A Business Executive’s Key Barriers to Treatment: Identifying and Confronting Your Addiction

People in high-powered, high-stress jobs are susceptible to addiction just like the rest of the population, but they are unlikely to seek treatment. Barriers to treatment might include denial, fear of stigma, and attachments to professional or family responsibilities. It’s important to recognize that the effects of addiction will most often trump your concerns around treatment, and there are residential treatment facilities designed with executives in mind, so you can receive treatment tailored to your needs.

Tim was the first one off the plane. Sitting in first class, he basically always was. As he got into the car that was waiting to pick him up, he downed one last mini-bottle from the flight, and then he got ready for his meeting. He’d been drinking since the plane took off, and really, since he woke up. But he was a pro. As the lead attorney for a financial industry consulting and lobbying group, he prided himself on being able to keep it together, to keep it hidden. After meeting with his boss, Anne, he walked away smiling and already looking forward to the next drink in the car. Anne didn’t know he was drunk. She didn’t know he could barely remember the last time he was totally sober.

Anne was relieved too. Tim never seemed to notice that she had an incredible amount of painkillers running through her system. They had been prescribed for headaches, originally, caused from overwork and no sleep. Those conditions never changed. The painkillers got her flying through the day, and now she doesn’t know how she can work, especially at such a high level, without them.

And no one knows. They both go on with their days, with their jobs, and with their lives, trapped in a cycle of addiction, afraid to tell anyone, and convincing themselves they are fine.

They feel alone. They don’t have to be.

Why Executives Are Prone to Addiction

What Tim and Anne are going through is tragically common among people with high-powered, stressful, and intense careers. Addiction is becoming an epidemic among C-Suite executives and people with similar positions. Somewhere between 21-36% of lawyers drink at levels consistent with alcohol abuse (that’s as much as five times the national average). Surgeons have a similarly high level of drug abuse. And while there aren’t as many statistics on executives, it is believed that they suffer from addiction at a disproportionately high level.

It’s not had to imagine why. After all, if you are in an executive or managerial position, you hold enormous responsibility with concordant levels of stress. You are responsible for making major decisions that can impact thousands of people, if not many times more. You are dealing with enormous amounts of money, facing complicated global issues, and, in the new economy, can basically never stop. Communications technology means there is never a minute when you can’t be reached to make a difficult decision or solve a problem that is happening halfway around the world.

It’s a never-ending lifestyle, and if you are in this position, you may recognize it.

You take a drink at the end of the night to unwind, and then a few more. You take uppers before a meeting so that you don’t seem tired from working all hours the whole week before. It makes things easier, and you drink more, use more, get identical prescriptions from multiple doctors. It’s easy, and like everything else in life, you feel you can overcome it through hard work and the sheer determination that got you where you are today.

But high-powered people suffer from the ravages of brain-colonizing addiction the same as everyone else. The difference is that, for a number of reasons, they don’t seek treatment. That’s dangerous and ignores the terrible reality of addiction: it can win if you let it. It can take over who you are and take away everything you’ve worked for.

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The 12 Most Common Barriers That Keep Executives from Seeking Treatment

A comprehensive, private, residential treatment center that understands the needs of executives can help them overcome this addiction that threatens everything. But too often, they refuse. They avoid treatment, from worrying over one of the following stumbling blocks.

The feeling that you aren’t like other addicts.

Media have given us a stereotypical image of an addict: broken, on the streets, unable to function. Executives know they can function. After all, you got where you are today and are still incredibly successful and good at your job. People at this level disassociate themselves from the addiction, from that picture of an addict—often until it is too late because they can’t reconcile their self-image with what they understand to be an addict. The thing to realize is that anyone can be an addict.

Fear of being away from work.

At a high level, people believe that they can’t leave for the time it takes to receive proper treatment. I am too important, and things will fall apart. What I’ve built will crumble. Interestingly, people believe this even if their addiction has caused their performance to suffer. But certain treatment facilities can work with them, ensuring their business continues even in the midst of rehab.

Fear of losing the job.

This is especially true if their work has been substandard, which leads to more stress, an increase in use, worse work, and more fear of leaving. It’s a terrible and trapping cycle. There are laws in place that allow you to seek addiction treatment without putting your job at risk.

Financial concerns.

Addictions can often cause even the very successful to lose money—from the substance itself to poor decisions made while high. These financial pressures (and more quotidian ones) can make people reluctant to leave work and pay for the help they truly need. You need, instead, to consider the true cost of addiction and determine just how much taking the time for rehab can save.

Letting down the team.

Loyalty to a team and not wanting to let them down is admirable, and it’s a common reason why high-powered addicts don’t want to seek inpatient treatment. You know that there are people counting on you for guidance, leadership, and professional mentoring. You feel that admitting addiction and getting help will let people down and hurt them, but the same can be said for not taking responsibility for your needs, and your contribution will eventually suffer along with you.

Fear of losing a big deal.

Signing a new client, closing a deal, arguing a big case: these are the successes that drive high-powered executives and that help their businesses. You may feel that you can’t take time off because what you’ve been working on will fall apart without you, not realizing the slow crumbling that addiction has already caused.

Rationalizing behavior.

One thing we commonly hear is a variation on, I only drink when I’m stressed. After all, they rationalize, it can’t be an addiction if I have a good reason for drinking. Of course, in their jobs, they are always stressed. Executives are often able to convince themselves that their reasons are better than the truth of their suffering.


I can’t be abusing prescriptions because a doctor prescribed them. Denial is a powerful force for any addict. It allows you to rationalize behavior (such as doctor shopping to stock up on prescriptions). A key to success is self-confidence and self-belief, but that coin can be easily flipped to dangerous disbelief in reality.

Fear of stigma.

Despite the widespread addiction rates in high-level positions, there is still a culture of shame around addiction. When you are at a high level, there are always people looking to knock you off. Too many people see addiction as a weakness or a failure and so are very reluctant to admit they are caught in it. This fear of weakness is particularly acute for people who have achieved success in fields that value one particular ideal of strength.

Childcare/custody issues.

Long hours and high stress levels have led to high rates of divorces in executives. When children are involved, and custody is at stake, admitting to being an alcoholic or a drug addict can be like handing a weapon to your ex’s lawyer. The tragedy is that love for children causes people to stick with the sort of behavior that can drive them away, or even endanger them.

Fear of a permanent record.

It’s not just the perceived shame from peers that executives fear: it’s also a matter of not wanting this condition in an insurance record. It isn’t something people want following them around their whole lives. Treatment under a pseudonym can avoid this, and getting control of your addiction can keep you from any messy and high-profile legal repercussions.

Professional success makes denial stronger.

After all, if a person has accomplished so much, how bad could it be? You have strength and determination and a track record of success. That makes it easy to deny a problem. A bottle, you say, isn’t anywhere near as strong as I am, and I don’t have to worry. Looking in the mirror, you see an executive, not the stereotypical reflection of an addict out of control.

But, peering closer into the mirror, you can see a resemblance. Every addict has the same problem: what the abuse has done to their brain. It’s just that high-functioning addicts have more opportunity for denial.

What is needed is to shake that denial and get help before it ruins a life. Intensive residential treatment is often a key to successful recovery. Getting help from a team of trained professionals, who treat the executive with the compassion they deserve and the respect for privacy that they require, can help to overcome the colonizing force of addiction. Executives respond very well to treatment that understands all of the barriers listed above and is able to address them. Some facilities even offer time for business meetings, so that work doesn’t completely stop.

But work is less important than help. Work may define and mold a life, but if addiction circumscribes and controls that life, work will suffer. What was built can crumble. To continue to be successful, to continue to thrive, executives and others need to battle their addiction and once again take control of the life they have forged.

Alta Mira offers a comprehensive array of treatment options for executives struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders. We offer privacy, luxury, and a system tailored to your specific needs. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, reach out to us today to learn how we can help you find a path to lasting recovery.