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Drug Abuse and Addiction Among Executives and Professionals

executive drug abuse

By Ken Seeley, Founder and CEO, Ken Seeley Communities

You know the signs of the trailblazing workaholic. He seems to have unlimited reserves of energy, remaining laser-focused on his work for hours on end while his mortal colleagues are fading fast. You may scratch your head in awe of his unique ability to plow through the stacks of work in front of him, wondering what he had for breakfast that morning. Well, it may not be the Wheaties.

There is a growing problem among today’s executives to rely on the aid of drugs, whether prescription or illicit, to keep up with the demands of their chosen profession. Those who have risen to the top tiers of their career may feel the pressure to keep up lest someone younger swoop in and push them out. Hours are longer and the stakes are increasingly higher in the white-collar professions. But leaning on drugs as a necessary tool of the trade can have disastrous consequences.

As a group, high-level executives and professionals tend to be naturally driven and competitive, accounting for their rise to the top of the heap. These high achievers are the risk-takers, those who thrive on challenge. These traits may align with the risk and reward response associated with drug abuse.

Young white-collar workers have a 2-3 times higher risk of developing a substance use disorder compared to young adults in lower income professions, according to an article published in Development and Psychopathology, May 31, 2017. This propensity may stem directly from the high rates of Adderall abuse on college campuses, which could segue right into the workplace, or possibly escalate to cocaine abuse.

When someone reaches the C-suite status, there are those around them who will conceal or enable the individual’s drug abuse. A sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” unspoken understanding exists that serves to protect the status quo, especially if the individual is high-functioning and integral to the company’s success. Eventually, however, regardless of status or professional stature, the addiction will become a problem.

When the elephant in the room is finally acknowledged, the next challenge is to make the important decisions regarding treatment. The executive will desire a setting that is sensitive to the need for discretion and confidentiality, and that will accommodate his or her need to continue to utilize electronic devices. Even so, there are barriers that can deter a professional from seeking treatment.

Signs of Substance Abuse Among Professionals

Drug use among management or staff can have a significant impact on the work culture. Even when professionals are covert about their substance abuse, there are still ramifications in the workplace. The impact of an executive’s drug abuse can lead to such things as embezzlement or theft as he or she attempts to finance an expensive habit. Also, the individual may make drug transactions in the workplace, leading to scandal and reduced morale. The effects of some drugs of abuse may lead to aggravated assault or sexual assault involving coworkers.

So how does one know when a professional is involved in substance abuse? When a colleague is struggling with a drug or alcohol use disorder there will usually be some signs exhibited on the job. These may include:

  • Declining job performance
  • Missing important meetings
  • Hand tremors (alcoholism)
  • Decline in appearance and hygiene
  • Being consistently late to work
  • Mood swings or moodiness
  • Becoming less social at work
  • Avoiding work related functions
  • Excessive absenteeism
  • Discussing financial problems at work
  • Facial bloating
  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • Manic spells of hyper-productivity (associated with stimulant abuse)

Most human resource departments have a well-defined process for dealing with issues such as drug abuse among employees. This may include discretely clearing the way, guiding the professional toward obtaining treatment. The executive, and all employees, will find their jobs protected, in the absence of illegal activities related to the addiction, through federal laws regarding the issues of discrimination and privacy.

Busy Professionals Resist Getting Addiction Treatment

Most people who find themselves with a substance addiction will resist admitting their need for treatment, at least initially. This is due to a number of things, but mostly because the individual is not yet ready to commit to sobriety. Other treatment barriers usually include lack of insurance or the financial means for rehab, or being unable to take time off away from work and family obligations.

The executive who struggles with addiction has slightly different deterrents to getting treatment. He or she may have the insurance and the means, but resistance can involve other issues, such as:

  • The social stigma that clings to individuals in need of substance treatment is still very prevalent. For those individuals who have a position of status within a company or are a public figure, the fear of enduring damage to their professional reputation is a significant roadblock for getting to rehab. These people may have cultivated a sterling reputation in their chosen field and worry that a revealed stint to rehab could tarnish it. They may be concerned that people would judge them as reckless, weak, or irresponsible, and that their future career could be marred. The concerns about protecting the privacy and reputations are enhanced within the increasingly digital landscape. While understandable, these concerns should not deter professionals from seeking the help they need.
  • No one likes to admit to a problem with a substance. Kneejerk denial is very common among all who battle addiction, but among top-tier professionals who have achieved a certain level of success it may seem a sign of weakness to admit they need help. But when the fallout from the substance abuse becomes obvious, and consequences begin to pile up, it is very hard to cling to that denial. The early signs of trouble are usually explained away as the effects of long hours, stress, or lack of sleep. But as consumption accelerates, the symptoms of addiction become hard to ignore. Still many will resist the idea that they have a problem and avoid going for treatment.
  • Achieving a certain level of success depends on a willingness to do whatever it takes to make it. Today’s executives are often required to put in an incredible investment of time, even on weekends, evenings, and vacations. The heavy work schedule makes the idea of removing oneself for an extended period to go to rehab simply unthinkable. Some business owners may be intimately involved in daily operations and cannot leave for a lengthy period. Many professionals are responsible for heading up significant projects, including international projects, with dozens or hundreds of people reporting to them. Available time to obtain treatment for the substance use disorder becomes a key barrier to getting to rehab.

Treatment Solutions For Professionals

Although a high-ranking executive or professional is accustomed to being in control, there will come a time along the trajectory of addiction when the need for professional help becomes undeniable. Executive detox and rehab programs have made special accommodations for the needs and concerns of the busy professional in need of treatment in the following way. Most rehab programs geared toward professionals:

  •  Are situated in remote, secluded locations, allowing for an enhanced level of privacy and confidentiality
  • Offer flexibility to accommodate the professional’s need to have access to electronic devices for remaining connected and engaged at work
  • Feature efficient scheduling for delivering treatment services in a tight time frame to accommodate the time restrictions
  • Offer both outpatient and residential drug treatment programming to accommodate the need for flexibility

What the Professional Can Expect in Treatment

Following a medical detox period, the individual will begin the treatment phase of recovery. This can be provided in either an outpatient or residential format, depending on the severity of the substance use disorder and scheduling constraints due to the individual’s job demands.

An outpatient program allows the individual to stay at home while going through the program, where a residential program involves an extended stay at a treatment center. Both will include psychotherapy sessions, group therapy, classes, and relapse prevention planning, with the residential program providing a more intensive and comprehensive scope. Once the treatment plan is completed, continuing care is recommended, which includes weekly counseling sessions and participation in N.A., A.A., or a similar recovery program.

Lifestyle Changes to Reinforce Sobriety After Treatment

As significant a step as completing detox and rehab program is, that is only the beginning of the recovery journey. To sustain recovery, ongoing efforts must be made that will reinforce a new sober lifestyle. For a Type-A professional who has a history of working in a pressure cooker, there will need to be a revised approach to the usual routine.

Solidifying recovery means making fundamental lifestyle changes following rehab. Stress is the number one trigger for relapse, so learning ways to manage stress is imperative to recovery success. This involves learning key coping skills, such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, or meditation to help regulate stress and anxiety. Establishing new healthy habits, including shifting to a clean diet, getting regular exercise, and getting quality sleep are all protective factors for a new substance-free lifestyle.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author

Ken Seeley is an internationally acclaimed interventionist, having years of experience in this field. Certified as a Board Registered Interventionist-Level 2, Seeley has worked full-time in the business of recovery and intervention since 1989. He is a regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC on the topics of addiction and intervention. He was one of three featured interventionists on the Emmy Award winning television series, Intervention, on A&E. He is also the author of “Face It and Fix It,” about overcoming the denial that leads to common addictions while bringing guidance to those struggling with addiction. Ken Seeley is the founder and C.E.O. of Ken Seeley Communities, a full spectrum addiction recovery program located in Palm Springs, California.

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The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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