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The Executive Addict

A tragic irony of alcohol and drug dependency is that it often strikes the most outstanding of our population. In the professional world, it is estimated that as much as 10% of the leadership ranks has a dependency issue. In the corporate world, this problem is often ignored or poorly managed. The cost of business institutions ignoring the problem can be millions of dollars due to lost productivity, poor decision making, and reduced organizational effectiveness. Recognizing and dealing with the dependency of a leader is extremely difficult. These individuals may have little or no direct supervision. They normally have flexible schedules, and can schedule their own time with no explanation. As well, the lack of accountability at the top professional levels can shield fellow employees from knowledge of the leader’s personal addiction.

A corporate leader is a powerful individual, having large numbers of people in their direct supervision and with the opportunity to influence others’ professional future in a positive or negative manner. In this hierarchy, subordinates who do notice issues will not confront their supervisor out of fear of consequences. These leaders, by the very nature of their position, demand a lot of loyalty which acts against any others questioning their behavior. Most importantly, professional leaders by their very nature have outstanding personal social and management skills. They are problem solvers and risk takers by nature. When those skills are turned to masking a deficiency, this addict is very adept at disguising his/her weakness and, unfortunately, their professional skills actually increase the depths of addiction through the very talents that got to them to an elevated position. The very success of enabling one’s own addiction will create in the leader a delusion of confidence and success even though actual performance will decline. All of these factors contribute to deeper and deeper dependency, so that the professional leader becomes a severely dependent addict.

Corporate leadership to this day is a largely male subculture, with traditional male values such as tolerance of excess alcohol consumption, an emphasis on strength and avoidance of weakness, and the refusal to seek assistance when it is needed. The image of a corporate leader is a demanding one, and brings high stress to those in that role. Qualities such as strong character, intelligence, good decision making, endurance, and being highly competitive create a very pressurized environment that can quickly lead to substance dependencies. For the individual coping with addiction, it is very difficult to maintain the self image of the corporate leader. Admitting that you have lost control over your life and that your alcohol or drug use is out of control is inconsistent with the traditional executive image. The manager will believe he/she can manage away an addiction. In reality, an addiction is a disease and cannot be cured, but the professional has the arrogant self confidence to believe the situation can be handled alone.

The erratic behavior of all addicts will become evident in the professional leader. Decision making suffers, judgment is compromised and behavior tends to fluctuate. The corporation itself will begin to reflect these same issues. Clarity of mission and goals will decrease, function will be less effective, confusion and conflict will grow. In large corporations it may take years to recognize the source of disintegration, as the leader is shielded by a flexible schedule, lack of daily accountability, and distance from intimate contact with the majority of staff. As well, those closest to the afflicted individual may well be involved in typical enabling behaviors, such as covering for an absent boss or working extra hours to get the extra work done. In the end, however, it will become clear where the lack of direction and clarity originates. The professional leader will be revealed as unworthy of that exalted role they have held. And the leader will learn, hopefully, that this issue was a giant unspoken secret among his peers, that created a very tense and unproductive environment.

Fortunately, in today’s world, many corporate cultures are beginning to recognize the risks associated with professional leadership. Addiction can be defined as an occupational or business problem, and recovery can be construed as a set of strategies to save and advance one’s career. Many corporations will support treatment and recovery, through programs designed specifically to meet the needs of such individuals. Origins Treatment and Recovery is one such program, wherein the professional will spend time in coaching and therapy to deal with his/her unique needs. Addicted executive patients develop a support group and receive important information and education about alcoholism and drug abuse. They also receive the needed individual coaching to build a foundation for recovery. They will learn about the actual professional character traits that enable addiction, and how return to a leadership role without succumbing to addiction once again.

Time will be spent on developing an appropriate lifestyle that addresses stress management and a balance of work and personal time. Emphasis will be placed on having a spiritual center. The professional attributes that are so demanding – such as perfectionism, control, excessive work/work addiction – will be assessed and will be seen as the risk they are. The recovering executive will learn how to identify and resolve dysfunctional habits and beliefs that have been self-destructive. Issues of professional control will be in focus, and and the leader will learn of the need to release control as a step to recovery. As part of that process, it is beneficial to infuse a sense of spirituality, serenity, and well being into the professionals’ life to provide balance and well-being. It is during this period that unique personal issues come into focus, such as family imbalances or psychological issues.

Professional addiction is one of the most untreated treatable problems. Compared to other socio-economic groups, professional leaders exhibit recovery success rates of 75 – 90%. Once recovered, the professional can return to work with reported improvement in job stability and higher earnings. The key is adherence to the basic principles of recovery, and dedicated to sobriety. AA/CA involvement is a key element to success. With dedication, hard work, and a “new awakening”, professionals report great advancement in their careers, more meaning associated with their jobs, increased family and personal life, higher levels of happiness and stability, and significant economic gains. The challenges and stress of leadership can become the foundation for a future of stability and enrichment.

Are you, are is someone you know, and addicted professional or executive? If so, please call us at 561-841-1296 or by clicking the contact button below.

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If you or someone you love has a substance use or mental health disorder, Origins Behavioral HealthCare can help. We will work alongside you to provide the most comprehensive treatment available.