This is a guest post from James Maher. (That’s his self-portrait, at the top of this post.) He’s a fine art and freelance photographer based in New York City. You can see his photography of New York City on his web site. 

I was on Adderall from my Sophomore year in high school until I was 27. I had significant ADD and lived in a family where everyone had ADD and so it was tough to ever get any peace and quiet or any structure. We had a television in our kitchen, living room and all of the bedrooms and they were always on.

Adderall was a blessing in my life. My grades rose instantly 15-18 percentage points because I started to do my homework and study. It continued into college where I got a mathematics and computer science degree. And Adderral helped me after college, through the gruntwork of starting a photography business in my early 20s.

I would not have been able to do these things without the drug.

However, the best thing that it ever did, was show me what being concentrated was like and helped me figure out ways on my own to stay concentrated. Adderall is great for helping you focus and it’s life-changing for many people, as it was for me during my developmental period.

That being said, Adderall should not be taken lightly. With the exception of a small percentage of people, I don’t think it’s a drug that should be taken throughout the course of a person’s life, especially in large doses. I became emotional, moody and stressed (and I’m one of the most relaxed people you’ll ever meet). It would keep me up half the night and then I would need it even more to offset the lack of sleep. Lack of adequate sleep is much more of a factor towards a person’s ADD symptoms than anything else.

I’m off it completely now, and while I have my moments, I think I am more concentrated than most people. This is not because I am cured but because I now know what being focused is like, and I am able to take steps to put myself in the best position to be this way. I get enough sleep, I eat regularly and healthy, I have many tricks to keep myself focused such as keeping daily task lists and blocking every distracting site on my work computer (and I work at home with no boss so I need these tricks desperately).

On this note, Adderall is great for adolescents with ADD problems, but targeted behavioral therapy could easily fix the ADD problem for a majority of these children (not the severe ones of course). We can’t just give these kids these pills and let them on their way. We need to teach them about creating focus and productivity and the factors that are important for those mental states. It’s amazing to me that there are not high school or even junior high classes based entirely on the issue of productivity.

If I had been taught these skills so much earlier in my life instead of needing to seek them out on my own, after college, my early life could have taken a much different course.