When The Mitchell Report was released in 2007, Major League Baseball changed forever. The report alleged that at least 89 baseball players used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs despite the fact they were banned since 1991.
It’s pretty easy to understand why so many players turned to drugs during what became known as “The Steroid Era” of baseball. Performance-enhancing drugs transformed already amazing players like Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds into godlike juggernauts on the field. In all cases, those improvements led to enormous contracts, popularity and prestige.
While baseball, for the most part, has appeared to put its drug problem in the rearview mirror, similar performance-enhancing drugs are now making their way into the workplace. Recent reports indicate that employees are increasingly turning to prescription drugs—stimulants like Adderall, Dexedrine, Concerta and Vynase—to help get their jobs done.
So much for a cup of coffee.
The Pressure to Succeed
Consider the story of Elizabeth, a woman identified by her middle name in a recent New York Times piece. She recently started her own health technology company, working long, hard hours. Over time, she complained to her psychiatrist that she was having a hard time focusing on her work. Ten minutes later, she had a prescription for Adderall.
Now, she sleeps a little more than three hours each night.
“Friends of mine in finance, on Wall Street, were traders and had to start at 5 in the morning at the top of their games,” Elizabeth tells The Times. “Most of them were taking Adderall. You can’t be the one who is the sluggish one.”
Designed to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the most popular drug of the bunch, Adderall, debuted in 1996. In recent years, the drug has become widespread on college campuses, as students take them to cram for exams, think clearer or just have fun. In fact, use of such stimulants on colleges has become so common that some are even saying it’s a full-blown epidemic.
At Some Point, College Students Enter the Workforce
Having grown accustomed with—or addicted to—the effects of these synthetic stimulants, many of today’s young workers decide to continue their drug habits when they become professionals.
“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,” says Dr. Wilson Compton, the deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
And who could blame them? After all, Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez were able to land huge contracts after taking performance-enhancing drugs. So wouldn’t the same logic follow that the knowledge worker who uses Adderall to put in more hours (and ostensibly get more done) might be entitled to promotions and bigger raises than their seemingly more lethargic peers?
No Surprise Here: Drug Use Is on the Rise
Studies show that ADHD diagnoses are becoming increasingly more prevalent in adult cohorts. Is that because more of us are actually developing the disorder? Or because we’re learning to “cheat the system,” so to speak, tricking our doctors into prescribing us some of those sweet, sweet stimulants we so desperately crave?
It might not even matter. If some in the tech world have their way, these brain-boosting drugs—and other concoctions designed specifically to enhance cognition and mental function—may soon become socially accepted.
Case in point? Nootrobox, a San Francisco-based startup that’s assembling legal concoctions intended to boost mind function. “We only have 24 hours in the day, and we’re trying to figure out how to make better use of that time,” the company’s co-founder Michael Brandt says. (Brandt’s startup isn’t alone in trying to enhance brain power—although others are trying to do it differently. Halo Neuroscience, for example, is working on technology that helps the brain work better.)
Does the natural progression of science and technology invariably lead to the use of drugs and gadgets specially designed to boost human productivity? Or are we about to open Pandora’s Box?