The Increase of ADHD Drug Use in the Workplace

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a common childhood condition that can continue to produce its destabilizing effects in adulthood. People affected by the disorder have a range of symptoms centered on unusually hyperactive/impulsive behavior, an unusual inability to maintain attention, or a combination of hyperactivity/impulsivity and an inability to pay attention. Doctors frequently prescribe stimulant medications to combat the effects of ADHD. Unfortunately, significant numbers of people misuse these medications and subsequently develop health problems that can include diagnosable symptoms of stimulant addiction. Current evidence indicates that misuse of ADHD drugs in the workplace is becoming an increasingly frequent phenomenon.

What Are ADHD Stimulants?

ADHD stimulants are a group of medications that, among other things, speed up the normal rate of activity inside the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). While it may seem paradoxical, this increased activity helps a person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by easing the impact of hyperactivity/impulsivity and improving the ability to maintain attention. There are two basic types of ADHD stimulants: amphetamine-based stimulants and non-amphetamine-based stimulants. The most well-known amphetamine-based stimulant, Adderall, contains a combination of amphetamine and a related substance called dextroamphetamine. The most well-known non-amphetamine-based ADHD medication, Ritalin, contains a stimulant called methylphenidate.

What Are the Dangers of ADHD Stimulant Misuse?

Stimulants are a class of drugs and medications known for their ability to produce a powerful sensation called euphoria inside the brain’s pleasure center. If you repeatedly misuse an ADHD stimulant (by taking it without a prescription or consuming more than your prescription dictates), euphoria-related changes in your brain’s function can ultimately lead to the onset of physical dependence. A physically dependent person has a compelling need to keep taking a given substance in order to feel “normal.” In the case of stimulant drugs and medications, a dependent person can also easily transition into full-blown addiction, a condition characterized by uncontrolled substance intake and a range of other damaging symptoms. Officially, this form of addiction is classified as a stimulant use disorder.

Misuse of an ADHD stimulant can also lead to other potentially serious or severe physical problems, including sleep loss, high blood pressure, an elevated heart rate and dietary changes that ultimately result in clinical malnutrition. If you consume these medications in especially large amounts, you can also set the stage for a stroke or other, possibly fatal, changes in normal heart or blood vessel health. Emotional/psychological problems associated with the misuse of ADHD stimulant medications include paranoid states of mind and unusually aggressive behavior.

Why Misuse ADHD Stimulants in the Workplace?

In addition to improving symptoms related to hyperactivity/impulsivity and poor focus, ADHD stimulant medications produce a general increase in wakefulness. In combination, these effects have made ADHD stimulants a fairly widespread target of misuse as “study drugs” that supposedly enhance academic performance in high school and college students. The effects of the medications also make them a potential target for adults in the workplace who wish to do such things as increase their alertness, boost their motivation for routine tasks and boost their overall job productivity.

ADHD Medication Misuse on the Rise in the Workplace

Most studies on the subject of ADHD stimulant misuse have centered on teenagers and college-age young adults, not older adults participating in the fulltime workforce. For this reason, there is relatively little statistically verified information on trends in the workplace misuse of ADHD medications. Still, anecdotal reports from a broad range of professions indicate that improper consumption of the medications is increasingly common among workers who feel pressured to improve their performance in order to keep their jobs or advance to better-paying positions.

While studies that focus directly on workplace ADHD drug misuse are lacking, another statistic strongly points to an increased rate of this dangerous practice: the number of adult emergency room visits related to the improper intake of ADHD medications. Periodically, a federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) releases figures that indicate how many American adults visit ERs across the nation as a result of ADHD stimulant misuse. The latest available SAMHSA figures (released in 2013) cover the years 2005 to 2010.

In 2010, the number of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 seeking emergency room treatment after misusing an ADHD stimulant was almost four times higher than the number of adults in this age range who sought treatment in the same circumstances in 2005. Among adults between the ages of 26 and 34, the rate of ER visits linked to ADHD stimulant misuse increased by more than 200 percent over the same span of time. Among adults age 35 or older, the rate of ER visits also increased by more than 200 percent. Taken together, these figures clearly point to a rise in improper ADHD medication consumption among American workers.

The SAMHSA figures also indicate that adults who misuse ADHD stimulants frequently misuse other substances at the same time. In 2010, almost two-thirds of all adults seeking ER treatment after improper ADHD medication consumption had at least one additional substance in their systems. More than a third (38 percent) of those seeking treatment had at least two additional substances in their systems. If the trends reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2013 have continued up to the present day (as seems quite likely), the misuse of ADHD stimulants in the workplace is having an increasingly damaging effect on the well-being of the American workforce.