Adderall vs Healthy Alternatives for Gamers

Dr. Peter Grinspoon, MD
Instructor, Harvard Medical School
Clinical Physician, Mass General Hospital

It's no secret that many gamers use Adderall as a performance enhancer. As someone who is fourteen years in recovery from an addiction to prescription opioids, I am literally the last person on earth to judge anyone else for using one type of drug or another. But as a doctor for twenty-five years, I do often wonder is Adderall really worth it? 

Because Adderall is so widely believed to be a performance enhancer, it is banned from virtually all professional sports and from several esports leagues. This is a little bit ironic given that it hasn't actually ever been proven to improve performance or to give a competitive advantage. If a person is legitimately treating their ADHD with Adderall then, of course, there is nothing wrong with taking it. While the different leagues can drug test you, if you want to take Adderall, it's easy enough to find a doctor, tell them that you have ADHD,  and get them to write you a prescription, which would exempt you from a positive drug test. Because of this misuse of Adderall is rampant.

Players take Adderall because it is perceived to increase reaction time, sharpen reflexes, and increase stamina. With everyone competing for prize money, for fame, and for the buzz of winning, there is tremendous pressure to succeed and people are tempted to cut corners with their health. The problems with the “performance enhancer” are twofold, those that are intrinsic to Adderall as a powerful amphetamine, and those that are specific to the injuries and health problems that gamers tend to get. 

To tackle the latter first, the health problems that gamers suffer from include tendonitis in the wrist and thumbs, musculoskeletal complaints, anxiety, and insomnia. While Adderall might enable you to play longer and harder - and possibly more effectively over the short term, it has the potential to make every one of these ailments worse. If your thumb already gets sore and irritated with you clicking for just eight hours a day, obviously it isn't going to be any better when you click for fourteen or more hours as is customary for many gamers.  If it's difficult to sleep normally, then common sense dictates it would be all the more difficult to sleep with Adderall coursing through your veins. Again -- every single health problem that gamers face can be made worse with Adderall or other stimulants.

 As for Adderall itself, common side effects can include weight loss/loss of appetite, stomach pain, nervousness, and insomnia. Also -- it can be highly habit-forming and an addiction to amphetamines can be quite miserable, even deadly. Just because lots of people around you are taking it doesn't mean it isn't a very serious drug.

I do want to reiterate that some people genuinely do have ADHD, need Adderall, use it appropriately, and should be allowed to do so without judgment or stigma. 

Considering the overwhelming competitive pressures that gamers face, it is important to remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint, and that the best thing for your performance in gaming is the same as it is for other sports: take care of your overall health. No shortcuts. Both your mind and your body need you to care for them with healthy habits so that you can perform at the top of your game -- day after day, month after month, year after year. If you are currently taking Adderall, or are considering taking it, and you don't truly have ADHD, think about focusing on natural energy-boosting alternatives. These techniques are -- for the long term -- healthy and safe, and will leave you happier, more relaxed, focused, and settled. 

Consider incorporating the following into your life:

  • healthy nutrition
  • adequate sleep
  • time with friends (away from the screen + outdoors)
  • exercise
  • meditation

In addition to healthy habits, you also might consider using some natural, plant-based supplements to help you relax and heal. One such supplement which I am a believer in is CBD (cannabidiol), which can be a derivative of either the hemp or the cannabis plant. CBD is commonly used by people for anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. CBD is a strong anti-inflammatory that can be taken orally or used topically. It can be helpful for many of the exact ailments that plague gamers, such as tendonitis, stress, and difficulty sleeping. Gamers just have to be careful to use a formulation of CBD that does not have THC (the component of cannabis that gets you 'high') like SummaForte’s Lifter hemp strain. 

With healthy habits, and with the possible use of plant-based supplements, your gaming will only improve and, as a bonus, so will your health, your mood, and your overall well being.