Contrary to popular belief, you can be a top-level manager, an accomplished lawyer, or a celebrated surgeon and still fall prey to addiction.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate based on income, education, or socioeconomic status.
Factors That Can Contribute to Addiction in Successful Individuals
There is no single cause of drug or alcohol addiction. Experts believe addiction develops from a complex relationship between genetic risk factors and environmental triggers. Some of the factors that can contribute to addiction in high achieving men and women include:
- Having high stress jobs: For successful individuals, addiction commonly begins as a way to cope with job-related stress. Drugs and alcohol begin to seem like a way to unwind after dealing with tight deadlines, long hours, and complicated projects.
- Being critical of small mistakes: Accomplished individuals are often extreme perfectionists. They expect themselves to be the best at everything they do, which is an impossible standard. Turning to drugs or alcohol is a way to escape from this pressure.
- Being reluctant to talk about their feelings: Often, high achievers believe that admitting to being unsure of themselves or feeling stressed is a sign of weakness. Instead of talking about how they feel, they turn to addictive substances to numb their emotions.
- Engaging in risk taking behaviors: Risk taking is essential to become a successful professional, but someone who is drawn to the thrill of getting into risky situations may be more tempted to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
- Having extensive financial resources: Having a greater disposable income allows high achievers with substance use disorders to more easily obtain the addictive substance of their choice. Their financial resources also come in handy when they run into trouble with the law, since they can more easily afford an attorney who can reduce the risk of severe consequences for addiction-related behaviors.
- Easy access to addictive substances: Addiction rates are higher than average among doctors, dentists, surgeons, and other medical professionals who have easy access to addictive substances due to the nature of their work. For high achievers in other industries, socializing with members of the medical profession who also struggle with substance abuse can be a risk factor.
- Escaping negative stigma: In our culture, we tend to define success very narrowly. If someone is doing well professionally, we often assume they are also excelling in all of the other aspects of their life. This allows high achievers with substance use disorders to avoid closer scrutiny of their behavior.
A 2013 article from Forbes entitled Why the Brains of High-Powered People May Be More Prone to Addiction provides additional insight into the nature of addiction in successful men and women.
Since they have successful careers and are respected members of the community, it can be difficult to convince high achieving individuals that they need addiction treatment. They will use their professional success to deny the existence of a problem, so you will need to point out how substance abuse is causing difficulty in other aspects of their life.
Some signs that you may use to help persuade a high functioning addict to seek treatment include:
- Marital difficulties
- Conflicts with other family members
- Problems with friendships
- Health conditions linked to substance abuse
- Frequent complaints of feeling sick or sluggish
- Professional rumors about substance use
- Being unable to reduce or limit substance use
Note that it is a common myth that someone must hit rock bottom for treatment to be effective. It’s never too late to get help, but intervening before an addiction spirals out of control makes the recovery process much easier.
If you think your loved one might need an intervention, the Mayo Clinic offers some helpful tips.
Factors That Can Affect Treatment Needs
To effectively treat drug or alcohol addiction, treatment plans need to be personalized to address each individual’s unique concerns. Some of the factors that can affect a high achiever’s treatment needs include:
- Inability to take time off work: If you’re a manager or business owner, taking time off work to attend residential treatment may be difficult. In this case, intensive outpatient programs with a flexible schedule may be better suited to your needs.
- Need for privacy: When they realize they have a problem, successful individuals tend to fear judgement from others. They worry extensively about damage to the professional reputation they have worked so hard to build. If privacy is a concern for you, attending rehab out of state may offer a higher level of anonymity. However, you should keep in mind that addiction treatment centers follow the same privacy guidelines as other medical facilities. No one will be releasing your personal information without your consent.
- Being unable to relate to others in treatment: Since addiction looks different in high achieving individuals, they can find it harder to relate to people who have struggled with unemployment, homeless, or poverty as the result of their substance abuse. In this case, a program tailored to meet the needs of high achieving individuals may be the best fit.
Although addiction is considered a chronic illness, the condition can be managed with therapy designed to promote positive coping skills. No matter what challenges someone has faced in the past, there’s always hope for a future free from the burdens of substance abuse.