Recovery Plus: reclaiming lives
24 April/May 2017 Too big to fail:
Sam Polk, a former hedge-fund trader, told
the New York Times how his addiction to money
and gambling was the source of his discontent.
“In my last year on Wall Street, my bonus was
$3.6million. I was angry because it wasn’t big
enough.” He reached a tipping point only when
he realised that he made more money in a year
than his mother, a nurse practitioner, had made
in her lifetime. But the insular bubble he found
himself in – an inflated sense of entitlement,
money and resources, connections with other
powerful financial tycoons – made it impossible
for him to seek help.
Polk’s story illuminates the troubling issue of
how to treat wealthy, high-achieving people
experiencing a substance or process disorder
and co-occurring mental health problem. As his
wealth grew so did his ego and money allowed
him to build walls which protected him from
taking a closer look at his behaviours that would
put a middle income person on the street. For
wealthy people experiencing addiction, denial
and entitlement put up a good fight. They are
not homeless, in a shambles, on the street. So
they disassociate from 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.
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 that, if
they take time away, the company will fail or all
their efforts will crumble. Add in an addiction,
and they fear losing their career success.
Financial concerns. Like Polk, there never seems
to be enough money. So wealthy people might
not want to invest in the right kind of treatment
because they see it as a waste. But addiction can
cause lost resources and money because of poor
productivity, bad decisions made while high, or
reckless behaviour – witness Nick Leeson making
decisions while high which brought down Barings
Bank. It is important for wealthy people to
understand that addiction causes more financial
strain than seeking out effective treatment.
There might not be an “ah-ha” moment. There is
often a 'rock bottom' for people who experience
addiction – losing a driver's licence, job, spouse,
home – which serves as the signal to seek help.
For wealthy people cushioned by financial and
other resources, there might be no financial rock
bottom, making it hard to recognise a 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. Also, wealthy high achievers
can have a great amount of responsibilities such
as mentorship, leadership and guidance and
fear that letting those around them know about
their struggles with addiction will hurt them. But
not admitting the problem and seeking help is
usually the biggest let down.
Denial and rationalising behaviour. Often
people in this situation will find excuses for
their behaviour, such as "I only drink when I’m
stressed" or "I’m only taking the pills because
the doctor prescribed them for me". Although