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High-Powered Executives: Why Your Drive for Success Makes You Prone to Addiction

why executives are prone to addiction

High-Powered Executives: Why Your Drive for Success Makes You Prone to Addiction

The face of addiction in the United States is changing. No longer is drug abuse seen as an affliction of the uneducated, low-income population; it’s the upper-middle class and the high-powered business executives who are often prone to addiction and are checking into rehabs for substance abuse treatment.  The very traits that make them successful at work may be what’s landing them there. If you recognize one or more warning signs of addiction in a top executive at work, contact the substance abuse counselors at Behavioral Rehabilitation Services to find out how you can help.

Why Business Execs are Prone to Addiction

Recent research has shown that, contrary to popular belief, people who are more successful professionally, and who have higher IQs, are equally – if not more – likely to struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction than their less-educated, blue-collar counterparts. In fact, a 2013 study conducted by David Linden, Ph.D., a neuroscience professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, found that the personality traits that make for a successful business executive – drive, determination, novelty-seeking and risk-taking – are the very same traits that you might find in an addict. According to Linden, the irresistible pleasure that high-powered business executives derive from professional success, especially from risky business ventures, is borne of the same brain pathways that make others prone to addiction as well.

While it may be tempting to believe that addicts are addicts because they get above-average pleasure from drinking or using drugs, Linden says, “the genetic variations that predispose a person to being an addict seem to be mutations that dampen the dopamine system,” or the brain’s reward system. In other words, while a normal person gets a certain amount of pleasure from having one or two drinks, an individual with certain genetic variations that inhibit the reward pathway of the brain may need ten drinks to get to that same place. This same concept applies to high-powered executives who derive extreme pleasure from professional success. As Linden says, “My strong, strong suspicion, is that what makes some people more likely to rise to the top is the same thing that makes them more likely to be addicts.”

Stress and Trauma Leading to Addiction

Most of us would agree that the best leaders in the business world, those who are driven by their desire to succeed at work, are wired differently from the general population, and it’s these unique genetic traits that may make successful CEOs more susceptible to substance abuse. Behavioral Rehab Services’ own CEO and founder, Per Wickstrom, was an addict in his youth and has this to say about execs and addiction, “My hope is to see, within my lifetime, a nation where we do not have to worry about drug and alcohol addiction within our businesses.” Hand in hand with genetic predisposition though, there is also a common belief that high achievers in the business world are driven to succeed because of certain environmental factors, such as a significant trauma or stress that happened early in their lives. “The vast majority of high achievers didn’t have some sort of basic needs met as children, so they’re driven very, very hard to succeed,” says addiction researcher and author Constance Scharff, Ph.D. “But the pain that goes with that is also what they’re self-medicating for.” Job-related stress is also a common risk factor for substance abuse and addiction, and high-powered executives have no shortage of stress which in turn makes them more prone to addiction.

Contact the Addiction Recovery Counselors at BRS Today

The prevalence of substance abuse among business executives is difficult to accurately gauge, as many are high-functioning alcoholics or drug addicts who successfully conceal their substance abuse from their friends, coworkers and loved ones. Fortunately, there are rehab programs, like Behavioral Rehabilitation Services, that are specifically geared towards treating business executives and getting them back to work, where they can succeed without the aid of illicit substances. Says Scharff, “We’ve never seen someone who hasn’t at least doubled in productivity after treatment.” If you or a loved one is facing an addiction to alcohol or drugs, contact Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today at (877) 926-5530, to discuss your treatment options with an addiction recovery expert.

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