Tech and Drugs: The Dark Side of Tech

This is a controversial topic, and a lot is still unknown, but today, we will shed light on the dark part of tech that nobody is willing to talk about and how many bright minds are fading away as a result of drug abuse.

I came across a story of a UI/UX developer who was under intense pressure to deliver for his company and decided to start taking stimulants to deliver for his company; currently, he has been dropped.

He could not handle the drugs any longer and went into depression. He is currently in rehab, and this got me thinking if the Tech space as an enabler of drug abuse.

In the fast-paced world of technology, the need for cheap labor, meeting deadlines, and working long hours often feel unavoidable. However, some developers have turned to illicit drugs as a way to boost productivity and stay alert during marathon coding sessions.

While stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines may provide short-term benefits, experts warn this quick fix comes at a high cost.

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The Pressure to Perform

The tech industry is notorious for its competitive environment and demanding work culture. Startups often operate on tight budgets and short timeframes, expecting developers to work nights and weekends to get products shipped on time.

According to a 2021 survey by Blind, an anonymous social network for tech professionals, 42% of software engineers reported working over 50 hours per week on average. 11% reported working over 70 hours per week.

At major companies like Facebook and Google, developers are pushed to innovate and meet rigorous metrics continuously.

Under this high pressure, some programmers have resorted to using stimulants as a way to maximize productivity and focus.

Surveys estimate that 15-20% of software developers in Silicon Valley regularly use mind-altering substances for work. Amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin are especially popular for their ability to increase energy, concentration, and mental endurance.

A deeper survey revealed that 35% (280/803) of our participants had tried cannabis while programming or completing another software engineering-related task, approximately half of those who tried cannabis in general (69% = 557/803).

Of those that have used cannabis while programming, 73% (205/280, 26% of our population overall) used cannabis while programming in the last year. While not a perfect comparison, we observe higher cannabis use than that in recent national surveys:

While programmers may initially turn to these drugs to manage occasional overtime, the cycle can quickly spiral. As tolerance increases, larger and more frequent doses become necessary to get the same effect. This raises the risk of addiction and dependence.

Unfortunately, the tech world’s youthful “hacker culture” often glorifies pushing limits through chemical enhancement, making it easier for risky drug use to become normalized.

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The Toll on Health

Relying on stimulants to power through work can extract a steep physical and mental toll. Amphetamines put a strain on the cardiovascular system, potentially leading to high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and arrhythmias.

They may cause anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, and paranoia, even in people without a history of mental illness.

Use over long periods can degrade neurological pathways, impairing memory, decision-making, and reaction time. It may also trigger the onset of more serious conditions like depression and psychosis.

Experts warn that mixing stimulants with Silicon Valley’s high-stress levels and lack of sleep is a recipe for burnout and breakdown.

Targeting the Tech Workforce

As demand has grown, drug dealers are increasingly marketing stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine to professionals in the tech scene. These groups often have high incomes and an appetite for substances that boost productivity.

Drug-selling operations have popped up near tech campuses to supply programmers working late conveniently. Dealers connect with potential tech clients at bars, nightclubs, and on dating apps. Some brazenly advertise by leaving bags of cocaine and Adderall in tech company bathrooms.

The phenomenon reflects the growing normalization of stimulant use in the industry. While tech companies may turn a blind eye, experts caution the practice exposes employees to risky black market substances of questionable purity and safety.

But with many tech workers under pressure to deliver and fearful of losing their jobs, the convenient access makes indulging a temptation.

A Slippery Slope

While programmers may initially have success moderating their drug use, it can quickly escalate in toxic work environments.

As tolerance builds, users take higher doses, trying to increase focus and stamina. Dependence creeps in, making normal concentration without drugs difficult.

Continued use despite negative consequences is a hallmark of addiction. Those in the grip of stimulant addiction may miss deadlines, produce buggy code, and damage relationships. But the short-term productivity boost keeps them trapped in the cycle.

Some hide their drug use out of shame or fear of professional repercussions. This prevents them from seeking help, allowing problems to spiral out of control.

However, the tech industry’s “move fast and break things” mentality often excuses excessive drug use as the price of driving innovation.

The Path Forward

Addressing the rise of stimulant abuse will require reshaping attitudes and policies that enable it to thrive. Experts suggest tech companies take steps like:

  • Discouraging the “hustle culture” mentality that pushes unhealthy overwork
  • Providing mental health support and addiction treatment resources
  • Rethinking unrealistic deadlines and productivity metrics
  • Enforcing clear policies around drug use with access to rehab, not just penalties
  • Boosting training on burnout prevention and healthy coping strategies

Additionally, educating developers on the risks of illicit stimulants is critical. While they may provide short-term gains, the mental and physical toll is too great.

There are safer ways to manage the pressures of tech work, including proper rest, healthy habits, social support, and using legally prescribed medications only as directed.

The technology industry must also reckon with its laissez-faire attitude toward chemical enhancement.

Stimulants do not actually improve productivity – they trade long-term health for short-term focus. A culture that prizes healthy collaboration and work-life balance is the true path to innovation.

The toll of tech’s drug crisis will only grow if unaddressed. Companies face losing top talent to burnout and addiction.

But by promoting humane work norms and providing support, we can prevent substance abuse from being seen as an acceptable answer to unreasonable demands. The future of technology depends on recognizing that well-being drives sustainable success.

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