Drug Use and Addiction Among High-Earning Professionals

For many people, drugs or alcohol are an “escape” from the daily grind. Ongoing stressors aren’t easy to deal with, so getting high lets them forget about their problems. But instead of making them go away, substance abuse only leads to more hardships, including personal, financial and professional ruin. Despite the risks, many people with demanding careers or lifestyles continue to rely on drugs or alcohol to get through the day.

If you’re a high-earning professional like an executive or senior manager, you know how brutal your schedule can be. Long hours at the office, a heavy workload and tight deadlines can take a toll, and you might get exhausted from the constant pressure you’re under. Maybe you even use drugs or alcohol to get by, but think that having a successful career makes it okay. In reality, numerous studies point to stress as a major risk factor for substance abuse and addiction, which can affect anyone regardless of income or occupation.

Troubling Statistics

Data collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that executives, managers and other well-paid professionals experience higher rates of substance abuse than many other workers. The survey looks at drug and alcohol use by occupation, and individuals in the ‘management’ category are all employed in leadership or supervisor positions. Some key highlights from the survey include:

  • 12.1% of respondents reported drug use in the past month
  • 11.4% of respondents were diagnosed with a substance use disorder
  • 9.9 % of respondents reported heavy or binge drinking in the past month

Because many executives, CEOs and senior managers often have heightened concerns about their privacy or reputation, these numbers may be underreported. Substance abuse can also go unnoticed longer in high-earning professionals, despite having a serious problem. Compared to other addicts, they’re better able to keep up appearances and dispel any suspicions, so friends, family and colleagues may not notice right away that things have gotten out of control.

Hiding a Bigger Problem

High-earning professionals have more resources to mask their problems with drug or alcohol use. While the average person might hit rock bottom after missing their house payments or getting arrested, those with wealth and power are largely shielded from these consequences. For one, they probably won’t run out of money or drain their bank accounts to get a fix. Where other addicts might turn to crime to support their habit, their high-earning counterparts can often afford the added expense and have fewer brushes with the law.

High-earning professionals are also more likely to be protected by friends, colleagues and co-workers who enable their behavior. Out of concern for their jobs, it’s not uncommon for staff to be hesitant about confronting their boss, while others might actively cover for them to make it seem like they’re still functioning at a high level. According to some studies, more than 75% of now-sober executives reported having help from secretaries or assistants in hiding their addiction, while 60% received additional protection from fellow executives while using. Workplace culture itself can also enable addictive behavior, especially when drinking is encouraged during business meetings or outings.

For these and other reasons, many professionals can appear to be high-functioning even in the throes of addiction. They might look like they have things under control, but their resources allow them to hide the extent of their drug or alcohol problem. But as time goes on, the effects will start to show, negatively impacting their job performance, attendance and productivity. Addiction will also jeopardize their health, wellness and professional reputation, putting everything they’ve worked for at risk.

Lasting Effects of Addiction

Addiction can be insidious in the beginning. At first, getting high can seem like a harmless way to blow off some steam after a stressful week. But it doesn’t take long to get hooked and become dependent on drugs or alcohol, no matter how careful you are. This leads to a number of problems down the road, regardless of your career or income.

The most obvious effects of addiction are the physical ones. Bloodshot eyes, weight loss, insomnia and withdrawal are common symptoms of substance abuse, but it can cause more lasting damage to the brain and body. With regular use, drugs can increase your risk of heart disease, liver damage and certain types of cancers. Depending on the substance, changes in appearance might also be visible to friends, family and co-workers.

The mental effects of addiction are less obvious, but can have an even more devastating impact on your quality of life. Although many people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with anxiety, depression or mood swings, substance abuse can actually cause these mental health symptoms to occur or worsen existing ones. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than half of addicts (53%) have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

High-earning professionals are not immune to the mental health problems that often appear alongside addiction. A recent study found that 49% of entrepreneurs reported struggling with a mental health condition and felt overworked, stressed and fatigued. Further research also showed that some mental health issues are more prevalent among executives and entrepreneurs. Experts believe this is because the same traits that make them great leaders (risk-taking, perfectionism, hyper-vigilance) also cause them more stress or anxiety. Since both are known risk factors for substance abuse, it’s crucial to address the mental health needs of high-earning professionals during the recovery process.

Treatment Options for High-Earning Professionals

One of the biggest concerns for professionals with busy or demanding jobs is how to fit treatment into their schedules. After all, inpatient rehabs require months away from work or home to get sober, which isn’t possible for most executives. This can lead some to avoid rehab for as long as possible. Fortunately, more flexible options are now available, allowing individuals to start their recovery with minimal disruption to their careers.

At Choice House, we provide a specialized intensive outpatient program (IOP) for professionals, which lets CEOs, executives, senior managers and other high-earners keep working while in rehab. Requiring 10 clinical hours a week, our treatment services take place in the evening, leaving plenty of time to maintain normal responsibilities during the day. This approach gives individuals a structured, supportive environment and equips them with the tools needed to stay sober. It also helps professionals address the root cause of their addiction and focus on improving their mental health to ensure a deep and lasting recovery.

Although getting sober is challenging, high-earning professionals will notice the benefits in every aspect of their lives. Their health, mental wellness and personal relationships will improve, but they’ll also see a difference in their job performance, productivity and work quality. Without the distraction of drugs or alcohol, it’s easier to focus on what’s important, allowing executives to become even better leaders for their team, company or clients.

High-earning professionals don’t fit the typical “mold” of an addict, but experience high rates of substance abuse nonetheless due to issues like stress, pressure and anxiety. If you’re an executive struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help. Choice House’s IOP for Professionals can jumpstart your recovery with flexible, supportive care that fits into your schedule. We provide high-quality treatment in the Rocky Mountains that gives you the skills, tools and resources to stay sober without jeopardizing your career. To learn more, contact us today at 303-578-4975.

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