Maria Shriver's Important Mission for Women's Brain Health and America's Adderall Epidemic

maria shriver christina schwarzenegger
Journalist, author and former first lady of California Maria Shriver and her daughter Christina Schwarzenegger sat down with LIVESTRONG’s Jess Barron to discuss their new documentary “Take Your Pills.” (Image: Getty Images/Hutton Supancic)

LIVESTRONG met with Maria Shriver and her daughter Christina Schwarzenegger as part of our Stronger Women interview series to discuss their new Netflix documentary “Take Your Pills” and Shriver’s new book “I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.”

The journalist, author and former first lady of California and her daughter are executive producers of the documentary about Americans’ Adderall obsession. The film explores the stories of students, adult tech workers, finance professionals and pro athletes who use the drug to improve performance.

Shriver is encouraging companies and families to view “Take Your Pills” together. She mentioned a woman running a startup business who discussed the movie with her employees and discovered that almost everyone at her company was taking Adderall. Shriver hopes that the film will inspire leaders to think about what they can do differently at their companies, such as offering meditation, encouraging employees to take walks or enacting “no-technology Sundays.”

Drug dependence isn't the only issue close to Shriver's heart. She founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, and is passionate about encouraging women to begin thinking of their health more holistically. “It’s important for women to think about how what they eat affects their mental health. How their mental health affects their physical health. How their professional health affects their family,” she said and pointed out that Alzheimer’s begins to develop in the brain 20 years before a diagnosis is made.

Women make up two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s cases, and Shriver has made it her mission to inform women about their increased risk for the disease and what they can do about it. Her foundation raises money for research to try to understand why women have an increased risk and to educate young people about the importance of their cognitive health.

Is There a Connection Between America's Opioid Epidemic and Americans' Obsession with Adderall?

“In the film, several of the doctors connect those two,” Shriver said. “We’re a medicated country. We have meds for almost everything, and that’s very American to say: ‘Whatever you have, here’s a medication for it.’”

What They Would Tell Someone Who Thinks They Need to Rely on Adderall to Perform Well?

Schwarzenegger said that there are people who may really need to rely on Adderall due to a diagnosed learning disability. But for people who don’t medically need it and become dependent on the drug, Schwarzenegger said she wants to tell them that there is a future beyond Adderall.

“People become very addicted to it,” she said. “You can find alternative ways to help with your focus, your attention span.”

Shriver added: “There is so much more information out there today about the effect of food on the mind, the effect of sitting too long on the mind and the body, what’s working for young boys, what’s working for young girls. There’s a whole emphasis now on social and emotional learning and different ways to learn.”

On Concerns of Glamorizing Adderall in the Film

“It is a drug that is very sexy, but we highlight in the film the pros and cons and the very unglamorous side of it — that it’s very hard to go off of it,” Schwarzenegger explained. “A few of the characters experienced what I experienced myself, which is an identity crisis in getting off of it, so that is not glamorous.”

Schwarzenegger mentioned that there seems to be a lot more burnout experienced by young adults today. “I think that there is something to say about the correlation between the use and abuse of Adderall and the burnout that people are experiencing,” she said.

“A lot of people my age say that they want to work really hard right now because they want to make enough money to be, at 35, not needing to work for the rest of their lives. And that’s not good for your health, and it’s not realistic.”

Advice They Would Give to Someone Who Needs to Get off of Adderall

“Be easy on yourself and give yourself time," Schwarzenegger said. "Allow that process of healing to happen, and be patient with it.”

Shriver added: “To a parent, understand that your child is actually getting off of a drug and that they will present as a new person in a way. And be patient with that birthing. Be accepting and understand that they saw themselves as a different person on Adderall, and they see themselves as a different person off of it.

See more of LIVESTRONG’s Stronger Women interviews.

About the Author

JESS BARRON is Editor-in-Chief and GM for LIVESTRONG.COM, a leading healthy lifestyle website with more than 32 million unique monthly viewers. In addition to LIVESTRONG, her writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune and MyDomaine. She has been interviewed about her advice for female entrepreneurs by Inc., HuffingtonPost and FabFitFun. Jess has appeared on MSNBC, CNN and ABC News and has been a keynote speaker at Health Further and a panelist at SXSW, Create & Cultivate and Digital Hollywood. Follow Jess on Instagram and Twitter at @jessbeegood!

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