Barry Bonds’ office was the baseball diamond, Lance Armstrong’s the mountains, and Marion Jones’ the track. Each sports star exceled at their place of business but what distinguishes Barry, Lance, Marion and scores of other athletes is not just how well they performed at work but why they performed so well. All, and many like them, have admitted or been accused of using performance enhancing drugs to gain an edge on their competition in their profession.
In the past few years, performance enhancers have also trickled into the corporate world. No, secretaries and programmers aren’t sneaking off to the bathrooms to inject themselves with steroids Ivan Drago style but repeated trips to the coffee maker aren’t fully giving them the edge they crave. Workers are turning to drugs such as modafinil, used to treat sleep disorders, and Ritalin, used to treat attention deficit disorder. A 2008 poll by the journal Nature of 1,400 people in 60 countries revealed that one in five admitted to using performance enhancing drugs to stimulate their focus.
In 1990, 600,000 children were prescribed stimulants such as Ritalin and by 2013 that number had ballooned to 3.5 million with Adderrall, a more effective and longer lasting drug, becoming the substance of choice. In 2012, an estimated 16 million Adderrall prescriptions were doled out for adults between 20 and 39 according to QuintilesIMS. Many become hooked as students in college, enthralled by the increased focus that Adderrall provides, and continue using as they transition into the corporate world. In his book, “ADHD Nation: Children, Doctors, Big Pharma and the Making of an American Epidemic”, Alan Schwarz comments, “It stands to reason that if you feel as if you succeeded in college partly because of these drugs, you’re more likely to feel as if you need them to succeed in the workplace.” A recent study of 11 million U.S. workers showed that the second most commonly detected drug behind marijuana are amphetamines such as Ritalin and Adderall and usage is not confined to a few professions.
Adderrall and its cousins, improve attention, concentration, memory and problem solving according to studies. The enhancements are so profound that Duke University amended its honor code in 2011 to warn that the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance performance is a form of cheating. Modafinil and Adderrall have also proven beneficial to certain professions such as doctors and air traffic controllers who must make quick, attentive decisions despite suffering from job-induced sleep deprivation. In her book, “Fit for Work? Redefining ‘Normal’ and ‘Extreme’ Through Human Enhancement Technologies”, Dr. Karen Dale suggests, “Employees may see the use of human enhancement technologies in general as an opportunity to close the gap between the demands of a job and their individual capabilities, to compete against others or just to satisfy their need for self-improvement.”
Despite the benefits, Adderrall comes with some troublesome baggage such as insomnia, increased blood pressure, headaches, anxiety and panic attacks not to mention it can be highly addictive.
Still, the perceived advantages of using cognitive enhancing drugs outweigh the negatives, which are not yet fully known. Until the consequences of these drugs are fully fleshed out and only the advantages are realized, Generation Adderrall will march on with no foreseeable bans on the players who are doping.