Medium shot of Vanessa Fitzgerald, sitting on a colorful bed in a tent

Gen X. Gen Y. Gen ADHD. Prescription medications like Adderall may be generally effective in managing the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, but the stimulants are also highly-addictive and controversially over-prescribed. That said, we rarely hear anything about the possibility and process behind an Adderall detox. 

Certified nutrition consultant and holistic wellness coach, Vanessa Fitzgerald, recently decided to come clean on her own journey with Adderall and has been documenting her personal detox experience on Instagram Stories over the last 40 days.  She caught our attention – and the attention of thousands of others – by exposing an issue that’s more pervasive than many know – and that many are ashamed to talk about. We asked Vanessa to talk to us about her process – and what she’s been learning through all those confessional DM’s…

The Chalkboard Mag: Vanessa, so many in our generation began taking Adderall as teenagers – and even younger – to deal with behavioral problems, mostly attention ‘deficit’ issues at school. Many continue to take the pills into adulthood, but it’s rarely discussed. Talk to us about your own journey…

Vanessa Fitzgerald: I’d like to preface this by saying that it’s difficult for me to answer these questions. This is an ongoing journey and how I feel now may not be how I feel a month from now. Being vulnerable is never easy, especially when sharing life experience with a mass audience; there is so much I’d love to share and things I wish I already knew, but it’s a daily journey and I’m still learning.

Throughout high school, I would daydream in class to the point where my teachers would reprimand me for gazing out the window and doodling in my notebook. No matter my efforts, my grades would always plateau around a B. I was sent to a psychiatrist who then diagnosed me with ADD and off I went with this little piece of paper that was said to promise me better grades. I remember first receiving the bottle and seeing the words “amphetamine,” and a sense of shame and guilt washed over me.

Little did I know that half my school was popping these speedy little pills to get through the day. I used Adderall as a crutch to do everything and anything. I was so hooked that I was convinced I would not perform or do well without it.

When I moved to NY for college, I modeled and relied on it as a weight-management tool. I believed that it kept me awake and lively on long boring shoots. However, as the hours passed I would become irritable and would go home angry, frustrated and starving. While I may have eaten less during the day, I overcompensated at night with a good old-fashioned face stuffing sesh. If anything, my weight fluctuated five or six pounds on Adderall because of this cycle that continued to mess with my metabolism.

Once I got into nutrition, which has been my lifelong obsession, I was able to have three balanced meals throughout the day while on the medication. Then a whole new set of issues arose. I had a corporate job, which I hated, and Adderall helped give me a sense of false urgency and excitement to get me through the day. I worked long hours and was concerned about not being able to exercise regularly in order to take care of my mind and body. I was left with the option of either a 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 p.m. workout and in order to motivate for these less-than-ideal hours, I used Adderall to hype me up, which left me jittery and sleep deprived. At the end of each day, I would then come home to my partner at the time and start to hyper-focus on him and aspects of our relationship, which made me difficult to be around at times.

These are just a few examples of how I would use and abuse the drug. Now, having studied a ton and having been through the battle myself, I personally believe that behavioral problems stem from one or all of the following: fast food, sugar, leaky gut, mineral deficiency, not eating a nutritious balanced diet, lack of interest or passion in a subject or activity, negative self-talk and not embracing our individual creative learning processes. While I believe that our daily diet is the foundation for our cognitive function, I also feel that our school systems have it wrong. We are all supposed to fit into this controlled box (i.e. take the same tests at the same speed, learn exactly the same way). Rather than celebrating our learning and creative differences, we are medicated and numbed in order to satisfy the system. This is why I believe the addiction continues into adulthood. We all want approval and acceptance. Therefore, many of us fall back on Adderall (or something similar to it), which is essentially one ingredient away from meth.

TCM: What inspired you to embark on an Aderall detox and kick the habit?

VF: I woke up one morning, about to break up my 20mg pill and decided enough was enough. I put the bottle down and took a minute to examine my life, my goals and where I wanted to be. I had done so much interpersonal work on myself and had helped others do the same, but something was still holding me back. Adderall was the one thing I had yet to change. I decided to write down my goals, which included a successful business, a solid romantic relationship, close familial bonds, an incredible community, and top-notch health. I realized that by taking this little pill, which was messing with my brain, body and digestive system, I was holding myself from living a genuine, healthy and happy life. If one of my goals is to have children, amphetamine is certainly not going to get me there. This began my decision to toss out the drug and to start making some serious changes.

TCM: What have you learned about the prevalence of this prescription since you began sharing your journey on social media? 

VF: I honestly had no idea just how many people are on Adderall. Statistics don’t even come close to being accurate, because whether someone holds a prescription or not, they will still find a way to get their hands on some form of Adderall, whether it be Vyvanse, Ritalin, Modafinil… you name it. Most are too full of shame to even admit that they take it. Since posting my stories, I have had hundreds of people from all over the world confess that either their best friend, parent, child, partner or they themselves pop a pill to get through the day.

TCM: What kind of feedback have you received from your audience?

VF: It’s truly amazing how my darkest secret became my greatest platform. There have been, and continue to be, an outpouring of messages, largely thanking me for speaking up on the subject. I’ve also received a ton of encouragement and support from those who have never taken Adderall themselves, but have seen others fall slave to the medication. There is a lot of shame around this drug. Even those who have kicked the habit wish to stay anonymous for fear of being associated with it, which speaks volumes (regarding the drug). People have requested that I start Facebook support groups, You Tube videos, write articles and more – all of which I am actively working on in order for people to have a community where they feel safe to share their experiences.

TCM: Have any of the responses you’ve received highly impacted you? Can you share a bit about them?

VF: I have received messages that have moved me to tears countless times from so many amazing human beings looking to support, encourage, connect and vent. I have had people go into detail about how their marriages were ruined due to Adderall, how they’ve lost jobs, fought with family members, eventually being left with a numbing apathetic feeling. Then there are those who are still addicted and hadn’t realized how much Adderall was negatively affecting their life until I started to share my personal experiences and thoughts about the medication. The sheer honesty and vulnerability of each and every person who decided to reach out to me kept me going on my darkest of days. When I realized how much shame and guilt people have around taking this medication, I wanted to make sure I brought a level of levity to my online videos, as negative self-talk only exacerbates the situation. The harder we are on ourselves, the harder it is to heal. Taking on a playful tone seemed to work as most of my audience decided to join me on my daily count.

TCM: We’re definitely not about making sweeping judgements against those who have an issue with Adderall – or their parents – but we do want to bring to light potential alternatives to turn to other than prescription medication. Talk to us a bit about the root issues here.

VF: It is my opinion that Adderall is never necessary. If a child is hyperactive or unable to concentrate, look at their diet, their environment and their interests. Diet is first and foremost for anyone. As we all now know, our gut is our second brain, so if our gut is inflamed then our brain is inflamed. Brain fog, inability to focus, depression, anxiety and lethargy are all symptoms of an unhealthy gut — and with the continued use of vaccines, antibiotics and medications, we are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to facilitating a healthy internal environment. Start with whole foods, whole-food supplements and various homeopathies — health care the way Mother Nature intended. Not to mention, I believe society tries to shove all of us into a box from birth. It would be refreshing to find a way to support and embrace everyone’s differences, so that we believe we are enough from day one.

TCM: You’ve been detoxing from Adderall now for how long? What have you found helpful in the process?

VF: I have now been off of Adderall for over thirty days [TCM note: at the time of this interview] and what a roller coaster ride it has been! Coming off of a medication is not just a detox, it is a drug withdrawal. Detox is linear, meaning that the further away you get from a substance, the better you feel as the substance is typically non-addictive. Withdrawal, however, is a detox from a highly addictive substance, and it is a different experience for everyone depending on how long they’ve been on the drug and how the drug has interacted with their body and brain chemistry. One day you may feel amazing and then awful the next, and this lasts for however long it takes your brain and body to learn how to function on their own.

I found the most helpful thing, to begin with, was to educate myself on withdrawal, the drug and what this particular medication does to my brain and body. I learned that my brain has to now learn how to produce dopamine and serotonin on its own, and during this process I might feel down or anxious. I also knew that I had burned out my adrenals, which are largely responsible for our sleep/wake cycles, so lethargy and bouts insomnia were to be expected. Last but not least, I had a fear that my metabolism may slow down without Adderall constantly speeding things up, so I wanted to make sure I was on top of my weight management. Here are a few of my quick tips and tricks that helped with the variety of  symptoms I experienced. Get Vanessa’s full list of useful tips. 

TCM: What else would you like readers to know and what resources have you found that you recommend?

VF: If you want to know more about Adderall or are looking for motivation to detox off the med, follow me on Instagram or Youtube. I also have articles on my site and a support group on Facebook. “Take Your Pills” and “The Magic Pill” are both excellent documentaries on Netflix. People’s Awakening on Facebook has an awesome article from the Awareness Act all about Adderall. Genius Foods by Max Lugavere is a great book about how to feed your brain and prevent cognitive deterioration. How to Feed a Brain by Calvin Balaster has loads of valuable information when it comes to nutrition for optimal brain function and repair.

The Chalkboard Mag and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. 
All material on The Chalkboard Mag is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program. 

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