Are Certain Workplaces More Prone to Drug Use

stressed man at high tech job

A recent online article reported on what may be a relatively little-known side of drug use in the workplace. Oftentimes, drug use is linked to poverty and lack of an education adequate to gaining anything more than menial employment. It is often linked to hopelessness about the future, and the recognition of a lack of opportunity or the means to make a decent living or live a decent life. But this side of workplace drug use and abuse is an entirely different arena of life.

Drug Problems In Silicon Valley

The heroin-induced death of Forrest Timothy Hayes, a Google executive, brought to light the dark side of drug use in the Silicon Valley: a place known for its cutting-edge high tech industry. It seems that illicit drug-use, notably cocaine and prescription painkillers obtained on the black market, have become a part of life for fiercely competitive techies and executives of the industry.

According to the article, one addictions coach based in Miami reports having had clients from Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. His clients have included high-level executives struggling with addiction to drugs including prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, cocaine, heroin, and stimulants such as Adderall.

The addictions coach pointed out that the Silicon Valley drug abuse situation is far worse than most people are aware of, due to it being so well covered-up. But Hayes’ death last November by heroin overdose brought attention to the severity of the situation.

Although exact numbers of techie drug users are not currently known, a majority of those working in the field of addiction and drug rehabilitation treatment view the source of the problem as a powerful combination of intense competition between workers and between companies, new wealth, deadline pressures generated by launching of tech products in one after the other after the other, and a strong black-market pipeline of drugs.

Could Workplace Demands Lead to Addiction?

man drinking at work

A San Diego-based consultant teaching substance abuse awareness to employers in the Bay Area, Steve Albrecht, notes that the “workaholism” in the Silicon Valley demands an ability to work at a tremendous rate of speed on crash projects, resulting in workers staying up for days at a time. The demands are met first with coffee and Red Bull, and phase into meth and cocaine in order to keep going and meet the demands.

Another aspect of the abuse in these high-end tech companies is an absence of drug testing or a minimal amount of drug testing. Albrecht attributes that situation to many of these companies wanting the results, but not wanting to know how their employees got those results.

The drug abuse in the high tech industry is following the trend of a national surge in prescription painkiller and heroin abuse, with drug treatment specialists noting that the overprescribing of opioid prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone has created a new group of addicts; college-educated working professionals, the demographic of thousands of those employed in corporate Silicon Valley.

Prescription Pills—The New Gateway Drugs

Experts in the arena of drug abuse increasingly view prescription painkillers as the gateway drug, with 1.4 million prescriptions for hydrocodone in the Bay area alone.

A Calistoga-based detoxification specialist, Dr. Norman Wall, working with individuals employed in the high-tech industry notes that addiction progresses in a predictable manner, beginning with uppers (stimulants such as Adderall) to keep-up with 12-hour days and production demands, and followed by downers (sedative or depressant such as oxycodone) to “take the edge off” at the end of the long workday; noting that it is “not a big leap” for the individual to get addicted to oxycodone.

And because a person builds up a tolerance for the drug being used, and therefore needs an ever-increasing dose to get the same desired result or high, it isn’t a far stretch to go from pills to smoking, snorting and then finally, shooting heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that because heroin is also an opioid, the body and mind respond similarly to the response to opioid prescription painkillers. But there is a huge difference in the cost between the two drugs. Half a gram of heroin can be purchased for around $20, while prescription painkillers can cost $60 or more per pill. And heroin has continued to become more available in the Bay Area during recent years.

The Basic Problem

One longtime tech worker in the Silicon Valley, and a recovering addict, says he sees that many of those attending the Narcotics Anonymous meetings with him were hooked on drugs “courtesy of their doctors”, noting that he sees very few “old-school addicts” with most now college-educated and who began by abusing prescription painkillers following an injury; or who started using cocaine and oxycodone in an attempt to handle their high-stress tech jobs. He pointed out that an 80-hour work week coupled with making “crazy money” extracts a terrible toll on a person.

Perhaps even more to the point is this fact pointed out by experts; that our society frequently encourages its young people to self-medicate, beginning as early as grammar school. Thus, by the time these software-savvy young people reach their teens, the stage has been set for drug abuse—the kind being experienced in Silicon Valley.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.