Why Those in High-Powered Jobs Gravitate Towards Substance Abuse

Patty Bell

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Patty Bell, (2020, January 14). Why Those in High-Powered Jobs Gravitate Towards Substance Abuse. Psychreg on Organisational Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/high-powered-jobs-substance-abuse/
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Chances are if you are a high-level executive you have a Type A personality. These individuals tend to be very driven, competitive, and goal oriented. This type of personality features such traits as impatience, a need for control, being super organised, aggressive, and a heightened sense of urgency. In sum, the person who winds up in a high-powered position is an exceedingly ambitious human being.

When we think of these traits we may conjure up the image of a meticulously clad executive in complete control of their environment. These are the folks who run huge divisions and teams – C-suite material. We imagine they attended Oxford, Harvard, or Stanford. These people have been groomed for success. They have acquired wealth, status, and prestige – and possibly, a substance use disorder.

It is not uncommon for someone who has catapulted into the top tier ranks of their profession to have developed a problem with alcohol or drugs. With unrelenting demands on their time and attention, and wall-to-wall stress defining their workdays, these top-level executives often seek the calming effects of alcohol or anti-anxiety medications to take the edge off.

These substances provide a sense of relief, and release, from their non-stop obsession with their profession that propelled them to the top in the first place.

The drinking or abuse of drugs can evolve into a serious problem as time goes on, however. Tolerance to the effects of the substance climbs, provoking higher consumption in an effort to achieve those initial effects. If the executive has a genetic propensity towards addiction, they may already have a high tolerance to the substance and must consume much more just to get those relaxing effects. Some may abuse both alcohol and benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Valium, to enhance the calming effect of each substance, only exacerbating the problem.

High functioning addicts

Executives with a substance abuse problem may hide it well, continuing to perform exceptionally at their position. These high-functioning types manage to be productive and continue to excel at their job in spite of their increasing dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Often, at least at first, the problem is only detected by those who work closest with them, such as an administrative assistant or a subordinate, who are repeatedly challenged with the boss’s no-shows for important appointments, botched projects, or forgotten corporate events.

However, these inner circle folks are the very people who may become enablers, attempting to cover for the executive and obfuscate the situation by going to great lengths to hide the substance abuse problem from coworkers and higher ups. While their motivations may be sincere, these enablers only succeed in allowing their leader’s addiction to progress by accommodating the situation and providing cover for them.

As the substance use disorder becomes more entrenched, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the reality. Work performance and productivity begin to slip, family and work obligations are neglected, personal hygiene is ignored, and the signs of addiction can no longer be hidden.

Intervening before things spiral

Becoming aware of a high-ranking executive’s problem with alcohol or drugs presents a delicate problem. You wish to suggest they get some help, but might fear putting your own job in jeopardy. Most people who reach the top of their field are strong-willed, prideful people, and may become insulted by any suggestion that they may need help.

Highly visible professionals with a substance use disorder are often hesitant to seek help, worried their reputations would suffer if it became known that they went to rehab. The stigma associated with addiction is a formidable barrier to treatment, especially for high-end executives or celebrities. Privacy concerns can be a substantial deterrent to getting the help they need, unfortunately.

In the US, there are federal and state laws, however, that protect employees from retribution for seeking help for a behavioural health issue and dictate what an employer can reveal.

Human resource departments are increasingly installing protocols that guide employees when it becomes evident that a coworker in the company has a substance abuse problem. Concerned coworkers should approach the situation in a gentle but proactive manner, with an attitude of sincere concern for the person – that perhaps they are in trouble and could use some help. Being proactive is going to yield better results, as opposed to being reactive.

Meet the executive where they are

When someone has reached a certain level of status in their chosen career, it may be very difficult to admit to themselves or anyone else that they may be in need of help for a substance use disorder. These high level executives are used to being in control. To admit they are sick or addicted may make them feel weak and vulnerable. People of a certain stature are used to calling the shots, not acquiescing to the rules and regulations of a rehab programme.

This is why a treatment programme that is designed for this specific personality, the executive who possesses the attributes associated with success and power, provides the best shot of attracting them into treatment.

These executive programmes must be equipped with the technology and accommodations someone in a high-powered position will feel right at home with. The programme must appeal to their tastes and standards, as well as provide office equipment and the freedom to use their electronic devices in order to continue to engage at work while in treatment.

What to expect at an executive detox and rehab programme

An executive programme typically provides upscale amenities and accommodations, creating a comfortable environment that reflects the standards to which these high profile professionals have become accustomed. The detox and withdrawal phase of treatment will be medically monitored, using a variety of interventions to diminish withdrawal discomforts.

Rehab is available in either an outpatient or residential setting. Professional demands and time constraints may dictate the outpatient option, which provides the executive with ample freedom to continue to conduct business while receiving therapy. But no matter how demanding someone’s job is, it is imperative to prioritise health and wellness above all professional aspirations, and an executive programme can help make that happen.

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Image credit: Freepik


Patty Bell has been a professional in the drug and alcohol addiction industry for over 20 years. She is currently the Family Relations Manager/Interventionist at Solutions 4 Recovery.


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