Alongside symptoms of distractibility and hyperactivity, ADHD can affect one’s impulse control and motivation, and is associated with much higher rates of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Left untreated, it increases the risk of addiction, poorer physical health outcomes, and even fatal driving accidents.
“I do typical ADHD things — interrupting people, having quite erratic emotional fixations, talking even when I feel like I’ve got nothing to say,” explained Ben. “I find it incredibly hard to maintain friendships or relationships — most people I like end up not wanting to talk to me after a few months or years. At the very core of it, it’s this awful grief of being misunderstood, that what I am actually trying to do, or actually trying to say, is so different to what you hear.”
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Ben describes himself as “very ambitious”, but his ADHD means that often he feels “unable to do the most basic things”.
“You do get really, really depressed. You get angry at other people, but at the centre of it, you are just frustrated with yourself,” said Ben, who recently spent £700 on a private diagnosis because of the long NHS waiting times. “I think that’s something everyone with ADHD kind of deals with, in one way or another.”
Dr. Luqman Khan, a psychiatrist working in addiction recovery and a member of the UK Adult ADHD Network (UKAAN), has seen many patients with symptoms of ADHD use stimulants like speed and cocaine in order to mitigate the effects of the condition.
You can’t constantly be doing speed — it’s not good for your heart, it’s not good for your brainBen (not his real name)
“My interest first was piqued by looking at male prisoners in Scotland. I felt that these people should have had a diagnosis of ADHD but at that time in the UK there was virtually no one being diagnosed with adult ADHD,” Dr. Khan told The Big Issue.
“When I was taking [patient] history, they’d say that when they’re taking street cocaine or speed, unlike people who are going off and having a high, they felt quite calm. They could focus, some could even sleep. People talked about this constant running engine in their mind which would slow down.”
He continued: “For me, it becomes virtually like a diagnostic tool. When people have been taking street stimulants and they have a sense of calm, I think that if they have a diagnosis, they’ll virtually always be helped by medication.”
For Ben, this has certainly been the case.
“When I’m on speed, I can just not think about loads of other stuff,” he said. “If I need to clean the kitchen, it’s so much easier, because otherwise I’ll start to clean and then I’ll be on my phone, or I’ll want to rearrange the knife drawer, or I’ll want to hoover the living room.”
“You’re actually surprised by how much space you can actually have in a day if you’re not constantly thinking about so much shit that you just don’t even want to be thinking about.”
However, black market stimulants are less effective than prescribed ADHD medication, carry legal risks, and can be extremely dangerous.
“To use a very colloquial expression, there’s a lot of shit in street drugs that’s extremely harmful, and leads to the vast majority of sudden drug deaths,” said Dr. Khan.
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This is something people like Ben are all too aware of. “It’s like people who have chronic pain, and they’re not prescribed opiates, or something strong enough to ease the pain, and they just end up becoming alcoholics, because that’s the way they can ease the pain, you know?” he said.
“You can’t constantly be doing speed — it’s not good for your heart, it’s not good for your brain,” Ben added. “ADHD medications have been designed and tested over years to be safe, and to be sustainable for your heart and brain. Even if you feel fine, you don’t know what speed is doing to your body.”
Now that he is diagnosed, Ben hopes to begin taking proper medication soon, and plans to resume the PhD in the new year. Until then, like many others in the UK, he will continue to rely on whatever stimulants he can access.
“I think that if I stopped using speed it would be a massive step back,” he said. “I would just constantly have all the racing thoughts. It would just be really depressing to be like, fuck, here we are again.”
Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. You can also email email@example.com, or visit www.samaritans.org.
For ADHD information and support, visit AADD-UK.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance misuse, a list of addiction resources can be found here.
* Ben’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.