Addiction is pervasive and affects people of all ages, genders, cultures, and professions. Working professionals face high levels of responsibility, pressures between work and family, long hours, tight deadlines, and high-intensity work. As a result, while your professional life might provide a significant amount of meaning, it may also take a lot of mental and emotional energy.
If you or your family member suffers from an addiction, there is supportive addiction treatment specifically for professionals. You are not in this alone, and many successful, high-achieving people seek treatment with a professional program. You might be surprised to learn that addiction is common among high-achieving personalities. The benefit of having drive and ambition are the satisfactions associated with a professionally successful life. However, the shadow of ambition can involve pushing things to the limit or burnout.
Professionals seek alcohol and drug treatment for various reasons: Perhaps you recognize that you have lost the ability to control your intake, and it has begun to impact a career that you love. Perhaps you realize that without using a specific substance, you are no longer able to complete the tasks of your position in the same ways you used to be able to.
Perhaps you thought you have been able to function highly in your work despite your addiction to drugs or alcohol, yet you’ve recently come under investigation as a state-licensed professional. Perhaps your family has shared that although they appreciate your success, your substance use has negatively impacted your relationship with them. No matter your reason for seeking treatment, treatment options are available with other professionals who can relate to your struggle.
Types of Treatment Options
You have many options as you search for alcohol and drug treatment programs. The types of treatment services you receive will depend on the level of care needed for your unique situation. For example, if you need a medically managed detoxification, this is available in many treatment centers for professionals. You may seek inpatient-residential treatment or seek outpatient services.
The treatment process includes group therapy, individual therapy, support groups, psychoeducational lectures, and alternative therapies such as meditation or yoga. Treatment centers employ many behavioral health professionals, including medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors. These addiction professionals can support you in working through the specific challenges related to how addiction developed in your life. When in recovery, it can be healing to connect to others with whom you relate. There are some treatment programs specifically for people of particular professions, such as the health care or legal fields. At the same time, there are broader programs that focus on supporting professionals of all vocations.
The Link Between High-Achievement & Addiction
As a professional, you are likely a high achiever; you know what a situation calls for and implement solutions. Additionally, your career might involve a great deal of stress and impact many people’s lives.
For example, as a medical professional, you might be responsible for overseeing daily tragedies while attempting to save lives. As a behavioral health professional, you witness some of the most significant traumas, malevolence, and catastrophes in human life. As a legal professional, you engage with conflict regularly. As an executive, you balance financial matters that support countless employees’ livelihoods while simultaneously practicing leadership and accountability. Although meaningful, this can all become a significant source of stress.
High achievers are imaginative, tenacious, passionate, enjoy hard work, and are generally successful. They may be risk-takers and enjoy stretching their intellectual and physical abilities to full capacity. In addition, high-achieving personalities seem to thrive on adrenaline and enjoy a challenge.
Substance use disorders can develop in high-achieving personalities for several reasons:
- When you operate at high intensity most of the time, it can be hard to shift gears and relax. You may find that you’d like to enjoy calm, peace, or relaxation, but you are in such an “on” state all day long that it can feel nearly impossible to turn down the intensity dial. In this circumstance, alcohol or drugs that provide a sedative effect are used to induce rest.
- High-achieving personalities often create goals that are not humanly attainable. While having ambition is a wonderful trait that can contribute to a satisfying life, as a high -achiever, you may attempt to meet ambitions that would require more energy than anyone can reasonably generate. In these circumstances, you may turn to stimulant substances that (temporarily) reduce the need to sleep and increase your capacity to work, which can lead to addiction.
- Some (though not all) high-achieving professionals operate full force in all domains of life. They do not have an off-switch, nor do they want one. The phrase “work hard, play hard” applies here. If you relate to this, it’s likely your tenacious drive that led you to succeed in your career. However, you may have developed an addiction due to becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs in the process of using them in a high-intensity capacity.
- Other high-achieving personalities are perfectionists. You may have the ability to see an ideal and feel the self-confidence to meet this ideal. This trait can be especially beneficial in one’s career because it can create a high-quality standard in their professional position. However, the ideal can be challenging to live up to and you may experience self-imposed pressure and guilt. Then, you may use alcohol or other substances as a means to obtain relief from trying so hard to meet your ideal.
High-Achievement, Complex-Trauma, & Addiction
Complex trauma is relationship-based trauma in which a person experiences repeated stressors without resolve over a long period. Complex trauma occurs when subtle abuse, neglect, covert manipulation, and mixed messages happen. Complex trauma can occur in early childhood where there may have been inconsistencies in the availability of parents or caregivers or bullying in school or among siblings. It can occur in adulthood if you are in a toxic relationship with a romantic partner or employer. Complex trauma can result in unhealthy coping mechanisms, including addiction, workaholism, and burnout.
Some high achieving personalities had come from a home where they only received love and affection when they performed well. If you relate to this, you may have linked your self-worth to how well you perform. You might believe that you are only desirable when engaged in success and achievement. As a result, you may work yourself to exhaustion to feel worthwhile.
However, the pain of feeling low self-worth can be hard to identify if you have a prestigious and successful professional life. It can be confusing to feel lonely, resentful, or empty when you’ve reached your professional aspirations, others admire you, and you experience the financial rewards of your success. This dichotomy may feel as though you are living a double life. As a result, depression and anxiety can emerge, and substance use may be an attempt to manage depression and anxiety.
Over-Responsibility in Childhood
There are many ways to develop skills and competence. While feeling efficacious can be an empowering feeling, for some, it may have come about as a result of having excessive responsibility from a young age. Perhaps, as a child, you provided an amount of emotional or physical support for your parent or caregiver that no child should be responsible for. This reversed role of responsibility may have led you to become incredibly competent, but at a significant cost. If you relate to this situation, you may find it difficult to trust others and, therefore, will not relinquish control about decisions and processes. Although this setup may have shaped you to be a great leader, this amount of responsibility is a prime set up to develop an addiction.
Shame & Isolation Among Professionals
As a professional, you may be used to being the decision-maker in the room. Because you’re a leader and have demonstrated discipline to be in your position today, it may feel especially challenging to reach out for help about your addiction. If you are honest about your struggle, you may feel that you might let people down, and they may lose the esteem they hold for you. This concern can be another manifestation of a belief you may have about the need to be perfect or invulnerable. That can be a lonely place, and this very process of holding such high standards for yourself may be part of why you turned to drugs or alcohol to cope.
It’s important to remember that addiction is a means to meet a reasonable need. Whether your need is rest, play, confidence, increased focus, thriving, sleeping, etc., the need is not the problem. With addiction, the drug or alcohol was a strategy to meet that need, and this strategy temporarily worked. However, in the process, biological and psychological dependence developed. In treatment, you explore how to meet your needs in new ways that give you freedom. When you develop new strategies to meet your needs, you experience healing, balance, and calm stability to support a patient-perseverance in your career. That can lead to far more satisfaction, both in your work life and personal life.
There Is Hope
Addiction recovery treatment can be the pause you need to experience balance in your life. Not only will your treatment support you in sobriety, but it will also enhance your life with skills to support rest and equilibrium. When you have a sense of calm in your life, you can approach your professional life with a steady, persevering confidence that does not burn out. Treatment can be a reprieve to turn inward and focus on healing. Contact an addiction specialist today to learn more about the specific types of treatment options available for professionals.