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Work and neuro-enhancement

When stress at work leads to taking to drugs

Neuro-enhancement is also referred to as brain doping. Here, healthy people attempt to improve their performance with drugs. The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) examines the connection between work and taking prescription drugs.

Neuro-enhancement preparations are primarily prescription drugs. Known are:

  • psychostimulants: e.g. drugs for treating the attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome (ADHS) or narcolepsy,
  • antidepressants: for treating depression,
  • anti dementives: for treating dementia.

In addition, illegally trafficked stimulants are abused to improve cognitive performance and well-being, e.g. cocaine and amphetamines.

BAuA Study

For the study, the researchers chose four occupations characterised by high cognitive requirements. Over 4,000 doctors, programmers, advertising specialists and publicists in employment subject to social security contributions were interviewed. In a multistage study design, face-to-face interviews, diary studies and qualitative in-depth interviews were carried out.

Findings regarding the frequency of neuro-enhancement

Only a small number of the employees practised neuro-enhancement. The four-week prevalence is 1.25 per cent and the annual prevalence is 2.80 per cent. However, the lifetime prevalence is 8.30 per cent and indicates a latent willingness to take drugs.

On the influence of work

The study shows a correlation between work stress and mental health. In all four occupational groups, more symptoms of mental impairments occur in case of increased stress. However, the occurring stress does not inevitably lead to resorting to drugs. They are only taken selectively, if the increased concern of not being able to cope with stress at work prevails. Neuro-enhancement therefore primarily serves the maintenance of performance and not – as suspected in many cases – the improvement of performance.