“It’s okay Mindy,” I said in a measured voice. “Tell me what happened. Start from the beginning.”
Mindy explained that her husband Bob was a successful entrepreneur, amassing a sizable fortune. They basked in the light of gleaming luxuries – a parade of cocktail parties, fancy black-tie events and what her husband described as “deal-clutching dinner meetings.” To the outside, Mindy recalls, they are the perfect couple: wealthy and successful, envied in every way.
Despite the glamorous facade, deep inside they harbor dark secrets. As an interventionist and clinician who specializes in addiction, mental health, substance abuse and chronic pain, I have worked with hundreds of high wealth clients like Mindy and her husband Bob. I understand these clients have unique challenges overcoming mental health and addiction issues because they are surrounded by a team of paid people whose unspoken job is to cover up unwanted behaviors.
Mindy said she became so desperate that she reached out to other leaders in the company for help with Bob’s problem. She was shocked to find the company was afraid he would lash out at them about an issue he never recognized as a problem.
“They would even cover up some of his poor behavior! So as not to rock the boat, please creditors, clients and business associates. Nobody speaks up when money is on the line.”
Mindy reached her final limit when Bob’s drinking caused him to lash out at their granddaughter. She was at her wits end. Mindy was panicky over a series of phone calls, worried she’d never see her granddaughter again. That’s when she called for help.
Together we talked about the range of emotions experienced in this situation. I explained it’s normal to experience a great deal of shame in these situations. Because of their position of wealth and influence, others assume Mindy and Bob have it all together and that their success fix their problems.
Of course this was false; we needed to approach the problem with a system of treatment.
The treatment needed to include Bob and Mindy, his company of employees, as well as their adult daughter’s family, including little Lucy.
While Mindy was eager for professional help, approaching Bob about his alcoholism took more work. He went through a litany of rationalizations for why his drinking did not need to be addressed. Eventually, Bob spent 45 days in a residential treatment facility. During this time, he was able to check in with work as I worked with his colleagues and employees to craft a new work environment which supported Bob in sobriety. I also assembled a team of expertly trained behavioral health professionals to help Bob navigate home and company life.
The good news is effective treatment starts where the client is—a multi-modal approach that addresses family dynamics, friends and loved ones, and even consults co-workers and employees across companies and business pursuits. The idea is to remove the narcissism and “yes man” mentality that feeds the high net worth ego.
““Thank you” Mindy recently told me over the phone. “Without your help in getting us where we needed to go and staying with us through every step, we would not be where we are today”
Common Ways Wealthy People May Rationalize Their Addiction
I have spent decades working with high net worth individuals and families. Though each has their own unique story, many share similar reasons for rationalizing their addiction. Over the years, these are the most common ones that have been shared with me:
- I am not like other addicts. Turn on a movie or TV show and you’ll find the stereotype of an addict — homeless, in a shambles, on the street. As such, wealthy people experiencing an addiction disassociate with what they think an addict looks like from their own self-image. It can be tough to crack the veneer of a high-powered executive, coiffed in suit and tie or the country club’s golf attire and see that substance abuse can happen to anyone.
- Fear of leaving work. Highly successful people often see their position as validation for their hard work and achievement, and as such have a hard time taking a break. They believe they are the sole reason for their company’s success if they take time away, the company will fail or all their efforts will crumble.
- Fear of Financial Loss. There is an old adage that no amount of money is ever enough. So if addiction arrives on the scene, wealthy people may not want to invest in the right kind of treatment because they see it as a waste. However, substance misuse can cause lost resources and money because of poor productivity, bad decisions made while high, or even reckless behavior. In the end, it is important to help wealthy people understand that addiction has the potential to cause more financial strain than seeking out effective treatment.
- There may not be an “ah-ha” moment. Although Mindy hit her “rock bottom” and sought help, many wealthy people – cushioned by financial and other resources – may not have a bottom to hit, making it difficult to see the signs of a real problem.
- Disappointing family, friends and colleagues. Because wealthy CEOs and executives are in such an influential position, they don’t want to acknowledge their struggle with addiction and risk letting down the company and those closest to them. In addition, wealthy high achievers may have a great amount of responsibilities such as mentorship, leadership and guidance and fear letting those around them know about their struggles with addiction will hurt them.
- Confabulations and rationalizing behavior. Often people in this situation will find excuses for their behavior. I only drink when I’m stressed or I’m only taking the pills because the doctor prescribed them for me. Although these sound like legitimate reasons, beneath the surface is avoiding the truth that there is a problem and they don’t want to confront it. Confidence in one’s self is a key tenet of success, but the dangerous flipside of this token is too much confidence can forge walls of denial and rationalizing behavior.
- Fear of stigma. People in powerful positions are associated with strength, confidence, and a rock solid moral compass. Their company brand promise – whether its tires, airplanes, hairdryers, or a food chain and restaurants – may be compromised. Tragically, parts of our society still view addiction as a weakness or moral failure, which sharply contradicts the key qualities of successful individuals. Add in public visibility and it can be difficult for an influential CEO or celebrity to seek help in an honest and open way.
- Fear of a permanent record. In addition to fear of shame related to addiction, successful wealthy people do not want this condition in a legal or insurance record, a paper trail that follows them the rest of their lives. Therefore, getting control of your addiction is important to avoid any high-profile legal repercussions.
- Fear of Being Wrong. With high wealth often comes inflated egos. “I am never wrong” and “I am always right” may play on repeat. Putting one’s ego aside and allowing others in to help create a recovery path forces the executive to put aside their know-it-all attitude, surrender and take direction – often a tall order for one who gives orders.
Whether your family is struggling with one of these common challenges or something completely unique to your situation, let’s talk and find a solution to help your family learn to thrive.