I have started to use unprescribed drugs to help me focus

Tell Me About It: My girlfriend is furious and also worried that it may impact on my health

PROBLEM: I am a 28-year-old salesman with a very good track record of exceeding targets over the past two years. As a result of my success, I have been given some of the most sought-after accounts in the industry. I would admit myself that I have reached my career ambition at a much earlier stage than I had anticipated. I really do have a great life. I have a beautiful partner and we live in a fantastic apartment at a time that many of my friends are still living in their family homes. However, the demands of my new work role are much greater than I expected and I often end up working up to 14 hours a day which leaves me exhausted and impacts on my concentration.

I am a social drinker and have only ever dabbled in recreational cannabis useHowever a friend of mine introduced me to Ritalin, a drug to treat ADHD, a few months ago. I use it daily and have found that it sharpens my focus and helps me to work continuously throughout the day and the evening.

My girlfriend recently commented on my improved capacity to keep working. I explained to her about the medication that I have been taking. She is furious with me for taking unprescribed medication and worried that it may impact on my health. I have a family history of heart disease and my uncle died of a sudden heart attack when he was in his early 30s. I am reluctant to give up this medication, as I don’t think I would be able to sustain the levels of activity required for my work.

I have considered asking my GP to prescribe it for me, but in order to put a case forward I will have to admit having used it illegally.

ADVICE: Your girlfriend is right. Taking unprescribed medication is not only dangerous to your health but it is leading to false expectations of what you are capable of. No one can sustain intense 14-hour working days without consequences and Ritalin is currently masking your tiredness and exhaustion. This means that your health may be deteriorating and you have a family history of heart disease lurking beneath the surface.

Creating a good relationship with your local doctor is a very good start – GPs are trained in confidentiality and your story will be met with respect and acceptance. You will need help and guidance to wean yourself off the drug and having a full health check-up will reveal the condition your body is in. However, there is also a psychological aspect. You have become reliant on a drug to keep you at a high level of functioning and this may prove difficult to let go of. Having people in your life who are aware of the situation and are supportive is vital in tackling any habit that we want to break. Your girlfriend clearly wants to help you but you may also need the support of someone at work, as this is where you feel most at risk. It takes courage to trust a colleague so chose someone that you respect and whose opinions you value as you are more likely to follow their advice.

Your success at work was due to your capacity and skills but now you may have lost faith in these as you are putting your success down to an artificial stimulant. Regaining your confidence may take some time and it will need to include good self-awareness so that you can respond to body cues that tell you that you need to rest, eat and take a break. With your new promotion, you are probably in charge of people and your current example is setting impossible expectations for those on your team. If they measure themselves against you, they have no option but to feel inadequate and less effectual and so the morale of your team may sink with time. Successful people will always have others who emulate them and you are in danger of creating an environment where ill-health, burnout and disappointment are the norm.

You are lucky to be so talented and to have a life partner to share your success with. Now you need to have the courage to take responsibility for your life and put things in place where it is possible for you to live healthily and with some sense of balance. There is not much use to success when you do not have the energy or health to enjoy it.

See your GP; seek the support of someone at work; heed your partner’s loving advice and have the courage to tackle the false self that you have created. In this way, your confidence and self-care will grow and you can become the kind of mentor and employee that is both sustainable and enjoyable.