Adderall Abuse at Work
A new drug trend is sweeping across the county. It’s spurring divorces, lost jobs, self-loathing, and unhappy families. It’s not heroin or prescription painkillers, those abuse of both those drugs remain at record high levels. It’s much subtler and harder to spot. It’s young, smart, and successful workers abusing Adderall.
The New York Times recently reported on the surge of young professionals turning to Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and other stimulants to help them work harder, longer, and better. They also reported on some of the disastrous side effects these men and women experienced as a result of their stimulant misuse and abuse.
Sounds a bit hyperbolic, right? How can Adderall, a drug college students routinely take to write papers or study for exams, cause a divorce or an unhappy family? How can a pill prescribed to millions of children cause a hardworking individual to lose their job? Read on and find out!
So, is Your Boss Sniffing Adderall?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell. The signs are often indistinguishable from someone working hard. To make matters worse, there aren’t hard statistics available yet about the prevalence of Adderall abuse at work.
We do know a few things though. According to the biggest prescription drug manager in the US, Express Scripts, just over two-and-a-half million people received ADHD medication in 2012. Between 2008 and 2012, a mere four-year period, stimulant prescriptions rose upwards of 50%. Also during this time, the medical use of ADHD drugs among adults twenty-six to thirty-four doubled.
According to SAMHSA, the federal agency in charge of mental health and addiction services, there were close to 23,000 ER trips due to prescription stimulants in 2013 alone. SAMHSA also reported that in a two-year stretch, between 2010 and 2012, 15% more individuals seeking treatment listed stimulants as their drug of choice.
And then there’s the human aspect. In their recent article, the Times reported that, …”in interviews, dozens of people in a wide spectrum of professions said they and co-workers misused stimulants like Adderall, Vyvanse and Concerta to improve work performance.”
From these facts, we can make some inferences about the current state of Adderall abuse in the workplace. An increasing number of prescriptions correlates with an increase in misuse, abuse, and addiction. For proof of this, consider that as prescriptions for stimulants rose, so did both ER visits and treatment center admissions.
Without detailed data, the best we can do is offer a correlation theory. However, if stimulant prescriptions continue to rise, and ER/treatment center visits rise as well, it’s only a matter of time until the public has access to hard numbers about office Adderall abuse.
Why are People Taking Pills at Work?
While there isn’t one specific reason an increasing number of professionals are turning to prescription stimulants to boost their work performance, there are a number of factors which certain influence their decision.
First, remember that many of these young professionals are, as their very name implies, young. It wasn’t long ago they were in high school and college. Adderall abuse has, historically speaking, been incredibly prevalent in the US education system.
In fact, Dr. Anjan K. Chatterjee, the Chairman of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital, had the following to say about the almost natural shift from pill-taking college student to pill-taking professional, “Kids who have been using it in high school and college, this is normalized for them…It’s not a big deal as they enter the work force” (The New York Times).
Following along Dr. Chatterjee’s logic, Dr. Wilson Compton, the Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said something similar, “Given the increase in rates of abuse in college students over the last decade, it is essential that we understand the outcomes as they leave college and assume adult roles” (The New York Times).
Finally, many men and women, new to the workforce, admit to using Adderall and the like to simply get a leg up. They argue they’re taking the pills not to catch a buzz, but rather to land a job. In today’s high stress and cutthroat hiring environment, they may well be telling the truth.
The Downside to Popping Pills at Work
There are some rather obvious side effects that stimulants bring with them. There’s anxiety, depression, hypertension, arrhythmia, tachycardia, hallucinations (at high doses), and addiction and all the baggage it brings with it.
Let’s look a little deeper though. After all, this isn’t an afterschool special. This is a real examination of why men and women are turning to pills in the workplace.
First, those side effects listed above will take away anyone’s productivity. So, what started as a way to work longer hours and produce better results can quickly become nothing but an impediment to work. If the individual has addictive tendencies, if they have the makings of an addict or alcoholic, then things get even more complicated.
As misuse turns to abuse turns to addiction, an individual’s life can, and often does, spiral out of control. Not only is the individual in question underperforming at work, but now their personal relationships are strained. This, in turn, fuels more substance abuse. There’s a reason addiction is referred to as a vicious cycle.
Next, consider the other drugs often mixed with stimulants. These are most commonly benzo’s like Xanax and Ativan. In fact, in the Times article, one of women interviewed spoke of how she turned to Xanax to get sleep. The combination of Adderall and Xanax led to a range of emotional issues. She eventually landed in treatment and, at the time of the article, was doing much better.
There are also a number of secondary dangers associated with workplace Adderall use. This is something like indirectly pressuring a coworker to take substances. Even though an individual may have no intention of impacting someone else’s choice to take pills, that someone else may end up using Adderall to keep up. They may not get the promotion or corner office without the help of chemically induced energy.
Think about it – if there was a pill you could take to increase the chance of landing the job of a lifetime, say at a prestigious New York law firm or a high powered LA movie studio, would you take it? I’m a man in long-term recovery from addiction and I’d be hard pressed to say no.
Make no mistake, I’m not saying that taking Adderall at work is okay. Rather, I think it’s important to understand where these people are coming from. Until we can truly empathize with young professionals taking pills to get ahead, we’re going to be of no help to them.
And shouldn’t that be our ultimate goal? As men and women in recovery, or simply as men and women who want to see the younger generation succeed, we should be offering our hand. I believe it’s through empathy, through learning the struggles of people popping pills simply to get hired, that we’ll best be able to lend that hand.