That many people misuse Adderall hoping to enhance work performance should not be news. But apparently it still is. The New York Times just published an article about workers in finance, tech, business, the arts and the professions misusing stimulant medications like Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta so as to gain a competitive advantage, or just keep up. As I’ve learned in my clinical practice, many are headed for a fall, even when they believe they have it all under control. Luckily, there are lots of warning signs along the way before it’s too late that the time has come to get some help.
No one should be surprised that so many at work use stimulant medications designed to treat ADHD. We have known for years that many students routinely turn to stimulant medications. The best current estimate from a 2015 meta-analysis (a study of the available studies) is that one in six college students misuse ADHD stimulant medication for purposes of enhancing performance. Continued use at work makes a kind of sense; why change successful work habits just because of graduation? That’s why no one should be at all surprised so many in competitive fields turn to stimulants. People started using them in school. They worked. Good grades achieved. Jobs secured. Why change?
Well, one reason to change is that life is not finals week. Life never stops. When you work for a living, especially a competitive good living, you don’t get extended semester breaks for rest and recovery, and then a clean slate with the next new semester. Instead, the question “what have you done for me lately” rules the day. Perfection becomes impossible. Even someone talented and privileged enough to do anything they want to do still can’t do everything. Choices need to be made. Taking speed does not change that. The fact is that in comparison to college, life dramatically escalates the risks that occasional as-needed amphetamine-use will degrade into dependence and addiction. Plus, there are also significant risks even for those who successfully limit use to an occasional as-needed basis, like never fully developing the grounded self-confidence one’s achievements would otherwise allow.
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