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The Price Tag of Playing with Prescriptions in College

You are rhythmic. Yes, I do mean you! It doesn’t matter if you’re offbeat while busting your bad moves on the dance floor. With or without music, all humans have natural cycles ranging from the time you wake up, crave meals, use the bathroom and can even predict the times were you are the most intelligent and productive. You are probably not even be aware of half of these. If you were, you might use them as tools instead of being surprised that your attention span and energy levels take a virtual nap every day at 5. These well timed automatic systems are a natural way to conserve your bodies energy because changes have the ability to exhaust you mentally. If you ever had jetlag, you can concur that your body and mind have to adjust to understanding the environments. That adjustment alone, is draining. In an ADD mind, college is an earthquake of an environment. There are many difficult transitions, tempos, and adaptations. And while treating ADD symptoms with powerful stimulant medications (which are most effectively utilized when your mental, physical and nutritional routine is consistent), the constant inconsistencies of college can render the advantages of these meds ineffectual.

If you want to perform on par with peers during an academic career, the cost of having ADD/ADHD is that we pay for more resources, need more time and develop more stress when competing juggling competing tasks of work, college, and life. I will speak for many of us when I say that in order for us to be good as what we do, we need work that is exciting, diverse, challenging, fun, social and most of all engaging. Many see themselves using their boundless energy to produce an exciting future. But, besides a possible learning disability we have other mental and emotional setbacks that hold us from reaching our potential.

  • Impulsiveness: Reactivity without censorship which doesn’t meld well with authority and with most office cultures.

  • Performance Anxiety: Pressure induced mind wandering, negative moods, ruminative response style and lower working memory capacity.

  • Oversensitivity to rejection: Avoiding ownership, confrontation and critique by procrastinating on work that was already due in fear of these consequences. (aka rejection dysphoria)

One of these beautiful defense mechanisms is black and white thinking, and it is created by the aversion to failure. During this mindset, one can totally avoid commitments like meetings, emails or events in order to limit exposure to risk. On the other hands, someone of this mindset will utilize the skill of hyperfocus almost to a point of exhaustion. Creating a picture of perfection to protect their profile. In all cases, they are defending their fragile ego against persecution so that they can maintain their motivation. Some are so sensitive that with one window breaks, they burn the house down. It takes grit, hard work and persistence to get to ones finishing line. Maintaining the ego and the motivation. Now medicine can provide some of that edge, but that edge can be really sharp!

The Edge: A Feeling You are on the Top or About to Topple Over

Why does any student, adult, with ADHD have to take medicine? Well, you don’t. You never ever “have to”. If you decide to, the affect is that medication boosts mental performance in the areas that ADHD survivors have deficits. Dr. Ed Hallowell, a renown Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and ADHD Expert, has said that stimulant medication can act just as useful as a pair of glasses for your brain. It compels you to focus, prioritize and execute. Stimulating you to give focus where attention is needed. This tool does have its own price, sacrificing many comforts in order to fulfill the big picture. Managing this “investment” now will provide more opportunity in the future.

During college, I accepted and dealt with this difficult situation. I paid my dues and earned some wisdom about self care, fortitude and focus. The danger of this investment was that I feared I was losing more than I was gaining. Maybe it’s different for you, but the meds created a second character in my ADD life. Ever since grade school, I felt that adderall/ritalin/concerta developed a 2nd consciousness. An invisible evil twin who bullied me to finish work. It didn’t steal my lunch money, but it did swipe my desire to eat as well as the freedom to be social and crazy. But then again, there was a magic to it. The meds were like Popeye’s spinach and with one gulp, it whisked away clutter from a bedroom that my ADD tornado left behind. It added the pressure of perfection that my parents never found ut how to invoke in me. Served as a crystal ball which afforded me the ability to speak and write linearly. I was confident and usually correct. I used to be ashamed that I didn’t remember what happened in class that day, but meds could give me a superpower, eagle vision to see anything from small details to the big picture. It even provided me the patience to sit still and not sleep during my geology college coarse.

The edge is a fine balance. Your attention is required

When we realize that this medication system has a life force, we learn, appreciate and leverage what this tool can do for and to us. We make space in our lives for it to exist and sometimes, let it take control of our decisions. What I learned from my experience is that whether I saw that pill as my evil nemesis or that it was an investment in my own growth, I was developing pill shame because I knew it was worth the pain.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A client of mine is in the middle of his college career. Challenged with ADD, he found that some of his drive had been crushed when started to slip on his due dates. As his workload became overload he had to make peril college career decisions. Should he finish late assignments for a lower grade, or start new projects that would give him a better grade in another subject.

Taking a healthy dose of Adderall, he is affected by stressful mental side effects. The young man has a great big heart. It is full of passion and with that passion is his own self pressure. No matter how hard he works or how deeply he cares, there is something that is missing in his execution of tasks. He discusses his anxiety and feels paralyzed because whenever he misses one action item, he faces more failure and feels worse about his overall achievement and status of work. Every actual step back is seen as three and this is his cycle of guilt.

He may procrastinate because it’s hard to take action on something that is not clearly defined. He hasn’t found his pace with the classwork. Or maybe he skipped some work time and decided to make up for it by staying up late. He could have hulu binged after school. Whatever the distractions, his intention was to work but instead waited until he received the motivation as if it was a letter from jury duty. As the hours tick by, he didn’t know that he would never actually “feel” like working.

Instead, he is feeling the guilt of starting late and suffering from a high level of anxiety. He didn’t use the energy of the medication while it was available. Now, his body is working half as well while his medication still demands twice his energy. So, he decides to give up tonight and relaxes to regain his sanity. Needing sleep, he negotiates for more time and skips 2 classes, wakes up at 3:00 only to feel terrible about the day and useless about the future. The pressure is outstanding and he waits for the next day to resume his responsibilities. Why? Because every new quarter, semester and day we expect to have a clean slate. Here, the black or white style of thinking leaving him with an even worse outlook. Make no mistakes in time management or face certain failure, which is an attitude that can be exacerbated by the pressure of the medication.

How to keep yourself motivated, limit stress and nurture yourself while on Medication

Be Proactive: Tips for Timing: Be Consistent, Consistently!

Your day to day timing is so important to any control that you are seeking while taking prescriptions for ADHD. Medicine has a time span. It goes longer and shorter depending your systems of digestion, sleep, and activity. If you stay consistent with just a few more things, you can plan and prevent spikes and meltdowns before they come.

Resource: 504 Plans

If you have a diagnosis for Attention Deficit, you can get accommodations:

College is not a consistent environment. Every quarter has a different schedule, every teacher has a new pace and most classes expose you to a new environment. You can get help with this if you apply for a 504 plan. You apply through your school's disability services and utilize these awesome adjustments to your school rules.

  • Extra time on tests so you can check, double check and focus on accuracy, not speed

  • Private testing rooms that provide a distraction free environment where you can possibly listen to music, or do push ups to stay awake and energized

  • Notes! The professor will either hand you his filled in notes or ask another student to write notes during class so you can actually listen to understand, not scribe the material

  • Use of computer for written exams will help you with time, organization and handwriting

  • Early scheduling of classes to time your week consistently as possible. Suggestion: AVOID early AM schedules. Helps avoid oversleeping, you are able finish work before class, more sleep, no friday classes and you get to eat breakfast

Nurture your Body, the Mind will Follow

I won’t push you to eat 3 square meals a day. And, I am pretty sure the old model of the food pyramid created a health epidemic in America. What we do know for sure, diet really matters. ADDitude magazine says to optimize brain functions:

Eat foods rich in proteins:

Lean beef, pork, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, soy, and low fat dairy.

Use Nutritional Supplements:

Fish oil, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium and B6

Relax and Enjoy:

Desert won’t kill you. Eat small meals often, Drink like a fish (water)

Start the day off with Fuel:

Breakfast every morning is really important. Although meds curb your appetite, stay consistent.

Tell your Brain:

This is fuel. Eat it for purpose, not for pleasure. Accept this as reality and you enjoy

foods primary function.

Don’t Get Hangry:

Fight crashes and mood swings by carrying emergency food. Trader Joe’s has perfect 100 calorie nuts, dried fruit and food bars. When you fuel gage drops to zero, you are in a danger zone.

Set up Ambiance and You Can Set Your Mood

Have a deadline to STOP being so productive every night. You will be working 2x as hard but only producing ½ the results you desire. So, unless you are studying for exams or finishing a paper (then it’s ok to go all out!), give yourself a curfew so you can wind down with ease.

  • Give up work at a certain hour every night. If anything, rest and wake up refreshed and powerful

  • Don’t be a bingeaholic. Stay away from stimuli seeking series TV, Gaming and FB. Our minds are set to seek dopamine when teased with it. This will keep you awake and bored at the same time.

  • Don't drink caffeine past a certain hour. My coffee curfew is 1:00

START changing the environment and change your mindset at the same time. Your surrounding matter and affect your mood, sleep and set patterns for your mental status.

  • Place a Blue Light Filter timer on your portable electronics. Give your eyes a rest

  • Play music instead of TV

  • Grab a book that has nothing to do with work/study

  • Dim the lights low, turn off all but one lamp, romantic scented candle, (I could go on but I think you get the point)

  • Deep breathing, Yoga or Meditation

  • Serve something greater than yourself. Get out of your own head and call someone. Ask them about their day, then... Listen. This can create a positive perspective of yourself and give you a chance to relieve your own stress.

For more information on ADHD/ADD Treatment or ADHD Coaching, please visit

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