executive junkies

Manager's Little Helper

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All doped up and ready to go.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Managers in Germany who are turning to drugs and alcohol to combat stress may damage their health.

  • Facts


    • Drug usage varies by industry with amphetamines the choice in business sectors with frequent tight deadlines and cocaine more popular among    managers in financial industries.
    • Virtually all drugs including hormones such as melatonin, which is favored by globe-hopping executives to reset sleeping patterns, cause accrued damage to the body over time.
    • he traditional method of relaxing after work also carries dangers with doctors noting more than one glass of beer or wine per day does     irreversible damage to the body.
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Growing numbers of executives are putting their health at risk in pursuit of business success by gobbling down amphetamines and other medications to enhance their performance.

They’re also drinking too much alcohol, downing antidepressants and even dabbling with hard drugs.

“Entrepreneurs and managers, like other top-level achievers, are inclined to push back their personal limits through pills,” said Curt Diehm, medical director of the Max-Grundig-Klinik in Bühl, who has spent decades treating managers for substance abuse.

Dr. Diehm believes increasingly intense pressure within companies is pushing managers to reach into their medicine cabinets to improve their performance. He and other physicians at the clinic describe habitual doping patterns in the business world and note the dangers they present.

Doctors warn daily consumption of more than one glass of beer or wine damages all organs, especially the brain and liver.

Prescription drugs such as Tavor, Valium or Lexotanil, all of which are benzodiazepines, have long been used in managerial circles because they are highly effective tranquilizers and fear reducers. Tavor is particularly popular in executive suites in the U.S. and is increasingly being used in Germany.

Caution is required because Tavor and other benzodiazepines become addictive within a relatively short period of time and can cause serious damage if long-term use continues. Tavor should only be used as an emergency medication, for example, to relieve severe stress or long-running sleep disorders and only after consulting with a doctor, said Dr. Susanne Krömer, head of the psychosomatic department at the Max-Grundig-Klinik.

Jet-setting managers who travel the world often use the hormone Melatonin to bring their disturbed day-and-night rhythm back into balance. For those 55 or older, Melatonin is approved for treating general insomnia. Yet Dr. Diehm adds, “Even if not as harmful as Tavor, the prescription drug Melatonin is in no way harmless.” So far, there have been no long-term studies about its side-effects.

Meanwhile, use of neuro-enhancers also is on the rise. Products such as Ritalin and Modafinil increase cognitive performance by making people feel more awake and concentrated while also boosting memory. “Neuro-enhancers are ideal for managers, who make great use of them,” said Dr. Diehm. Amphetamines, known on the party scene as speed or pep, are in this category and often are consumed in industries engaging in intensive project work requiring long hours. They’re also popular with younger, mid-level managers.

When consulting firms or advertising agencies face tight deadlines, there is a call for Ritalin, Modafinil or amphetamines. “One problem is coming down again,” Dr. Krömer said. “And often, patients simply can’t fall asleep.” Other side-effects include headaches, irritability, cardiac arrhythmia and deep anxiety, Dr. Diehm added. Drugs affecting psychology also can change behavior as sober individuals suddenly become euphoric. Additionally, amphetamines also are addictive.

Cocaine delivers effects comparable to the neuro-enhancers, but there also is social factor. Particularly in industries where managers work continuously, there is pressure to perform and cocaine consumption is not taboo. Cocaine is believed to be particularly popular in the banking district in Zürich and the investment banks in London.

“There should be no illusions about the spread of cocaine,” Dr. Krömer said. “It’s certainly no longer just a party drug when significant amounts have been found in the toilets of the Bundestag.” The great danger of cocaine is that regular consumption leads to a spiral of dependency. Bankers, consultants and managers often use cocaine for years before their abuse is revealed. Or, until they collapse.

Drugs such as Cipralex, Zoloft and Mirtazapin developed to treat depression also are growing in popularity among executives, who believe the pharmaceuticals will improve their mood, stimulate performance and increase happiness. But the pills don’t do that. To some extent, they are helpful in getting a grip on depression. Twenty percent of the population, and, thus, 20 percent of managers experience a phase of depression at least once in life. But the pills are of little or no use for those without the disease, the doctors at the Max-Grundig-Klinik noted. It makes no sense to treat a self-diagnosed burnout syndrome with antidepressants, Dr. Krömer said. Under medical supervision, antidepressants may help to reduce insomnia, but over a long period of time, they have the side-effect of causing weight gain.

What about a few drinks at the hotel bar after visiting a trade show? “Earlier, only alcohol was socially acceptable for managers to consume in large amounts,” Dr. Diehm said, noting alcohol can lower tension, reduce stress and, in moderate amounts, make it easier to fall asleep.

But drinking also produces significant effects on performance and wellbeing. Doctors warn daily consumption of more than one glass of beer or wine damages all organs, especially the brain and liver. Hangovers hinder normal everyday activities and too much alcohol late in the day makes it difficult to sleep through the night.

“With respect to performance, alcohol in more than small amounts cannot be recommended,” Dr. Diehm said. With long-term consumption of alcohol, physical and mental decline is irreversible. For reducing stress in the evening, Dr. Krömer recommends one unit of sport as a much smarter alternative, but not right before bedtime.


Handelsblatt’s Katrin Terpliz covers companies and markets with a focus on family-owned businesses. To contact the author: terpitz@handelsblatt.com

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