Coffee doesn’t work after a cup and a half, you’re falling asleep as the clock strikes 11:30 p.m. and you’ve only finished about half a page out of seven of your essay. However, you can take some study drugs, whizz through your assignment and then go to sleep. Done.
Ben Winick ’17, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), recounted their frustration, annoyance and even anger about this type of scenario. “Great,” Winick said, “Others can do an assignment in a night … I need them [the medication] just to function!”
There are two main classifications of ADHD, according to Winick who took a year off from Brandeis to study ADHD following their first two years of college. There is the inattentive type, which mainly affects girls, and the hyperactive type, which mainly affects boys. Winick has a combination of both types, and is curious about whether or not it is possible that this is related to their identifying as transgender, though Winick knows of no research in this area.
When asked about the science behind the medication, Winick said it was not settled on, and as a result, there does not exist a concrete perception of why the drugs work, although science has shown they do have an impact.
One medication is Adderall, otherwise known as dextroamphetamine. This is the main medication that Winick takes. One potential cause of ADHD is a lack of dopamine reuptake in the brain. In ADHD, a patient’s secreted dopamine may be reabsorbed at high levels by the cells that first secreted it, whereas in regular patients it moves across a synapse to further cells.
Adderall, in part by ensuring dopamine is not reabsorbed by the first cell, may help ADHD patients by promoting this dopamine transportation. It is a stimulant, like caffeine, but much stronger. Other drugs, such as Ritalin, keep the dopamine from coming back into the original cells, not by pushing it forward but by directly blocking its absorption in the first cell.
A worry that Winick had about the policies surrounding students with disorders included accessibility of educational benefits. For example, Winick was diagnosed with ADHD at age 12 when their teacher noticed something different with their behavior and recommended that they see a psychologist. Winick explained that in lower-income schools, behavior like what Winick experienced may be interpreted as needing discipline as opposed to care. In the most extreme cases, students may be arrested for nonviolent acts they commit as a result of their disorder.
Adderall, Winick said, is a “pain in the ass to get.” Winick worries that they might not be able to obtain it, given the level it is regulated, after they get off their parents’ health insurance. Since Winick needs the medication to function and avoid a mind-buzzing state, losing access to the medication is an unacceptable possibility.
Living with ADHD for Winick has involved an overwhelming amount extraneous thoughts penetrating Winick’s cognition. These thoughts, enthralling Winick in a web of tangential mind buzzing, filter out explicit thoughts leading Winick to ultimately become “less conscious” of themself. The purpose of the medication is to “filter out” the extraneous thoughts.
Without the medication, they would either be encapsulated by this mind buzzing or, occasionally, the mind buzzing would become hyperfocused on a certain task. Sometimes, they said, they could become highly enthralled in an assignment. Good, Winick supposed, for the occasional all nighter. Awful, they lamented, when they needed to get a lot done.
Ultimately, most people can never truly understand, as Winick does, the experience of having ADHD. But we can understand, at least by their language, what a distress it is to them. And we can further understand how indispensable the drugs Winick uses to abate this distress are. For without these drugs, which Winick worries may not be available forever, life would be a perpetual mindbuzz.