Adderall and the American Dream

Adderall, a drug intended to treat ADD/ADHD, has been around for a long time. People have used it, legally and illegally, for a wide variety of things. Adderall, being an amphetamine, is sometimes prescribed to people with narcolepsy. Similarly, it is commonly referred to as a ‘study drug’ because it helps students stay up all night to cram for an exam. More recently, Adderall has become popular with Millennials. In Lawrence Diller’s article: America’s Love Affair With Legal Amphetamine, he provides a unique opinion of this generation of young adults. Diller blames the spike in misuse of Adderall on our country’s economy, irresponsible pharmaceutical companies, and mainstream culture. Besides these obvious contributors, he offers a new reason as to why Millennials turn to drugs like Adderall. He goes as far as creating his own hypothetical psychiatric disorder. “My disorder is called Achievement Anxiety Disorder (AAD), and it explains the increasing reports of prescription amphetamine misuse most often in the form of Adderall abuse.” Millennials are the first generation to live worse-off than the previous generation. Diller says that this, along with a “broken cultural norm that makes happiness impossible to achieve,” is the root of AAD.

Diller’s Fake Diagnoses

Lawrence Diller has a medical degree and has written various books about Adderall and other amphetamines. His credibility is undeniable. The statistics included in his article make it clear that the millennial generation does, indeed, have a problem with Adderall. However, his argument contains fallacies and is somewhat problematic at times. The subtitle of the article sets the tone for his argument, “When will we be able to just say no?” That line in itself is condescending, and it delegitimizes the struggle of addiction. Diller’s article recognizes the tragedy of America’s prescription drug problem while making it seem as if he believes solving the problem is as simple as saying no. He goes on to take jabs at drug companies for creating new psychiatric disorders out of thin air by doing just that. Creating Achievement Anxiety Disorder for the sake of his argument is inappropriate but could possibly be overlooked if it added anything new or constructive to the conversation. This phony disorder seems like a thinly veiled attempt at mocking Millennials and those with mental health issues. He compares AAD to legitimate conditions. “Just what is Achievement Anxiety Disorder? Like all psychiatric conditions, there are no blood tests or brain scans to make the diagnosis” (Diller). Not only is this a clear attempt to delegitimize disorders people have, but it is incorrect. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, brain scans show, “In youth with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed three years in some regions, on average, compared to youth without the disorder.” Diller’s inaccuracies work to further discredit him.

Diller goes on to explain AAD, “You can see it all around us- frantic people working ever harder to achieve a certain level of material satisfaction and security.” He takes in to account the difficult economy handed down to Millennials, but he seems to point to the generation’s collective attitude of entitlement as the real culprit. Diller is playing into the ever-popular narrative that Millennials are whiny and weak-minded and in need of a participation trophy. While it is true that today’s young adults must work harder and go above and beyond to attain the lifestyle their parents did, this does not directly relate to Adderall use. According to an article in The Atlantic, young adults that graduated during the recession of the 1980’s were also worse-off than their parents. The struggles they faced did not push them to Adderall use even though the drug was in the market by then.

Millennials as ‘Casualties’ of Adderall

A recurring trend in this article seems to be the criticism of today’s young adults. Diller continues to connect the country’s rampant Adderall use and misuse to Millennials’ shortcomings. He compares previous generation’s perceptions of the American Dream to Millennials when he says, “A once-personal struggle for self-acceptance and success has turned into contagious angst about a collective failure to live up to our dreams.” This line suggests that this new generation has turned the American dream into something toxic by obsessing over failure and relying on substance to avoid it. It suggests that past generations were intrinsically motivated, and the current generation is more focused on material gain. Diller’s stance throughout his article seems to be that Millennials are caving to the pressure of everyday life and turning to Adderall to deal with the stress. His general perception of Millennials is that it is a weaker generation.

Towards the end of the article, one line sticks out as outright offensive, “Our young adults who are turning to Adderall are the stark casualties of this broken cultural norm that makes happiness impossible to achieve.” Here, Diller basically labels anyone who takes Adderall as a ‘casualty’. This is significantly more problematic than simply taking a jab at drug companies for creating disorders. Saying this, even if it is an opinion piece, is extremely inappropriate and it discredits the rest of the piece. ADD/ADHD is a legitimate disorder that can be tested and detected in brain scans.

The Reality of Being Prescribed Adderall

Rhetoric like Diller’s is insulting to people with ADD/ADHD who truly suffer. Untreated, ADD/ADHD makes concentrating in school and even performing day-to-day tasks incredibly difficult for people. This results in bad grades, disciplinary issues, and in turn a general anxiety about anything school related. When people are given the necessary medication, such as Adderall, the side effects are miserable. Those who have to take Adderall for their ADD/ADHD will tell you how much they hate it. It stifles their personality, diminishes their appetite, and inhibits them socially. In this piece, Diller calls the DSM-5, “America’s official psychiatric bible of common life dilemmas translated into mental disorder.”  Here, he is brushing over not just ADD/ADHD, but all mental health conditions. The real common life dilemma that plagues those with ADD/ADHD is if they want to take Adderall and succeed in school while feeling like a zombie or take no medication at all and suffer through school and work.

By the end of the article, there is no real take-away of what or who the true culprit is. Diller takes jabs at Millennials, the economy, new social norms, and drug companies, but ultimately, he offers no real solution besides the subtitle that reads, “When will we be able to just say no?” Lawrence Diller attempts to give a unique answer to America’s rampant Adderall use by creating his own psychiatric disorder and taking jabs at anything from Millennials to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The Presentation of Macronutrients

The Distorted Perception of Food: Macronutrients

Once there was a time when humans ate whatever was necessary to live. Eventually, the elite were able to choose the more glamorous foods, and the common folk were welcome to moderate quantities of the less exciting options. Now most citizens of industrialized economies have plenty of readily available food choices. Abiding by enough scientific and political influence, business have chosen to present food on the foundation of the three macronutrients which humans need to function: Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins.

Fats

Fats have the most fascinating history within the evolution of the food industry. With a raise in the occurrence of obesity, the FDA decided to inform people of the dangers of eating too much “fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol” with the “healthy eating” campaign of 1980. With the substantial rise in obesity rates, the FDA continued to update guidelines up to and beyond the food pyramid of 1992, and signaling the danger of fat has persisted to this day. 2% milk replaced whole milk, and if skim milk didn’t taste so ridiculously bad, it probably would have replaced 2% milk. Margarine nearly replaced butter, and the movement for lower quantities of processed vegetable oil to replace natural fats reached nearly all available options.

Excessive quantities of modified food products including modified (hydrogenated, heated, and/or refined) oils, and fat substitutes are detrimental to the human body. Unfortunately, proof is still pending since they haven’t been readily available during much of the process of civilized evolution. Contrary to popular government and marketing promotions, the ingestion of healthy fats including unprocessed saturated fats (coconut oil) are not a primary cause of obesity or unhealthy cholesterol (high LDL) levels in the human body. After practicing the ketogenic diet for 2 years using coconut as my primary source of caloric intake, blood tests confirmed healthy cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and body fat levels during or after the process. The toxic overload of modified food products, especially sugar/fructose loaded options, directly relates to the internal stress markers of the human body which correlate with high LDL levels, metabolic inconsistencies, and the initiation/maintenance of fat storage.

Proteins

Proteins are the glorified trophy of macronutrients from ancient times as well as present culture. Hunters returning with their prey would receive an immense amount of praise from their village. The entire fish, animal, or bird would be prepared to fulfill the needs of the village, and every aspect of the fish, animal, or bird was useful and respected. Rather than isolating the most lean and tender region of meat, the food source was balanced with fat, macronutrients, fiber, and also protein. Today the staple food of any plate is the premium cut of lean meat.

Meat was the trophy for generations and was consistently expensive and/or difficult to attain. Meat became the goal, and food industries readily created the protein idol within that goal. Certain grains and beans had enough protein to be marketed as an inexpensive meat replacement. Fat could be removed from dairy leaving the ever-important protein. The egg yolk could be overlooked, or a half-gallon of pure egg whites could be purchased from the local grocery. Protein shakes loaded with whey protein and soy proteins, fitness bars, and the most recent PB2 evolution have glorified protein as the fitness macronutrient of choice. Based on advertisement proclamations, ingesting large amounts of protein results in the body of an attractive model: a model with a low body fat percentage, a perfect tan, and a stellar muscular physique.

Carbohydrates

Although fruits have evolved to become the idealistic size and shape to initiate human salivation, it is easier to cultivate large quantities of sugar from other sources. Sugar Cane is the easiest for large-scale farming, and refining the sugar is also easiest from that source. There aren’t many valuable nutrients to strip from sugar cane, but it might as well be the pure white color the human eye desires. From here the sugar can simply be mixed with ingredients including emulsifiers, stabilizers, and/or flour to make an ideal mass of sweetness. The motivation to purchase comes from the additional beauty of food coloring, texturing, packaging, and marketing. The candy and cake aren’t eaten all the time; only on special occasions, like daily treats of pleasure after eating a healthy meal.

Fruit and sugar are not the only carbohydrate sources. Whole grains, like corn, are often fully processed before ingesting. Excessive levels of heat are used to condition the product for processing. Chemical solvents are used to extract the oils from the grain. (The oil is then neutralized, deodorized, and bleached to yield vegetable oil.) Excessive levels of heat are again used to evaporate the solvent from the grain. The remaining grain can then be degerminated and ‘polished’ before it is milled into the wonderful corn flour it was meant to be. This process removes the pericarp and tip cap which are the outer fibrous coverings of the kernel. The internal germ containing vitamins, enzymes, and minerals necessary for seed growth is also removed. All relevant sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber must be removed for the sake of a longer shelf life and business profitability.

The current movement influencing personal choice

The current ‘choose my plate’ government promotion continues the idiocracy of the American diet. The only slightly positive remark I have regarding this image is the recommendation for a large portion of the plate to contain vegetables. However, based on the chronic over satiation of corn and deep-fried potatoes which conveniently fulfill the vegetable intake recommendations, I do not foresee health improvements in the near future. As schools promote this choose my plate model, a visually assumed macronutrient ratio of close to 65% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 5% fat remains the common perception. Fat is still demonized, and the dairy industry is still cashing in on excessive lobbying bias to define public policy.

Over time, processed food tastes better, and unmodified foods look, smell, and taste worse. Unpackaged foods are uncomfortable and messy. Unprepared foods take too long to make and don’t last long enough before and after cooking. The carbohydrate overload readily fuels the physical and psychological dependence on easy access foods. More is purchased, more is eaten, and businesses attain higher profit margins. Sweeter tasting foods continue to replace the previous trend. Quick fix sugar replacements pretend to solve the problem of excessive caloric intake. The processed foods become more different, and the processed foods distort natural human perception beyond repair.

That being said, the population has experienced some progress in a few isolated areas. Blatantly toxic choices are frowned upon. Most agree that eating an entire cake is unhealthy since the trend will likely be linked to obesity and diabetes. Most agree that smoking is unhealthy since the trend will likely lead to lung cancer, peripheral artery disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder to name a few. Unfortunately, most unhealthy choices remain normalized. Consistently eating candy from the vending machines in schools is OK because the lunch meal almost follows the choose my plate guidelines. Consistently drinking excess alcohol at a local bar is OK because a higher blood alcohol levels always support positive human interaction. Hopefully my logic for the last half of the paragraph was interpreted as sarcastic.

I hope that one day food will be perceived as a necessary component supporting the physiology of the human body. The logic of eating foods which are not processed will simply make more sense than the constant overload of modified junk food. Foods won’t be obsessively categorized into good/bad macronutrient categories (Fat Free! Sugar Free! High Protein!). The average human body will regain an ability to accurately monitor levels of hunger, and a balanced plate of natural foods will allow hunger to be satisfied until the next meal.

Agree or Disagree?

Retirement Investments

Thinking About Retirement

It is your rational intuition to have a job which provides a paycheck to support yourself, your family, and the economy. Some of that pay is dedicated to state taxes, federal taxes, social security, life insurance, healthcare plans, etc, and there is a chance some is invested toward retirement. Sometimes a company matches a percentage invested up to 3–6%, and usually we select that percentage to invest toward retirement without much thought. Eventually, we assume that we will retire, and our retirement will be supported.

The table above shows an example of an individual investing 5% (+5% employer match) of a $50K income over 40 years. A standard stock index return of 7% with a low annual investment fee of 0.10% would yield a retirement account totaling $1,008,000. Certain companies including Vanguard (my personal favorite) and TIAA (in rare situations) do offer plans with similar fees, but most retirement investment partners including Voya and Valic have fees with closer to a 2% minimum (read the fine print!). These 2% fees would have costed you about $388,000. Rather than a $1,008,000 retirement account, the value would be closer to $620,000.

Vanguard offers index investment options with fees in the area of 0.05 – 0.40%. Another investment company with similar options may also be a good choice. The most important take-home message:

Find all the investment fees associated with your current plan.

School systems are often heavily influenced to partner with companies like Valic and Voya. These companies often provide Vanguard or other index stock options with annual investment fees presented as something close to 0.35%. Within the official paperwork it is a bit harder to find the fact that all accounts are subject to an annual investment fee of  1.25%. This means that the low fee Vanguard option is great, but you are still paying 1.6% of investment fees. Rather than ending $388,000 dollars short of potential investment gains with the 2% fees, the best investment option within the overarching company would still cost you close to $350,000 with their 1.6% fees.

But investment advisors within these companies have reassured me…

You are in a safe location with plenty of growth potential.

Your investments are outperforming ‘insert other random comparisons here’.

Fees are this ‘insert a low number here’ which is better than ‘insert another random comparison here’.

Don’t forget to remain paranoid. Low fee index options are bad because at one random time the market dropped 50% in this 4 month period and it will probably crash again soon.

I have heard those arguments, and I learned a few things since then. High fee investment options usually contain several index investments anyway. They may not crash as hard as an index only fund when the market crashes, but they probably won’t profit as well as the index either. Over a period of 30–40 years, the ‘studious’ investment analysts may perform slightly better than the index, but the annual fee they require drops your investment gain potentials more than they are willing to admit. The flashy numbers and graphs selling their product rarely includes the annual investment fees when predicting potential investment gains. Is this costing you slightly less or significantly more than $388,000?

If you are unsure, here is a link to bankrate retirement calculators.

There are times when only one company is selected, and your investment options are limited. If your company’s chosen investment partner is funding vacations and dinners for your company’s finance department, you are probably funding vacations and dinners for your company’s finance department. That being said, a $620,000 retirement plan yield is better than a $0-dollar retirement plan. Social norms have prioritized ‘owning’ large houses (via mortgage), and nice vehicles (via loan) over long-term investing. When nothing is invested toward retirement, fee details become a moot issue.

A savings account investment plan would be slightly better than the previously mentioned 0-dollar retirement plan option. Investing $5000 (5% of 50K + 5% employee match) per year in savings account with a 0.25% return will result in a figure closer to $210,000. Considering the employee match isn’t going to happen, that number will actually be closer to $105,000. Succumbing to excessive annual investment fees would still leave you with more money than conservatively stockpiling your cash at a local bank ($620,000 is indeed greater than $105,000).

Take home point: Invest toward retirement. But if you see hundreds of advertisements promoting your investment company and/or your financial advisor is driving a luxury SUV, find somewhere else to invest.

Please leave a comment, and let the debate begin!

Cell Phone Upgrade

Consumer vs. Cell Phone Monopoly

I am a longtime family member of a Verizon family phone plan. In the past it was less expensive to be in a family plan rather than pay for individual plans, and free phone upgrades were included every two years. After discovering that phone upgrades were no longer included in the plan, I held on to my Motorola Droid Mini for 4 years before damaging my phone beyond repair. Verizon confirmed that they and all cell phone monopolies no longer offer discounts for phone upgrades/replacements. The local Verizon retailer implied this was OK because phones are bought on contract where low monthly payments are required for at least the first month. This retailer was convinced that $10 monthly payments do not add up to the cost of the new phone, $240, over a period of 24 months.

That extra zero is challenging sometimes, so I double checked the math on my old calculator since the calculator app from my Droid Mini was dysfunctional. Results: $10 x 24 months does indeed equal $240, and that seemed a bit high for the cheapest and lowest rated phone being offered.

Technology Considerations

It was also implied that I didn’t have many easy switch options since my SIM card from my old phone probably wouldn’t be compatible with anything. This blatant lie was followed by a statement implying that Verizon does provide SIM card replacements if necessary, for a small cost.

I left the store slightly irritated, but it was a great motivator for some interesting research. Fortunately, unlocked phones compatible with the Verizon network (CDMA card and matching 3 and 4 G network frequencies) can easily replace current phones on that network. Also, the SIM card from my Droid Mini was compatible with most new phone options I was searching.

The New Cell Phone Purchase

After an avid search for the best online deals, I purchased a MOTO E4 for $100, a bouncy protector case for $8, and a glass screen protector for $4. Upon arrival I immediately switched the SIM card from the old phone to the new phone and it was fully functional! The Verizon cloud app allowed me to easily transfer all pictures, music, text messages, and phone calls from my old phone to my new phone.

My contacts had not saved through the cloud app, so I was not able to transfer my contacts from my old phone to the new phone. In an attempt to resolve the issue, I installed the Verizon content transfer app on both phones, but it didn’t allow the phones to recognize each other when face to face. The new phone couldn’t recognize the old one because the screen was cracked. The Verizon store was close, and I figured they would be able to quickly transfer my contact list from my old phone to the new one. I also wanted to talk to them about updating my account to clarify the phone update.

The Opposite of Customer Support

Upon entering the store with my new phone, I talked to the same retailer who I had previously asked about new phone options. After asking for help transferring the contact list, she quickly said “we charge $19.99 for that.” She knew that I would not pay that much for a service. One might think such a service would be free for a Verizon customer of over 12 years. She wanted me to leave the store since I didn’t purchase the phone from that store, and even though I have paid Verizon wireless a total of $7,200 in the last 12 years, she felt that a ‘screw you’ implication was most appropriate. Rather than continuing the conversation, I decided that more research about the contact list data transfer, and a phone call to the Verizon support team might be a more efficient way to solve the problem.

The Verizon support team confirmed that the cracked screen wasn’t allowing both to sync. I pondered why face to face screen recognition for  data transfers are required. They recommended backing up my contact list through the google drive and then re-syncing it with my new phone. That may have worked, but I manually reentered my contact list using the numbers from recent phone calls and text messages. If Verizon didn’t own my current phone number, as well as the collective deal my family appreciates on the family plan, I might have switched carriers. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t have solved anything since the competing monopolies have collectively agreed to overcharge for products and services.

Conclusion

I paid a total of $112 for a quality phone upgrade. A new phone, case, and screen protector would have been closer to $265 at the local Verizon store. Although the process was somewhat time-consuming, it was a valuable learning experience. I also enjoyed avoiding the $153 gratitude payment to my controlling and manipulative cell phone service provider.

Let me know if you have any comments to share!