Adderall Got My Friend Hooked on Meth
Now he’s a ghost.
When John and Roman* asked us to bear witness to their wedding in San Francisco, we were thrilled. My husband’s family lives far away and my situation is … complicated, which meant years of lonely holidays and depressing anniversaries. Their home became our respite, filled with weekly dinners, birthday presents and drunken shenanigans.
John and Roman had given so much comfort to us that we considered it an honor to play a role in their nuptials. My husband officiated and I wrote the vows. We wept during the small ceremony we’d staged in the morning and embarked on a raucous, all-day party that bled into dusk. The photos we snapped show us laughing, hugging and acting like the family we were. They were happy. We were happy.
But addiction is not concerned with memories or bonds. Addiction cannot look at photographs and gaze into a loved one’s eyes. It is black tar that covers all good things and suffocates, burns, bubbles and congeals until whatever is vital gasps fruitlessly for just-out-of-reach breath. When John started using meth, the ghastly darkness overwhelmed our makeshift family. And then it killed it.
John’s employer expected him to put in twelve-hour days, in the kind of exploitative work environment where the idea of “work-life balance” was a literal joke among colleagues. He suffered through a revolving door of demanding and unrealistic bosses, who drove him to do whatever it took to climb the mountain of tasks before him. According to Roman, this is why John petitioned our doctor for an Adderall prescription. I say “our” because at least half-a-dozen of our friends go to her. Her Rx pad is as liberal as a Unitarian church in Vermont, and we knew that whether we wanted Xanax, Ambien or Valium she’d offer a helping hand. She’s not a monster, mind you, she’s just naive and doesn’t understand that she’s basically pedaling fancy street drugs in her heels and pearls.
She’s also not alone. More than 18 million people are getting Adderall prescriptions — and not for ADHD as the drug was intended, but as a weight loss technique, study aid and all manner of uses. It’s gotten so common that pharmacies can’t even keep up with the demand. This is startling considering the mounting evidence that Adderall is basically meth. As far as how it acts in a person’s brain and body, Adderall isn’t just basically meth … it is meth.
At one of my first jobs in the professional world, I worked with a semi-functional heroin addict. She told me never to take the drug, because “Nothing is supposed to feel that good on earth. If it feels that good, it’s not right, it’s not natural.”
Her words would echo in my head every time I borrowed an addy from John for a big interview or to complete a big project before deadline. Adderall was incredible. It didn’t only affect my productivity, it helped me become sociable and outgoing, words that zero people would normally use to describe me. On Adderall, I was calm yet energetic, alert but not amped.
In the beginning, Adderall seemed to be a godsend to John as well. He was always a little thick around the waist, and the drug tamped his appetite and got him back into fighting shape. He seemed to be excelling at work despite the insane demands. His temperament was a bit more gentle. Then, at one of our family dinners, he told me that he couldn’t even feel the Adderall much anymore. In fact, now he simply felt like shit without it, but it didn’t give him the productivity and high it once did. Just like meth, the rewards diminish while the need intensifies.
When John lost his job, he kept up appearances for awhile. He talked with me about going back to school or starting his own business. For a time, he was grateful for the down-time that allowed him to binge-watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and cook exorbitant dinners. Slowly, the laid-off life morphed from a necessary break into a quicksand bath. He began to look slovenly and isolate himself from friends and family.
I picture him in one of those movies my mind creates to fill in the gaps of history. He was flailing in that vacuum of despair that is joblessness, sitting on the couch feeling like he had no future. He got on Craigslist and went to some dingy hotel that smacked of emptiness. He readied the instruments and without ceremony or pause, he injected the end of so many things. But he wasn’t concerned with that when he felt that heavenly rush that evaded him. It was better than the first week of Adderall by miles. It relieved him of the boredom and depression of unemployment and replaced it with euphoria.
And just like that, he slipped away from us while he was still in plain sight.
My husband and I had dinner with Roman and John one time when, unbeknownst to us, John was high as a kite. I didn’t know that he was high, but I did know that I didn’t like John very much that night. He was always sarcastic and caustic (even a little mean) to me, but I never much minded because I’d look into his eyes and see that there was playfulness behind it. During dinner, I saw no such warmth. He was being unusually antagonistic towards me and arguing about silly shit. I got in the car after dinner and said “What the fuck is John’s problem?” My husband shrugged and we drove off, not knowing we’d just seen the ugly personality of meth.
John started inviting sketchy characters over to he and Roman’s house and acting erratically when Roman protested. John responded by staying out all night — god knows where and with whom to do what — and sometimes didn’t come home for days. Roman wasn’t sure what to do. But he couldn’t just not intercede. He bravely told us what was happening and began to ask his closest friends for advice. We mulled having an intervention for John, but in a series of phone calls decided that John wouldn’t take to that well at all. Plus, he’d never go to treatment — he is too stubborn and pugnacious to go sweetly into that good night, so to speak.
At some point, John found the texts between all of us. He was livid. He saw it as the deepest betrayal — the people who he trusted more than anyone discussing his fate behind his back. Either that, or it became an excellent excuse to rid himself of the only barriers between him and meth. John immediately cut us out of his life, claiming that he couldn’t trust us.
After ten years of intimacy, laughter, trials and togetherness, John packed up his shit to move out of the home that he and Roman had built together. Roman carefully separated the wedding photos, the ones where they stood shoulder to shoulder beaming inside a grandiose San Franciscan hotel, and left John’s half on the dining room table so that he could take them wherever he was going.
John picked up the photos and threw them into the trash.
A few weeks ago, John used a credit card that Roman still pays for. I asked Roman why he hadn’t cancelled it yet and he said that when John uses the card, it’s a lifeline — it signals that John’s around and not locked up or worse. Roman started to tear up when he asked me “How desperate does he have to be that he would use that card after all of this?”
I can’t tell you where John is or if he is happy, but the last I heard he didn’t have a job or a car. From the disjointed and paranoid conversations he had with the one friend he didn’t cut out of his life, it sounds as if he’s still using. As for all of us, we’re changed. We had friends come over for Thanksgiving, but it didn’t feel all the way whole. I don’t know if it ever will again.
That’s the thing about drugs. You just don’t know. You equivocate about circumstances and motives. You think about every interaction for clues that might signal where the path averted into thorny nadirs too deep to climb out of. You don’t know what you could have done. Or shouldn’t have done, perhaps.
I don’t know if John would still be missing from our lives if he hadn’t started taking Aderall. I’d be lying if I said I have any tangible or substantial proof one way or the other. But I know it didn’t help. I know it didn’t take him further from the fire — it brought him to it. It seductively grabbed him by the hand and lured him towards the edge of the flame. Maybe 99 people could stand close to the fire and bathe in the warmth before turning back into the darkness of reality.
But maybe the hundredth steps into it.
*Names changed for obvious reasons. Roman gave me permission to write this as long as he came off “skinny, young and tan.”