CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ye... (11/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (11/26)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Does... (12/03)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (11/29)

November 28, 2012

Baseball Therapy

The Truth About Adderall

by Russell A. Carleton

Let's talk about Adderall. For those who haven't heard, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has been suspended for the first 25 games of the regular season after testing positive for an amphetamine, widely reported to be the prescription drug Adderall. Adderall is commonly prescribed for the treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and, less commonly, narcolepsy. As someone who has treated a number of kids and teens with ADHD, I want to talk a little bit about the medication and why someone might misuse it. 

First off, let's talk about the word "amphetamine." Amphetamines are a class of drugs with certain chemical properties, and Adderall is in this class, along with other drugs such as methamphetamines and greenies. However, Adderall acts on the brain differently than do other amphetamines. This is not to say that Adderall is harmless. It's just different.

There are legitimate reasons that an adult might have a prescription for Adderall. There is a great misperception that ADHD is only a disorder of childhood. Indeed, clinicians used to believe that people "outgrew" ADHD, although it seems that what they're really doing is getting better at adapting to it. They take jobs that are high stimulation and where they can be up and moving a lot, but the ADHD never really goes away. Some people need Adderall to control their ADHD symptoms in adulthood, and yes, some of them are professional baseball players. There's a therapeutic exemption in MLB for players who are using the drug under the guidance of a doctor. Reports have suggested that approximately nine percent of MLB players have such an exemption.

The fact that the rate is so high compared to the national average has drawn some suspicion, and recently MLB has gone from a single-person review panel for these exemptions to a three-person committee. There is no blood test to diagnose ADHD. Most of the criteria for ADHD are behavioral observations (person has trouble staying organized, makes a lot of careless mistakes, has trouble remaining in his or her seat) and the only stipulation is that symptoms have to be present before the age of six. Of course, this leaves open the possibility that players might fudge the truth to get a diagnosis. On top of that, there are few adults who have a comprehensive and accurate memory of what they were like at age six. There’s not usually another source for corroboration. Major leaguers don’t often bring their parents to doctor’s appointments.

Another issue is that “trouble paying attention” can be caused by depression, anxiety, PTSD, poor diet and/or sleep habits, sensory processing disorders, certain endocrine problems, or an undiagnosed learning disorder. There are measures that can look more objectively at performance on a sustained attention task, as well as standardized behavioral inventories to look both at ADHD symptoms and at symptoms more globally. A good diagnostician will want to rule out many of the above problems before assigning a diagnosis of ADHD. The problem is that to do a proper differential diagnosis for ADHD takes a couple of hours. I’m left to wonder how stringent the diagnostic procedures are for MLB players.

The reason that Adderall is so effective for people with actual ADHD is that it is a low-level stimulant that mostly affects the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain right behind the forehead. It's also the part of the brain that regulates attention, impulse control, and higher functions like reasoning, learning, and planning. People often wonder why one would give a stimulant to a child who is hyperactive and has impulse control problems. The reason is that ADHD seems to be a problem not with too much energy, but with not enough activity in the part of the brain that reins in that energy and impulsivity. Adderall specifically brings the level of activity in the pre-frontal cortex up to normal rates. For those who need this extra activity, that's a very good thing.

There are, of course, ways to misuse Adderall or other medications for ADHD. Some people crush the pills and snort them (with effects much like those that stem from snorting many other amphetamines). Others take the drug in pill form, and sure enough, it goes to the pre-frontal cortex, where it stimulates the parts of the brain that regulate focus and reasoning. College students are known to use the drug when pulling all-nighters. The result is increased focus and clarity of thought—perfect for finishing that term paper.

And maybe perfect for that game of baseball, because baseball is a game where attention is at a premium. You have to be able to focus on the field for each pitch, even though nothing might happen that involves you for 10 minutes. That's rough. You have to be able to make split-second decisions about that fastball coming at you, and that's easier when the part of the brain that figures out patterns and plans a response is operating in high gear.  And maybe some guys take a pill to try to capture that. For catchers like Ruiz, there might be an extra incentive. Calling a game is like a three-hour final exam where you are constantly trying to balance what is working for the pitcher, what he can throw, what the batter is vulnerable to, and what he might be expecting on this next pitch. I’ve never done it, but I have to assume that it’s mentally exhausting. I can imagine the temptation that a “gramme is better than a damme.” (A billion points for catching that reference.)

There will, of course, be negative side effects for someone who takes Adderall, even if it isn't needed. When neurons are stimulated beyond what they should be, there's a greater chance that they will burn out. What's sad is that there is a perfectly legal, safe, and effective way to get the pre-frontal cortex of the brain to work at peak efficiency and still be able to beat a drug test. Get a good night of sleep. When you sleep, the brain prunes away neurons that aren't needed (making the rest of them more efficient), builds new connections to encode new skills, and gets a chance to rest.

So, if you're a major-league player who wants all of the effects of Adderall, but who doesn't want the whole 25-game suspension thing, may I recommend that you skip the pills and instead grab a pillow.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

Related Content:  Carlos Ruiz,  ADHD,  Adderall

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

tannerg

Aldous Huxley!

Nov 28, 2012 08:31 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

One billion points!

Nov 28, 2012 08:47 AM
 
djardine

Soma! BNW! Coolio.

Nov 28, 2012 09:21 AM
rating: 0
 
djardine

"All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects."

Nov 28, 2012 09:22 AM
rating: 6
 
floydwicker

It's not just baseball players abusing the drug, it's rampant with college students too.

Nov 28, 2012 10:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Or, if you want all the affects of Adderall and don't want the suspension, take it with a doctor's supervision and let MLB know...

Nov 28, 2012 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
The Beef

I'm guessing the author of this article and most readers have never taken Adderall or any amphetamines for that matter. I've tried them all in my lifetime and they are insanely effective. Thank God my jaw grinds none-stop when I'm on them, so that makes it too obvious for me to ever take it for more than "special occasions." Could be a reason for all the gum/chew/dip in baseball dugouts over the years. Focused is not a strong enough word for the effects. It's like swallowing a ER cocaine pill, and you don't have to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes to reboot.

Try this drug and then sit down in front of your computer and your editor will be very happy with you. You'll have Behind the Numbers Part 3-5 written in a week.

The only problem with these drugs is that you get burned-out real fast. You take them everyday and you kind of fry your mind. I have had plenty of friends mentally changed by these drugs, but they can't see it until they stop taking it. If any of your children are taking these drugs, I highly recommend you try a couple, you will take them off them immediately.

Back to Baseball, I think this drug is worse then steroids for inflating numbers, and now all you need is a quack with a script pad to write this common prescription. The symptoms for AD/HD are ridiculously vague and can be manipulated for anyone. These drugs allow you to play those days you're too tired. You will run faster and for a longer period of time, and your hand eye coordination is improved by it. On Amphetamines you can party like the Mick and be ready to play everyday like Cal.

Take it from someone who has actually indulged in everything. This stuff needs to be banned. AD/HD has been completely overblown. There are real cases out there that I have seen firsthand, but I would say that 90-95% of scripts written now a days are just as the author said, people whose bodies are telling them to get more sleep. If they weren't on these AD/HD meds when they were children, they are just cheating as an adult.

Nov 28, 2012 12:08 PM
rating: 5
 
gweedoh565

Great stuff- I know it's been said before, but I'll repeat that it's really awesome to have someone with Russell's unique perspective and expertise on the BP staff.

Russell is becoming to baseball psychology/psychiatry what Will Carroll was/is to baseball injuries and KG was/is to baseball prospecting and Jason Parks is to Tom Verducci stalking.

Nov 28, 2012 12:09 PM
rating: 11
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

That's some high praise. Thank you. Could you say that louder and make sure that my boss is in earshot?

Nov 28, 2012 13:01 PM
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

What's that? Sorry, I was distracted by Jordan's "put BP authors on Adderall" suggestion.

Nov 28, 2012 13:12 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Don't forget to provide a few doses to the podcasts too. I'd buy tickets to hear Colin's Adderal-enhanced 2 minute explanation of PECOTA.

Nov 28, 2012 13:56 PM
rating: 2
 
thegeneral13

High praise for Will Carroll indeed.

Nov 28, 2012 14:12 PM
rating: 1
 
CespedesBBQ

As a 17 year old diagnosed with ADHD since the 4th grade I definitely have experienced some of the sensations Aderall has with baseball. I feel like I can focus more at the plate when I "take my meds." My head usually stays more still and I can concentrate much easier. I might not need them anymore, but the fact of the matter is that I feel more comfortable and confident when I take them.

Nov 28, 2012 15:45 PM
rating: 2
 
Randy Brown
(189)

I find the last couple of paragraphs particularly interesting. I'd guess that the lifestyle of an MLB player isn't really conducive to a normal sleep schedule between the air travel, often late at night, and the need to be at peak concentration during the early evening hours instead of daylight hours like most of the rest of us.

Many players may not find it easy to sleep on a plane(even a charter one), and daylight encroaching through a hotel window may prevent light sleepers from staying in bed until noon. Matt Swartz' series on home-field advantage about three years ago showed that travel distance mattered. The Boston Celtics have hired a sleep consultant to counsel their players, so at least some teams recognize that their players need some help in this regard. It isn't hard to imagine that some players resort to Adderall because 8 hours of sleep isn't really that easy to come by.

Nov 28, 2012 18:39 PM
rating: 5
 
frampton
(870)

It's also very true that night games make it especially difficult to adhere to a "normal" sleep schedule, even apart from travel considerations. Most athletes will tell you that three-plus hours of intensity (and the attendant adrenaline level increase) also takes its toll, and finishing after 10 (or 11) o'clock means that sleep is unlikely for hours at best. (Of course, alcohol is one way to try and shorten that time, but in the long term that's counter-productive. Not to mention, a main reason that players for years have used amphetamines, to overcome hangovers.) I can only guess what additional effects on that cycle would be added by Adderal.

Nov 28, 2012 20:40 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ye... (11/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The ... (11/26)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Does... (12/03)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (11/29)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article The Top 101 Dynasty League Prospects for 201...
Fantasy Article Player Profile: Jesse Hahn
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: It's Never Too Early to Think...
Premium Article Painting the Black: The Other Side of PECOTA...
Premium Article Daisy Cutter: Is Rizzo For Real?
The Lineup Card: Nine Spring Training Job Ba...
Fantasy Article The Top 101 Dynasty League Prospects for 201...

MORE FROM NOVEMBER 28, 2012
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Year in Hustle
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Wednesday, November 28
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Reds Lock Down a Close...
The Lineup Card: 9 Off-Season Moves That Exc...
Premium Article Sobsequy: How to Think Like a Major-League M...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Adequate Scott!

MORE BY RUSSELL A. CARLETON
2012-12-17 - Baseball Therapy: There is No Unicorn
2012-12-10 - Baseball Therapy: Do Closers Age Differently...
2012-12-03 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Does the Way the Draft Wor...
2012-11-28 - Baseball Therapy: The Truth About Adderall
2012-11-26 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The 2012 Silly Awards
2012-11-19 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Defining Change in Player ...
2012-11-16 - BP Unfiltered: Why Mike Trout Matters
More...

MORE BASEBALL THERAPY
2012-12-17 - Baseball Therapy: There is No Unicorn
2012-12-10 - Baseball Therapy: Do Closers Age Differently...
2012-12-03 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Does the Way the Draft Wor...
2012-11-28 - Baseball Therapy: The Truth About Adderall
2012-11-26 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The 2012 Silly Awards
2012-11-19 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: Defining Change in Player ...
2012-11-12 - Baseball Therapy: Assessing the Risk: Hamilt...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2014-03-10 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Baseball Questions We'...
2013-07-09 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: An Attempt to Measure Make...
2013-07-01 - Premium Article Baseball Therapy: What a Difference a Day Of...
2013-06-21 - Overthinking It: To Sleep, Perchance to Swin...
2013-01-07 - Baseball Therapy: What Really Happens When a...