Neuroenhancers like these have become popular because of their ability to increase focus, promote wakefulness, and decrease depressive symptoms. And until ADHD diagnoses in the U.S. stop trending upward, don’t expect sales of these stimulants to slow down anytime soon.
So, yes… stimulants can help you, which is why students are quick to adopt them. However, there’s one group of people that remain skeptical about this mind-altering substance.
Those people are The Creatives.
The music producers. The artists. The abstract thinkers, advertising execs, and creative directors. Stereotypically, this subsect of the population often supports moderate, recreational drug use. So, what do they have against stimulants?
The answer lies in whether Adderall® is a creativity killer.
Nothing that sends a rush of dopamine through your brain can come without consequence. A substance dubbed “legal cocaine” can’t be penalty free, can it? So, what are the tradeoffs of enhanced focus? And more importantly, will Adderall® use impair your creativity?
The following article is intended to explore the impact of Adderall® on your brain in hopes of answering the questions above. To do so, we scoured the internet, hit the library, and tore through peer-reviewed article after peer-reviewed article to give you the best info.
What is Creativity and How is it Measured?
Creativity is the use of one’s imagination to produce novel, compelling ideas or products. And, it can be broken down into two forms.
The first form of creativity is called convergent thinking, which is essentially the ability to problem solve to find a singular answer. It emphasizes speed and accuracy as well as the ability to accumulate information, reapplying it when necessary. The most prominent example is the ability to correctly answer standardized test questions.
The second form of creativity is called divergent thinking. This form assesses the ability of people to generate abstract ideas or multiple solutions to a problem. It typically occurs in a free-flowing manner in which a variety of possible solutions are explored. Here, limitless number of solutions are processed, unlike in convergent thinking, where only one is needed. Common examples include brainstorming sessions, streams of consciousness, or subject mapping.
Interestingly enough, creativity has been linked to positive mental health and self-actualization, according to world-renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow. In fact, Maslow goes as far as suggesting that your ability to produce creative content is a direct reflection of your mental health condition.
Creative people tend to find humor more easily, show interest in unfamiliar things, and enjoy handling complex situations. Also, creativity acts as a buffer to clinical disorders like depression and anxiety. It’s no wonder, then, that musicians, artists, and abstract thinkers alike are concerned about Adderall’s impact on their creative outlets.
So, what’s the research say?
Does Adderall® prevent you from coming up with innovative ideas in your brainstorming sessions? Is Ritalin® preventing you from generating that million-dollar business idea? Or, is it all a myth?
After reading the studies, I’ve come to one conclusion: the data is mixed.
Some researchers say one thing, while others say another. But, don’t let that get you down! Despite the discrepancies, the majority of this research says Adderall® may ice your creative juices.
Stimulants may Impair Creativity in Healthy People
In a 2009 study by Martha Farah, Adderall® was shown improve convergent thinking but not divergent thinking in healthy individuals. However, the results depended on the type of participant and the type of task.
For instance, Adderall® was observed to benefit a handful of participants. In these users, Adderall® was able to help them focus, limit distractions, and accurately answer questions – all which should be reassuring to some readers. Unfortunately, these benefits had some limitations.
The users who benefitted the most from Adderall® were those who historically performed poorly on standardized tests (i.e. they had low creative baselines). Therefore, they had a higher upside. Moreover, this added benefit was only seen on convergent tasks (i.e. standardized tests), which don’t fully capture what creativity is.
What you really want to key in on is how Adderall® affected the high-performing, creative thinkers. For this population, the results are quite the opposite.
Psychostimulants did not improve these participants’ creative capacities. Adderall®, in fact, impaired the ability of higher-performing participants to complete something called the Remote Association Task. Although divergent tasks are hard to measure seeing as they’re subjective, the findings should still startle you.
This shows that drugs like Adderall® aren’t consequence-free. Yes, we do know that some people benefit from prescription stimulants, but high-functioning, creative thinkers might not. They tend to have adverse reactions with stimulants that impair their ability to think freely.
And, Farah isn’t the only one to suggest this.
In another study by Claire Advokat, Adderall® was shown to focus attention. But this enhancement had a tradeoff. At increasing doses, the stimulant caused something called cognitive constriction, in which the drug started to impair performance.
The tasks that were most impaired by Adderall® use in adults without ADHD were those that involved adaptation, flexibility, and planning. This illustrates that taking Adderall® without a legit ADHD diagnosis could have some serious implications – and the ability to think creatively is one of them.
So, the real question isn’t Does Adderall® impair creativity? It’s What type of creative thinker are you? From there, you’ll be able to assess how this drug might impact your brain. Although we recommend you go see a doctor first!
Is the Tradeoff in Creativity Worth It?
So what? I’ll lose a little creativity but be able to do a lot better on my tests. What’s the harm in that?
Frankly, a lot – especially if you’re a Creative.
Seeing as creative thinkers have drastically different traits than non-creative thinkers, the role that drugs like Adderall® play on the brain is huge. First, stimulants affect something psychologists call authenticity, which is a matter of how individuals view themselves.
When introducing something like Ritalin® into the picture, this trait is eroded. In other words, individuals stop experiencing their true selves and will begin to have a tough time identifying with their true feelings. In turn, they might start to feel alienated from their identity, not knowing if the drugs are talking or if it’s really them.
This hints that stimulants might cause a shift in one’s personality. And, for creative individuals this can be quite detrimental. Seeing as creatives often identify best with their true selves, drugs like Adderall® might negatively impact their well-being, ultimately causing a deterioration in their mental health.
Second, a reduction in creativity might cause people to feel less socially competent. That’s psychological mumbo jumbo for feeling isolated or alone. In fact, social psychologists will be the first to point out that social and environmental factors play an intricate role in dictating your well-being.
Remember the last time you felt FOMO? That should show you that comradery and friendship are important to our health. And psychostimulants may impact those feelings.
So, rephrase the question… Is that tradeoff in your mental health really worth it?
We don’t think so, and neither do a large contingency of young adults. According to a 2007 survey by Jason Riis and his team, most young people aren’t willing to alter fundamental traits about themselves in order to gain a cognitive edge. In fact, fundamental changes to self-identity were the most frequently cited reasons that people decided not to take neuroenhancers.
Despite the increasing push for study aids in the U.S., most people are reluctant to mess with their God-given attributes. But, what’s even more interesting is that advertisers know this and are quick to reframe. Riis’ same study found that by advertising drugs as “enablers of one’s true self,” they’ll increase sales.
Just look at the case of Paxil, an antidepressant sold by GSK.
Paxil’s tagline states, “Paxil gets you back to being you,” an appeal to your authenticity, or self-identity. This slogan helped the pharmaceutical become one of the most sold antidepressants in the country. So much so that it even garnered attention from individuals not diagnosed with depression or anxiety because they, too, wanted to become better versions of themselves.
More importantly, healthy individuals don’t see that big of an enhancement when taking stimulants. The big studies touting the benefits of Adderall® are done on ADHD patients, not undiagnosed people. And, that’s who they’re meant to benefit – the guy with ADHD, not the regular kid trying to pass his Intro to Chemistry class.
So, I encourage my Creatives to be cautious when introducing these mind-altering drugs into their daily regimen. Although there’s some benefit, these pills may cause some unwanted effects, especially when it comes to divergent, or free-flowing, thought.
And for my non-creatives just trying to get an edge, I encourage you to ask yourself the following question…
Will I be Smarter if I Use Adderall®?
Contrary to popular opinion, Adderall® doesn’t guarantee you academic success.
Yes, stimulants have been known to improve the quality of notetaking, homework completion, and quiz scores. But according to a group of researchers, they don’t improve your ability to learn or apply knowledge. Consequently, their label as cognitive enhancers is being called into question according to recent data.
For instance, ADHD-diagnosed children tend to have lower IQ scores, poorer educational outcomes, and significantly lower math and reading scores than the rest of the population. And even with the introduction of stimulants, this population continually struggles to outperform when compared to their peers.
So, while stimulants may reduce disruptive behavior and promote focus, their use doesn’t necessarily translate to improved academics.
In fact, when it comes to standardized test performance, there’s only a 15% increase in results from medicated versus non-medicated users. Unfortunately, 15% doesn’t meet the requirements to be a “clinically meaningful improvement” according to Dr. Kenneth D. Gadow.
All in all, don’t let productivity fool you. Your flawless notes with exceptional handwriting won’t guarantee you an A+ on your Algebra test.
The (Controversial) Theory of Cognitive Constriction
This lack of expected performance could be due to something called cognitive constriction or cognitive toxicity, alluded to earlier. This a theory suggesting that large doses of Adderall® may impair performance instead of enhancing it, and it has been passed around the scientific community with great scrutiny.
Cognitive constriction can be seen in one study where methylphenidate (MPH) enhanced the ability of children with ADHD to recall major events, but prevented them from remembering small, incidental events. Did, Ritalin® impair these children or was there something else at play?
Unfortunately, the interpretation of this research is mixed so it’s hard for us to know for sure what’s going on here.
Some experts say this is a negative effect of over-dosing; whereas, others say that MPH caused the children to ignore irrelevant stimuli in order to focus on more important info. What further complicates this theory is that another PhD found the exact opposite result.
In her more recent study, Dr. Virginia Douglas and her team observed no evidence of cognitive constriction. Their results showed that increasing doses of MPH actually decreased errors in their sample population.
Confused yet? So are scientists. Add dosage to the mix and we have a good ol’ fashioned Mexican standoff.
When it comes to finding the optimal amount of Adderall® for a given patient, scientists are stumped. They have grappled with whether high or low-to-moderate doses of stimulants are best and haven’t come to an agreed upon solution. Whereas some experts say that cognitive function decreases when medications like Adderall® and Ritalin® are taken at high doses, others attest to the opposite.
But, enough with the science references. You’re here for answers, right? Does Adderall® really work? Or, are you saying it’s a bunch of bologna?
Contrary to this group of researchers, who suggest Adderall® isn’t a cognitive enhancer, I tend to disagree. I do see how Adderall® can positively benefit some users and how it hones attention, but I am cognizant of its negative effects and remain skeptical (as always). Additionally, I see it primarily benefitting patients who are diagnosed with ADHD, not healthy individuals.
Nevertheless, I’m not the MD in the family. I’m just a former science major who reads a lot of research papers and who’s seen these substances abused and lives ruined because of them.
Regardless, it’s an important topic we should explore. But, I think this theory of cognitive constriction needs a bit more research before it’s generally accepted. Therefore, I’ll continue to read and keep you updated!
Struggling with an Adderall® addiction?
The science behind the creativity question is quite complex but extremely interesting. And it needs to be addressed seeing as a rising number of people are being prescribed ADHD medication to enhance cognitive performance.
Therefore, it’s important to understand the addictive potential of stimulants like Adderall® and Ritalin® prior to taking them. Whether you’re a creative thinker or a non-creative thinker, you can still be at risk for developing an addiction when exposed to these substances.
Almost 10% of American children (aged 4-17) are diagnosed with ADHD. And the first-line of treatment is often a stimulant. This exposure isn’t harmless as prescription stimulants are the 3rd most abused drug in the U.S. with over 1.7 million people over the age of 12 having reported misusing them.
We, at Stonegate Center, take Adderall® addiction seriously and are here to help. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to prescription stimulants, do the right (tough) thing and reach out.
Our Admissions team is here to answer any questions you may have and can be reached at (817) 993-9733. Or, if you’d prefer to chat via text shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Give us a holler whether this is your first time in rehab or you’ve been victim of chronic relapses. Regardless, we’d love for you to join our recovery community and break free from the chains Adderall® may impose on your well-being.
We’ve been helping thousands of individuals with chemical dependency disorders in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex since 2010 but have alumni all over the country. We hope our article was insightful and look forward to helping both our creative and non-creative thinkers, alike, struggling with abuse.
Until next time.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.