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Is Addiction the Price of Success?

Apr 22, 2021

If someone asked you what made you successful, you would never say it just happened by chance. You might talk about the hard work, constant commitment, and ability to recognize opportunities others don’t see. Many high achievers think of success as inevitable, and sacrifices must be made along the way. When self-care is one of those sacrifices, developing a substance use disorder could become the price of success. Today, let’s talk about the factors that contribute to highly successful people struggling with a drug or alcohol problem.

Successful people can develop substance use disorders like any other group. For these high achievers, the quest for success itself can also be a factor in their drug and alcohol use. If they’re unable to manage stress and have low self-esteem in a high-pressure environment, they may begin using substances to cope and affect their work performance. Adults who are high functioning at work and living with a substance use disorder can get help. Treatment programs are available specifically for people in high-profile positions who want to begin recovery and protect their careers.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-270-1753.

Is there a correlation between success and SUD?

Yes. The same traits that can make a person highly successful can lead to and worsen their substance use. It goes far beyond having a drink to celebrate an achievement or handle intense pressure.

We can look at characteristics of many successful people and see patterns emerge. Some of the most common ones are a consistent dedication, a laser-sharp focus on “winning”, a willingness to take risks, and a desire for adventure. They’re usually good learners, too, as learning how to grow and adapt is a big part of creating success in any position.

These same characteristics can enable someone who’s climbed to a high-ranking position, too. In some cases, the pleasure felt by making accomplishments at work may diminish over time. It may no longer feel like it’s enough of a reward. Drinking or drug use can stimulate those same pleasure areas of the brain and become a replacement for the work success feelings.

Does pressure to succeed contribute to SUDs?

Yes. Successful people may feel more pressure to maintain a high level of performance. When they’re unable to handle that pressure, turning to substance use to cope may become their solution. If it doesn’t affect their ability to function for a period of time, their use of the substance may grow beyond their personal control.

For some high-profile professionals, succeeding is not an outcome. It’s part of their identity. Failing to succeed each and every time becomes a serious problem to them. Success, in their minds, must come at any cost. Often that cost is the inability to prioritize their own well-being.

The line between personal and professional self is something everyone needs to maintain. When work consumes too much of our day, we lose our balance. It may affect us mentally, emotionally, and physically. Without a time to recharge, an endless devotion to work can enable substance use to become a regular (or even daily) part of the workday.

What factors lead to successful people developing an SUD?

Factors for highly successful people developing a SUD will vary. But, there are some common ones that appear most often. Stress is the leading factor. Stress is an expected part of any leadership position or high-pressure environment. The lack of a stress management plan can become a burden, not just at work. Stress can lead to friction in personal relationships. Turmoil at home gets brought into the work environment. For someone with high stress and no proactive plan for it, easing it with substances can seem like a “quick fix.”

Self-esteem is another common trait in successful people developing an SUD. These people may have suffered with low self-esteem for years. They may use their drive to success as a way to overcome a lack of confidence. If they do feel like each accomplishment isn’t enough, they lose the real reward they were seeking. Turning to drugs or alcohol can become their replacement for genuine pride in their work. It may make them feel better while using, even enabling them to mask their inferior feelings for a while.

A surprising factor may be a high I.Q. during childhood. Some studies have revealed a correlation between a high I.Q. in the formative years with substance use as an adult. An assumption that intelligence might prevent substance use isn’t accurate. In fact, it may actually draw someone to using drugs and alcohol and a way to keep the brain stimulated. Many successful adults were once overachievers, and their introduction to substance use may have started long before they entered the workforce.


Headwaters is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-270-1753.

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