I'm Fine With Taking Ritalin in Recovery but Thanks for Your Concerta

I’m Fine With Taking Ritalin in Recovery but Thanks for Your Concerta

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I'm fine with taking Ritalin, thanks for your Concerta

This post was originally published on November 5, 2015.

One of the (many?) downsides of living during a time when social media has given all tech-capable humans a platform for their typically misguided, uneducated opinions is that it has created a lot of confusion in the marketplace, if you will. We can preach that people shouldn’t believe everything they read on the Internet ad infinitum, but it will never stop it from happening. It will also never stop these same people from forming their own ignorant and now misinformed viewpoints and posting them on Facebook. The complaint used to be that no one read the newspaper or educated themselves on politics. Now everyone and their mother is a doctor, lawyer and guru in their own mind.

Not that I am one to talk—366 episodes of Law & Order SVU have made me an expert on sex crimes—but at least I know I am being ridiculous when offer my “expertise” in a situation I am clearly not qualified to comment on. “Listen Pam,” I might say, “I think we both know that he smoked his judicial immunity when he had ex parte communication with the defendant.” I might deliver this line with a straight face but I have no illusions that anyone takes me seriously (Jesus, I hope they don’t).

However, the luxury afforded to us by mediated forums like YouTube and Twitter, where we can mount our high horses from the comfort of our own bedroom with the anonymity of a screen name, has created a subculture of monsters. The same people who might smile at you on the street are slut-shaming women online. The way traffic on the 405 freeway turns Angelenos into homicidal maniacs, the Internet has turned the sweet old lady who plays the organ at church into a dogmatic political crusader on the web. It’s downright terrifying.

I try to stay out of most of it. All the back and forth chatter about feminism, gun control, immigration. It’s not that these aren’t super important issues to discuss but Jesus H. Christ people, we aren’t going to solve the world’s problems in a Facebook war. In fact, we aren’t solving anything this way. I have never once heard a person say, “You know, I always felt strongly that women who call themselves feminists should have jobs but after Sharon put me in my place on Facebook, I really see how being an unemployed housewife is the ultimate exercise of equality.”

But every now and then I fall prey to it, allowing myself to get pissed off about someone’s soapbox showing up in my Twitter feed. I’d like to think it is out of a concern for the greater good and not some egotistical drive to be right but my guess would be that the truth lives somewhere in the middle.

The other morning I woke up to a tweet from a site I follow about addiction that said, “#Concerta is a stimulant drug and as a stimulant it can become habit forming” with a link to some creepy website about prescription drug use that looks more like a meet-up for conspiracy theorists than an educational resource. As a sober person who takes Concerta, I was floored. Not because the drug, which is the time-release version of Ritalin—the OG drug prescribed to kids with ADHD—is impossible to get addicted to, but because of the implications that people who are taking drugs that have been prescribed to them by their doctor is something they should be ashamed of or something they need to get honest about.

I was diagnosed with ADD in 1986 after my elementary school insisted my mother get me tested. She was resistant at first, as many parents are I am sure, because of her fear that I would get labeled. Forget about the consequences of not treating something that might be wrong with me; instead, let’s just pretend the problem isn’t there and blame my teachers and me, year after year, for my shitty report cards. Thankfully, she finally acquiesced and through several diagnostic assessments it was discovered that I was struggling with several learning disabilities in addition to ADD (which are now just under the classification of ADHD). They suggested Ritalin and my mother refused. As a child of the 60s, she felt that there was nothing that couldn’t be managed by organic foods and vitamin supplements. I actually don’t think she is wrong, per se, I just think it’s a lot harder to teach people about nutrition than it is to give them a pill.

My grades never improved and neither did my behavior. By sophomore year in high school, I had completely checked out of anything academic. School felt like a breeding ground for failure. I was expected to understand things I wasn’t able to grasp at the pace everyone else did. It was like trying to learn biology in Cantonese (when you don’t speak Cantonese) so instead of asking for help (which I didn’t know I could do), I just stopped showing up to class. This lead to truancy and enrollment in a behavioral program that finally gave me the special attention I needed until my grades came up (a little).

College was also a disaster. After flunking out of my first few attempts, I ended up as a theater major at UMass Boston. Or as I liked to call it, the place I was hanging out until I could figure out what to do with my life. I had to take most classes twice because I couldn’t grasp the material the first time around and would replace my poor grade by taking the class again. Four years later, when I was still a sophomore, I gave up and moved to Los Angeles.

It was there that I got to experience what it feels like to be an adult and lock yourself out of your apartment more than once, lock your keys in your car three times in one week and habitually forget where you parked your car or why you even drove somewhere. I paid the literal price for forgetting to pay bills or show up to job interviews. Forget about remembering friend’s birthdays or to even call them back—that was out of the question. After five years of validating what I had always believed about myself—that I was a scattered brained idiot who couldn’t be relied upon for anything—I finally asked for help.

I met with my psychiatrist who was already treating me for depression and told him what was up. He knew I was sober and so Adderal probably wasn’t the best choice. He prescribed me Ritalin and my life changed. Little by little I became the person I have always wanted to be—capable. I knew I was smart and interested in things besides booze and sex but could never focus long enough to absorb any information. Over time, I switched to Concerta because it is time-released and therefore presents less of a risk of becoming habit forming (although I was on a low dosage of Ritalin immediate release for nine years). Plus it just works better for me. To know what I have been through and how my life has been resurrected as a result of treating my ADD, it sickens me to think how much I would have missed out on if I had allowed other people’s opinions to shame me into not asking for help or trusting my doctor.

Look, I am the first person to tell you that some of the most dangerous and powerful drug dealers in this country have PhDs. Forget what is happening on the streets, we have a serious epidemic of quacks that are handing out NASA grade opiates to eighth graders who complain of headaches. I am not saying that some of these poor kids don’t need something that powerful; I can’t claim to know what is best for anyone but myself. However, I do know that prescription opiate and heroin abuse, and the almost inevitable fatalities that accompany it, are at an all time high (no pun intended). Clearly, there is a major problem and all signs point to the fact that is protected by doctor/patient privilege.

That being said, it doesn’t mean all doctors are drug pushers who can’t be trusted. I think it would probably be safe to say that most are probably good people who got into medicine because they wanted to heal, not because they are spawns of Satan. It’s on those who aren’t sure they agree with what their doctor is suggesting to do some research and get a second, third or fourth opinion.

Alcoholics and addicts need to disclose this to health care providers upfront so they can offer non-narcotic alternatives, if possible. They also should discuss any questionable medication with their sponsors to be on the up and up. Ultimately, the final say should come down to what a trusted doctor suggests and how the person feels about the risks, if any.

I honestly can’t believe that anyone thinks it’s appropriate to have an opinion on what has been prescribed to someone by their doctor, let alone tweet about it. Even if you who are under the care of a horrible drug lord whose only agenda is to get his patients hooked on anti-depressants (this is a joke), your medication needs are between you and your health care provider. Not only do random idiots on the Internet not know anything about you or your condition but chances are, they don’t have a medical degree either.

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2 Comments

  1. Erin MacDonald on

    Danielle, thanks so much for bringing this issue to light via your story. I too am on Concerta, was diagnosed with ADD as an adult about 10 years ago. I am also an RN and my work was seriously impacted by this condition. I have done considerable research and discovered not to my surprise, that ADD and Alcohol very often exist together. The fancy term is comorbid. In my case I self medicated most of my adult life with alcohol. It helped quiet the chaos in my brain and I was able to accomplish things. It worked for quite a long time- until it didn’t lol.After I was sober for about a year I asked for help and was prescribed Ritalin. My life changed dramatically in a very short period of time. I was finally ” me”I get emotional to this day thinking about it, and feel very strongly that treating my ADD is an important part of my recovery plan ,along with other things like AA. I also no longer feel the need to drink as a way of dealing with my incredibly low self esteem, due to the fact that I was clearly an idiot.. As for the Internet,my opinion is that it’s a double edged sword. A lot of the info contained there is very helpful. Then there is that “other” stuff, and it seems a lot of folks are drawn to that. Problem is, they often have difficulty making the distinction between fact and fiction. Even reporters. Sure, cross addiction is something to be aware of in a healthy way for those of us with a history of addiction, but what transpires between a doctor and patient is no one’s business. It’s a private relationship period. Nobody who is taking prescription medications under a physicians care should feel ashamed. Most of us have had our fill of shame, we don’t need any more thanks.

  2. Mike Pinkerton on

    Amen. I couldn’t agree more. The recovery community does much harm to others–and itself–with ill informed “advice” about prescription medication. This topic is entirely out of our area of expertise and should be treated as an “outside issue” regarding which we have no opinion.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a writer as well as a recovering stand-up comedian. She has written for Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine, as well as MTV and E! Networks. You can listen to her strong and typically uninformed opinions on #TheDaniStew Experience on iTunes.