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Why Do Successful People Turn to Alcohol or Drugs?


The common stereotype of a substance abuser is somebody who is struggling in life and has turned to alcohol or drugs to escape this. This may be true for many of those who fall into addiction, but it is certainly on true for them all. There are also plenty of successful people who also get into trouble with mind-altering chemicals. This reality of high functioning addicts can seem to run counter to all our beliefs about substance abuse. We can easily understand why somebody who is doing badly in life might fall into this trap, but why would this happen in the case of those who are doing well in life? The answer to this is that there are many reasons for why people begin to abuse alcohol or drugs, and success offers no real protection from this behaviour.

Common Reasons for Why Successful People Might Use Alcohol or Drugs

Here are some of the most common reasons for why successful people might turn to alcohol or drugs:

  • Those people who have high-powered jobs or who are in the limelight can be dealing with a great deal of stress. They may initially turn to mind altering substances to help them relax, but they end up getting far more than they bargained for.
  • There are many careers where drinking and using drugs seems to be the norm. For example, celebrities are usually expected to attend social functions where alcohol is going to be served. There can be a great deal of pressure on people who are in these social circles to use addictive substances.
  • In some careers, the individual may even be expected to use these substances as part of their job. A good example of this would be those professionals who are expected to entertain clients.
  • An increasingly common reason for why anyone can fall into drug abuse is that he or she has become addicted to prescription medication. They may have begun taking these drugs to deal with specific symptoms, but they can enjoy the effects of these substances so much (e.g. opiates) that they begin using them recreationally.
  • It is suggested that many of the characteristics that make people successful can also put them at risk of developing addictions.
  • Just because people are doing well externally in life does not mean that they are free from inner traumas.
  • Those individuals who are doing well in life can feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to alcohol and drugs. They may believe in the old adage that if you work hard you get to play hard. This means that these people can feel that they have earned the right to engage in substance abuse.
  • If the person is doing well in life, this can make them overconfident when it comes to alcohol or drugs. They may believe that they are immune to the normal risks that other people may face.

Success and the Additive Personality

The addictive personality refers to a number of personality traits that those individuals who fall into substance abuse are likely to have. The interesting thing is that many of these personal characteristics can also allow people to become successful in life. The traits that addicted individuals and successful people are likely to share would include:

  • The willingness to take risks is something that people who fall into addition and successful people will often share. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who were willing to attempt things that other people thought were crazy. Sometimes the only difference between recklessness and successful risks is the outcome.
  • The willingness to act impulsively can allow stockbrokers to make millions, but it is also strongly associated with addictive behaviour.
  • Both substance abusers and successful innovators will tend to be non-conformists. It is this unwillingness to follow the herd that can lead people to success or failure in life.
  • These two types of individual can be highly obsessed about things. This is why many people who manage to break away from addiction will turn to workaholism – the same happens vice versa. The person who is addicted to work behaves in very similar ways to other types of addict. They will be willing to neglect family and other responsibilities in order to focus on their obsession.
  • Many celebrities seem to be prone to attention seeking behaviour, and this type of characteristic is also common among those who fall into substance abuse.

The fact that the characteristics of those who fall into addiction and those who tend to be successful in life are so similar makes it easier to understand why they can be related. The same personality traits that helped the person become successful can also prove to be their downfall when it come so alcohol and drugs.

Addiction to Prescription Medication

It is often the case that people fall into addiction because they began taking medication that was prescribed for them. In the beginning, the person would have had a good reason to take these drugs – perhaps they had an accident and need strong analgesia to help them cope with the symptom. The problem is that with many of these medications they also provide pleasant side effects as well as helping the person deal with a symptom. This is particularly true of medications such as opiates like morphine and diamorphine (this is basically heroin). If the individual begins to enjoy the pleasant effects created by these drugs, they may decide to take them for the wrong reasons (i.e. not for the reasons they were prescribed). The person may then turn to unethical means to get their hands on these drugs, as they will usually be closely regulated to prevent such abuse.

Successful People Can be in More Danger from Substance Abuse

Not only can successful people fall into substance abuse, but there is also the risk that they may be in more danger from it. The reasons for why this could be the case would include:

  • The successful person can feel that they have more to risk by admitting to an addiction problem. This means that they will keep on engaging in the behaviour when they should be seeking addiction treatment.
  • This type of individual will usually have more of a disposable income than less fortunate substance abusers. This means that they never have any reason to control their intake. They can thus do a great deal more damage to their body and mind.
  • The individual may worry that if they give up alcohol or drugs it will prevent them from doing their job properly. They may be convinced that it adds to their creativity, or they may feel that they need to use these substances when entertaining clients.
  • These types of people may have a real sense of entitlement when it comes to this behaviour, and it can be very hard to convince them otherwise.
  • The individual is usually able to use their success as evidence that they do not really have a problem. They fail to see that it is possible to be high functioning but still be losing out in life because of this type of addiction problem.

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