I generally update this blog in the morning, when I’m useless anyway. I read the papers, start the coffee, drink the coffee, open the laptop and take my morning batting practice while I wait for the French Roast to work its magic. I generally try to be done by 10 a.m., and that’s when my day really begins, work-wise.
It turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong:
A young man I’ll call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a semester. He also ran a student organization, for which he often worked more than forty hours a week; when he wasn’t on the job, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork that he couldn’t finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to dance parties. “Trite as it sounds,” he told me, it seemed important to “maybe appreciate my own youth.” Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible.
Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is “off label,” meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drug’s manufacturer or the Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing “any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours.” In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram “extended release” capsule to his daily regimen.
This is the lede of a fascinating story making the rounds this week, from the New Yorker. Margaret Talbot’s piece on the off-label use of prescription stimulants and other ADHD drugs is both thrilling and terrifying, the idea that there could be real help for those of us who stumble through our lives unable to concentrate, even if we have to wheedle our doctors for it. Here’s the terrifying part:
Recently, an advice column in Wired featured a question from a reader worried about “a rising star at the firm” who was “using unprescribed modafinil to work crazy hours. Our boss has started getting on my case for not being as productive.”
Welcome to the new world. Please take your Adderall and get to work.
A few years ago I read a first-person essay by someone who’d taken Ritalin without a prescription, and described the effects as nothing short of revolutionary — the “better than well” sense of energy and focus that allowed the writer to not only work, but work better than he ever had in his life, to concentrate for long periods, to ignore distractions, to finish his novel. How easy it would be to become dependent on such a drug. How simple it would be to fit it into your life.
I can’t believe my generation spent all those years sitting around in smoky living rooms smoking pot, when we could have been swallowing Ritalin and accomplishing something.
(As you can tell, the French Roast is kicking in.)
It’s trendy to refer to our nation’s efforts against self-administered chemicals as “The War on Some Drugs,” or “The War on Some Classes of People Who Use Some Drugs.” You read stuff like this, and you see why it’s funny — because it’s true.
OK. It seems some of you are still back in yesterday’s thread, arguing about torture. Here’s a new starting place for that throwdown, a pretty fair-minded look at how, exactly, we determine what “high-value information” is and how it’s obtained.
If you’d rather take an easier road, torture drives Shep Smith to forget the cardinal rule of live broadcasting.
Meanwhile, why do people bring infants into homes with aggressive dogs? Why, why, why?
And now it’s 10 a.m., time to get to work. Fully engaged, but I could use some Ritalin.