Often, the stereotype of someone suffering from alcohol or other substance use disorder is that they’re down and out, barely functioning most of the time, and always looking for the next drink or fix. Yet if you’re at all knowledgeable about addiction, you know that addiction affects people at all socioeconomic levels, including executives in the corner office and other white collar professionals.
These employees often work in highly stressful jobs, such as in high-tech companies, where much is expected of them. They also fall prey to the stigma of addiction, so the fear of losing their job is strong.
Denial is strong at this level, and the excuses are many. Perhaps the most common is that they don’t have a problem. Some people say they deserve to drink or take drugs because of all they’re dealing with, or even that they can do their job better with drugs. (I interviewed one woman addicted to oxycodone who said she took a handful of pills every day just to feel normal.) Others say they could never take time from work for treatment.Tyler Fitzgerald, Clinical Director of Summit Estate, says his experience has been that most companies are incredibly supportive of people getting help, especially in Silicon Valley. “What they won’t put up with is the absenteeism, the hangovers, and the outbursts,” adds Jon Heller, Summit Estate’s Admissions Director.
You may have done some research and learned that effective treatment facilities group people with similar needs for the best results. A teenage boy does not have the same rehabilitation needs as a high-level executive, for example. Summit Estate caters to white collar professionals with stressful jobs. “We’re the non-luxury luxury treatment center,” says Fitzgerald. “This is not the kind of place where people come and are pampered and get to sleep until noon and have breakfast brought to them. We don’t emphasize the things that aren’t necessary. We focus on real treatment for real people.”
Similarly, he explains, the reintegration program is an intensive daily program that can be built around people’s work schedules, if need be. “People continue working with their therapist and their treatment team while being reintegrated into the community and learn how to deal with the everyday stresses of work.”
Even during the program, people who absolutely need to keep in touch with work can be accommodated. “What we do is take away excuses not to come,” says Fitzgerald.
On Psych Central, Dr. David Sack explains that addicts may think they’re “getting away with” their addition quite awhile before taking action: “High-functioning addicts are masters of disguise whose struggles with drugs and alcohol may go unnoticed for years, often with increasingly severe consequences. A … position of power at work … may cushion them from the consequences of their drug use, while a sense of self-importance or belief that they can resolve their own problems may prevent them from seeking treatment.”
Fitzgerald offers the perfect conclusion for this post with an apt observation about treatment: “Our clients could be at their bottom. They could have been called in at work and spoken to about their performance, or perhaps other people have noticed they’ve been intoxicated or are increasingly missing deadlines or work. Everyone’s bottom is the same — you’re up against a wall, and the rug’s about to be pulled out from under you and you’re going to be exposed. Our clients often come to us in a state of panic that they’re going to lose their job; this is the time to save it.”