populations who struggle with addiction, many seemingly successful individuals also struggle with this condition. High-achieving, wealthy people in white-collar careers experience substance use disorders at high rates, often beginning drug abuse as students and then continuing the problem when they enter a competitive, stressful workforce. Some professions that involve stressful lifestyles are at greater risk for addiction and substance abuse than others.
In fact, according to a study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the white-collar jobs with the highest rates of heavy alcohol abuse include:
- Management: 9.9 percent
- Real estate, rental, and leasing: 8.5 percent
- Information: 8.1 percent
- Professional, scientific, and technical services: 7.7 percent
- Finance and insurance: 7.4 percent
And these same business professions indicate high rates of diagnosed substance use disorder in the past year:
- Management: 11.4 percent
- Real estate, rental, and leasing: 10 percent
- Information: 9.8 percent
- Finance and insurance: 9.4 percent
- Professional, scientific, and technical services: 8.8 percent
And perhaps most concerning is the finding that among the higher levels of educated professionals, substance abuse rates were on the rise.
One may question, “Why? What’s behind high-level professionals becoming addicted?” For starters, it’s noteworthy that a number of traits are commonly associated with executive professionals, especially CEOs and COOs, including:
- A drive to succeed
- Obsession with work and success
- Dedication to the job
- Novelty- and pleasure-seeking
It’s also been found these same characteristics are associated with the risk of substance abuse and addiction.
Specifically, the fulfillment gained from activities like successfully closing a business deal releases endorphins and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are associated with the brain’s “reward center.” Similarly, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other substances also release neurotransmitters associated with elevated pleasure.
And according to Dr. David Linden, a neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine and author of The Compass of Pleasure, the pleasure derived from risky or novel business success is produced by those same neural pathways that make substance use overpowering to some. “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.”
If you, a loved one or an associate are a business professional exhibiting any of the signs of substance abuse or addiction—see list below—it’s important, perhaps even life-saving—to find help locally. And perhaps the best place to start is locating an evidence-based treatment center, especially one that has experience catering to the needs of executives seeking recovery. It also can be valuable if the selected treatment center includes medical detox services, as well as both outpatient and residential rehabilitation.
Entering an executive rehab center can not only help professionals address a substance use disorder (a.k.a. chemical dependency), but also dramatically improve their relationships, and the balance between their work lives and mental, physical and emotional health. The most important step in recovery—which often is found to be the most challenging—is the first one. Reaching out for help, especially for those who are used to finding success on their own, can be daunting, most assuredly. But there are countless professionals who will swear that the freedom and beneficial results in their lives after recovering from addiction far outweigh the difficulties one must overcome to get into treatment. The help is available; one simply has to choose to say “yes” to accepting it.
 Linden, David J. The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good