Addiction is a problem that affects millions of people around the world, and many of us know at least one person struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Still, the majority of people in this country don’t truly understand what drives a person’s addiction, and how even the most successful leaders in the business world can fall victim to substance abuse and possess addictive tendencies. In fact, the impulsive and compulsive tendencies and traits that compel an addict to continue using drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences may be the very same traits that fuel some of our most successful leaders in the United States, simultaneously driving their success and making them prone to addiction. If you know a successful individual who may be at risk for addiction, contact Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today to speak with a qualified addiction recovery counselor.
What is an Addictive Personality?
As a whole, our society tends to file drug addicts and alcoholics away in a convenient, albeit inaccurate, category. Addicts are weak-willed individuals with no discipline, self-control, or drive to succeed in life. They lack the morals and willpower to control their impulses, and that’s why they fall victim to their addiction time and time again. Successful people, on the other hand, are driven, determined and resilient, and these traits are the key to their success. The problem with this common perspective lies in the fact that successful people possess many of the same personality traits as addicts, and while these traits may make them more prone to addiction, they also help them succeed in the professional arena. In fact, some of the most revered figures in history – Alexander the Great, Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley and Winston Churchill, for example – had addictive tendencies and personalities, defined as a specific set of personality traits that predispose an individual to developing an addiction. Some of the traits that factor into an addictive personality include:
- Heightened stress and lack of coping skills
- A sense of social alienation and a tolerance for deviance
- Valuing nonconformity
- A weak commitment to socially valued goals for achievement
- Experiencing other mental health disorders
- Being disconnected and cautious
- A desire to take risks
- Being obsessive and compulsive
- The inability to self-regulate
- Being adventurous
In regards to successful leaders, the impulsivity trait that spurs their desire to take risks and experiment with new, potentially dangerous activities is likely the main contributing factor to their addictive tendencies, and a 2010 study published by Reuters ties this hyper-impulsive behavior to the levels of dopamine in the brain and the individual’s sensitivity to the neurotransmitter. According to the study, “People with high levels of the hormone dopamine in the brain, and low sensitivity to it tend to be greater risk takers and may be more prone to addictive behavior drug abuse and gambling.” A person suffering from an addictive personality tends to spend excessive time on a behavior or activity, which could be anything from gambling to exercising to having sex to working, and an addiction occurs when the person’s engagement in the activity or experience begins to affect his quality of life. Many people with addictive tendencies and personalities isolate themselves from others in order to hide their addiction and to keep up the appearance of a successful and happy life, which is the definition of a high-functioning addict.
Why are Certain People Prone to Addiction?
Decades of research has identified pleasure as the driving force behind addiction – the reason addicts continue to use drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences – and studies suggest that the irresistible pleasure high-powered business leaders derive from professional success is borne of the same brain reward pathways that make addicts a slave to their substance of choice. The most important reward pathway in the brain is the mesolimbic dopamine system, which is responsible for producing feelings of pleasure in response to natural behaviors, like consuming food, drinking water or engaging in social interactions. However, the brain’s reward center can also be artificially activated by certain drugs, like cocaine, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, which carry a high risk for addiction.
When a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, their addiction “hijacks” the reward center, and the brain is essentially rewired to release pleasure chemicals for actions that are harmful. With repeated use, the drugs begin to mimic these pleasure chemicals, or cause an overproduction of them in the brain, flooding neuroreceptors with the neurotransmitter dopamine and causing the “high” that is associated with drug abuse. Over time, the brain becomes unable to produce normal levels of the pleasure chemicals on its own, and, as a result, craves the drugs that will restore dopamine levels to normal, which is the very nature of drug addiction.
How Do Addictive Tendencies Affect Successful Leaders?
Drugs and alcohol aren’t the only things that can activate the brain’s pleasure circuits. Any action or behavior that triggers a pleasure buzz can become addictive tendencies, so to speak, and successful executives who find a compulsive pleasure in high-risk, high-reward business ventures may possess the same risk-taking personality traits often found in addicts. While these personality traits may serve them well in the business world, they also make them more prone to addiction. A person with an addiction-prone personality is more likely to act on impulses and has a hard time dealing with delayed gratification, much like the successful business leaders we admire for their tenacity, creativity, hunger for innovation, willingness to take risks and refusal to settle for less than the very best. Unfortunately, this type of person also tends to suffer from some sort of depression or low self-esteem and typically has a low tolerance for stress, and abusing drugs or alcohol often becomes a coping mechanism for dealing with these issues.
How to Spot an Addiction Disorder
For successful business leaders, hiding their addiction from others may be the only way they can continue to use without someone stepping in to stop them, and this often makes it incredibly difficult for family members to spot an addiction disorder in their loved one. The following are some physical, behavioral and emotional signs to watch out for if you believe your loved one may be addicted to drugs or alcohol:
- Dilated pupils
- Change in eating habits
- Appearing pale or undernourished
- Excessive sniffing and runny nose
- Being overactive or underactive
- Repetitive speech patterns
- Missing school or work
- Legal or financial problems
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Inability to deal with stress
- Confused easily
- Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
- Isolating or being secretive about activities
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Being argumentative
Contact BRS Rehab Today for Help
Most of us would agree that super successful business leaders are wired differently than most other people, but what many of us don’t realize is that the personality traits that we admire in super successful leaders and that make them high achievers in the professional world – namely compulsive risk-taking and novelty-seeking behavior – are also central to the personality of an addict. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today. Our substance abuse counselors understand the importance of discretion in drug addiction treatment, especially for successful business leaders, and are trained to develop personalized treatment plans based on the unique recovery needs of each individual client.