Truck drivers are often subjected to long hours and high stress and don’t get enough sleep to compensate, so they sometimes reach for stimulants to keep them awake. 

While caffeine and ephedrine are the most common legal stimulants used, many truckers turn to stronger stuff while on the road.

But new research shows that medications like Ritalin and Adderall may be beneficial to help them increase reaction time, reduce accidents, and ultimately save lives.

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Up to 30 Percent of Truckers Use Illegal Stimulants

review of 36 studies showed that substance use varies by country, but globally, about 30 percent of truckers admit to using amphetamines and about 3 percent admit to using cocaine. Alcohol and marijuana were the most common substances truckers used while driving.

“The frequency of psychoactive substance use by truck drivers seems to be high, although that greatly varies according to the type of substance and the method of collecting the information,” the study concluded. “The use of these substances was mainly associated with indicators of poor working conditions.”

While stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine help drivers stay awake, they can also change their perceptions of distance and their reaction time, and also cause agitation and vertigo. Because they’re illegal in the U.S., they also can carry heavy penalties for drivers, as well as open their companies up to a host of safety issues.

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Drivers with Undiagnosed ADHD Helped by Medication

Another new study says that undiagnosed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be the cause of many safety issues for drivers on the road.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden studied 17,000 people with ADHD over a period of four years and found that ADHD patients have about a 45 percent increased risk of being involved in serious driving accidents, compared to individuals without ADHD.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that using prescription medication reduced the risk of accidents by 58 percent, and 41 percent of the accidents involving men could have been avoided had the men been given proper medication.

Stimulant medication prescribed to treat ADHD act on the brain in a way similar to cocaine—both are stimulants that increase alertness and productivity by raising dopamine levels. Ritalin has also been used to help people curb cocaine addiction.

The Swedish researchers did note, however, that their study doesn’t explain the specific mechanisms of how ADHD medications decrease accident risk, but they believe it’s due to a reduction in ADHD’s core symptoms, which can lead to accidents: impulsivity and distractibility.

“It is also important to point out that most pharmaceutical treatments carry a risk of side effects,” researcher Henrik Larsson, an associate professor in the department of medical epidemiology and biostatistics, said in a press release. “The risks must be weighed against the benefits for every individual prescription, taking into account the individual patient's situation.”

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Think Faster, Live Longer

On a related note, new research shows that slow reaction time is linked with an early death.

Automobile accidents aside, a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE found that after studying more than 5,000 people over 15 years, people with a slow reaction time were 25 percent more likely to die of any cause.

While reaction time is important for drivers to avoid accidents, researchers say it can predict survival and also shows how well the central nervous system works.

“People who are consistently slow to respond to new information may go on to experience problems that increase their risk of early death,” lead researcher Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson, from the University College of London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said in a statement. “In the future, we may be able to use reaction times to monitor health and survival. For now, a healthy lifestyle is the best thing people can do in order to live longer."

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