now.
I slowly noticed that it didn’t seem to be as effective as it once was, to the point where I began to wonder if it was having adverse effects. I was struggling with focusing, and since that was the whole point of taking Adderall, I thought about trying something different.
To mix things up, a couple of months earlier I got a prescription for Vyvanse. Vyvanse is another ADHD drug like Adderall that some people like better. (To be clear, you wouldn’t take both of these drugs on the same day—so whenever I used Vyvanse, I wouldn’t use Adderall.)
At first I thought Vyvanse was incredible. It brought me back to the mind-blowing days of first using Adderall years earlier. But this feeling wore off much more quickly than the Adderall feeling did, and the more I used Vyvanse, the worse it made me feel.
Meanwhile, Adderall was getting less effective and the side effects were also getting worse. So then I was torn between the two options (old drug, new drug) and not really loving either one.
Then one week I noticed that I’d gone a few days without taking either one. I seemed to feel … mostly okay? It was weird.
I resumed taking Adderall, but for the next few weeks I kept thinking about what it would be like to stop completely. So then, just as I was getting serious about writing a new book, I did.
What It’s Like to Stop
The first thing that was different was my routine of getting to work. Adderall was a big part of that, along with sparkling water and coffee. I always write down what I’m going to work on for a typical two hour session, and in the morning and afternoon, I’d get to work. I had to make a mental adjustment to realize I didn’t need the ADHD meds to be part of this ritual.
Next, I expected to feel “cloudy” or generally unfocused for much of the day, but I mostly felt … normal. I also found I was still able to focus on writing—which felt huge! This was my biggest worry in stopping.
To be clear, I didn’t hyper-focus the way I did during those peak Adderall times, but that hadn’t been happening as much recently anyway.
On the positive side, it turns out you sleep better when you’re not on Adderall. Or at least I do.
The funny thing is I had kind of made peace with not sleeping well over the past few years. I had read articles about the “second sleep” trend, and I got used to going to bed, waking up a couple hours later to read, and then sleeping again at some point in the middle of the night.
Cutting out Adderall hasn’t solved all my insomnia. I still have a couple nights a week where I’m up for at least an hour in the middle of the night. But two nights a week is better than five, which is what the average used to be.
One more thing: I’ve gained five pounds since I stopped taking Adderall, and I never gain weight. I eat at least 3,000 calories a day on average, but I also exercise for at least an hour every day. Two years ago I was actively trying to gain weight as part of a strength training plan, and it seemed nearly impossible.
If I gain much more than I have so far, I’ll take a closer look at my nutrition plan. But for now, I suppose five pounds and sleeping better is a fair tradeoff.
I have no regrets about starting Adderall when I did. It helped me a lot, in many different ways, and for a long time.
Similarly, I’m glad I’ve stopped (at least for now). It’s not what I need and I’m happy that I managed to trust the process of weaning myself off. It’s an addictive substance, and even though I always used it in low doses, I did worry about “needing” it to be able to work.
I do miss the hyper-focus zone that Adderall or other stimulants can produce, so I’ve thought about using it on an occasional basis, when presumably the effects will be stronger for me.
But so far I haven’t done even that, so maybe something about taking it all those years ended up having a positive effect that outlives it. We’ll see!