Staying Focused

For students with ADHD choosing to remain without medication is still a possibility. For ASU student Justin Steckman, such medication made him feel restraint from his true nature.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Everyone knew a class clown in high school, the kids who made that 60-minute period more engaging than their teacher’s lectures.

They were often the outgoing ones that could always make a joke about what was said in class and lighten a sullen mood.

Communications sophomore Justin Steckman says he was one of those kids, he knew how to goof off and he knew how to not pay attention.

What people may not realize is why some of these funny kids were so rambunctious.

For Steckman, he realized the reason he got in trouble in school was because he couldn’t pay attention; he couldn’t pay attention because he later discovered he had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

“It was always pretty obvious, I’ve always been all over the place," Steckman says. "I finally went to the doctor back in high school and he was like yeah, you probably have ADD.”

Steckman handled the news well; he believed it was just something that made him unique.

He describes his mind as going a million different places a minute.

“When people are talking to me they may think I’m not listening, but I am," Steckman says. "My brain just wants to focus on the next thing that’s more interesting.”

For many young adults with ADD or ADHD, they turn to prescription medication like Adderall or Ritalin to help them focus. However, Steckman decided to opt out of any medication.

For college students, the drug Adderall is all too familiar.

Associate professor, M. Foster Olive, Ph.D., explains the risks associated with these medications.

“They are psychostimulants. They have the potential to become addictive and habit forming,” says Olive.

Adderall is a mixture of amphetamine-like drugs including D-amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Because it is a stimulant, Adderall can cause cardiovascular as well as psychological problems, according to Olive.

“I was on Adderall for a month. I’m super outgoing and I think a lot,” says Steckman. “When I’m on a medicine like that it narrows my mind too much.”

Steckman is a part of ASU’s comedy improv group, Barren Mind Improv. He attributes part of his stand-up skills to having his mind expanded the way it does.

“I do my comedy thing and if I was on Adderall it would dumb me down for it,” he says.

Steckman is not alone in the decision to abstain from medication.

Liam Hausmann, 2013 alumnus, found an alternate way to cope with his ADHD; caffeine in his time in college.

Many psychiatrists feel that ADHD is caused when not enough dopamine is released. Therefore the brain seeks more stimuli, which results in distraction, Hausmann explains in an email.

Caffeine is used as a replacement stimulant of the dopamine, giving Hausmann the buzz he needs to focus.

Although it is not proven that caffeine could “fix” ADHD and ADD, it seems to be working for Hausmann for the time being.

Olive explains why young adults like Steckman and Hausmann are possibly smart in their choice.

“Perhaps the biggest concern about ADHD medications is that we don’t know their long term effects on the brain,” Olive says. “Prescribing medications to adolescents whose brains are still very much developing might have long-term psychological or behavioral effects.”

Steckman likes feeling like himself. He knows that when there is something he needs to do he just has to buckle up and focus. He explains that for him, it is just a mind over matter type deal.

“I felt too mellow on Adderall. It just drains me of the Justin I’ve known my whole life. I was just on a lower level,” Steckman says. “I was focused which is good I guess, but I like being all over.”

Steckman does his own thing to help him cope with distractions. If you ever see him working on homework and focused, you will probably see him bouncing his foot on the ground.

“Anytime I have to sit down I’m probably doing that. It just gives me an outlet for my mindless energy to go somewhere,” he says.

He also likes doodling in class to help him listen better.

Although most would agree that some students would not be able to function in school without these drugs; Steckman is lucky enough to excel in school without using medication.

Steckman graduated high school with a 4.0 grade point average, leading him to an academic scholarship at ASU. He hopes to continue on to law school after he graduates from ASU.

“Personally I don’t think it’s for me," he says. "There are tons of people that these medications help to function in society. For me, I don’t know if I just want to blend into society.”

Reach the writer at marilyn.napier@asu.edu


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