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From Adderall to “huffing” canned air; a Utah man’s journey with addiction

Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley are joined by Christen Larsen and her son, Spencer Nicholas, to talk about how Spencer's ADHD diagnosis led him to begin taking Adderall and how it became a full-fledged addiction. 

Adderall addiction comes in many forms. For Spencer Nicholas though, it came in the form of a path to normalcy.

“I can remember the exact day that it actually started to take effect for me … I could actually sit down and I could listen to the teacher talk. My face would be in my book, instead of looking around trying to find someone to talk to,” he described.

His addiction to Adderall throughout the years would ultimately leave him depressed, without a driver’s license, and alone. But looking back at the very moment he tried Adderall for the first time, he still describes it as “feeling very, very good.”

The dangers of Adderall addiction

Spencer’s story of addiction begins after his diagnosis of ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) at the age of 14. For many other students like Spencer, the thought of being able to take a pill and focus easier sounds extremely compelling. A study at the University of Kentucky found that 30 percent of its students had illegally used an ADHD stimulant drug like Adderall at some point as a “study enhancer.”

Dr. Matt Woolley, a Clinical Psychiatrist at the University of Utah, says that Adderall, at its core, can help those like Spencer, to focus.

“Adderall is in the class of stimulant medications; it’s an amphetamine-based medication. The intention is that it helps the brain, specifically the frontal lobes, focus,” he said. “People who have ADHD have a hard time establishing and sustaining focus and attention on things.

According to Dr. Woolley, Adderall’s effects have the potential to be extremely addicting in higher doses though.

“It is a helpful medication when it’s properly used. But it certainly can be a medication that creates addiction and is abusable,” he added.

Spencer’s introduction to Adderall addiction

Spencer immediately began to feel the positive effects of Adderall. His journey to better focus was finally coming to fruition — until he began to abuse his prescription. In his senior year, Spencer’s father passed away, which he believes opened the door to addiction. He realized that staying up late and playing games with his friends would ease the pain of losing his father.

Taking Adderall allowed him to stay up later and later to play these games and ultimately, numb the pain.

“I was taking something to fix something … I was taking it to fix myself. When people take things to fix themselves or do things to try and fix themselves, to the extent that I was doing it, it’s an addiction,” Spencer said.

From Adderall to air duster

As Spencer tried to overcome the challenges brought upon him, he made a choice that will alter his life forever.

“I was ‘huffing’ air duster with my friend,” he said.

Spencer was inhaling the same canned air that someone would use to clean a keyboard with. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the inhalant can produce psychoactive effects; it has been misused by 10 percent of Americans (aged 12 and older). To make matters worse, he admitted to doing it while driving on the back roads of Syracuse, Utah.

“The last thing I remember was, ‘wheel.’ I was saying ‘wheel, wheel, wheel’, trying to get my friend to grab the wheel because I was going out. I woke up and there was glass everywhere, my friend was gone. There was an EMT in the window yelling at me and they ended up taking me to the hospital,” he remembered.

There were no injuries in the accident but Spencer’s driver’s license was suspended for three years.

Desperate for more

After his accident, he started buying Adderall on the streets from people he knew that were also abusing the pill — and that’s when Spencer’s life took a darker turn. Spencer said he started stealing money from his mother to feed his Adderall addiction, which made his home life even worse.

Looking back, Spencer still remembers the extent he went to get the pills he was addicted to.

“When you start to abuse things, you can’t trust yourself with it anymore … the inner addict in me kicks in. How am I going to find it? Who has it? Is it my mom? Is it my wife Is it my grandma? Who has the pills,” he said.

He would start looking everywhere to find them and then when he found them, he played the victim card. He was trying to be “more productive” to make people proud of him for being “normal.” Unfortunately, it was only digging a deeper hole into his addiction.

The beginning of change

For three years, Spencer would do nothing but take Adderall and play video games at home. He had become a recluse and had started having suicidal thoughts. After posting a few dark posts on Facebook, a few of Spencer’s friends reached out to see if they could help with his situation. Just bringing friends back into Spencer’s life, he was able to go back out into the real world and enjoy life again.

He started to become more active and participating in things to take his mind off of all of the pain he was holding in. Spencer eventually found the woman who would become his wife. She has completely accepted Spencer for who he is, including his past. According to Spencer, she has helped him in his journey to fighting his addiction.

Spencer still experiences bouts of relapse from Adderall from time to time. As of writing this, he has been sober for two months but he acknowledges that he’s fighting a battle every day.

“I still struggle with the addiction; it comes back for me. I need to get it to where I kick it for good,” he said.

For more information on substance abuse or if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can find more information on Facebook and on KSL TV. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.