Top executives and CEOs aren’t immune to addiction and the economic damage caused by alcoholic executives can be tremendous. This comes as a huge surprise to people who expect alcoholics to look like the stereotypical bum staggering down the street, brown paper bag in hand.
In reality, many alcoholics are high-functioning, powerful executives who go to work every day. They are highly educated, upper-income people who are able to maintain successful personal and professional lives in spite of their struggle with alcohol.
Most upper-level executives have a strong drive to succeed, and frequently, it’s their risk-taking tendencies that have spurred them to such high levels of achievement. All too often, the pressure and stress of such high self-expectations leads to mental and physical exhaustion and burnout.
Many alcoholic executives struggle with their addiction in silence for years, and even co-workers, close friends and family may not be aware of the extent of the problem. However, it becomes increasingly harder for alcoholic executives to keep things on an even keel. When things eventually begin to crumble, alcohol-related economic damage to companies is unavoidable.
Alcoholic Executives and the Workplace
For most companies, three-martini lunches and company cocktail parties are a thing of the past. As a result, alcoholic executives have learned strategies for hiding their growing addiction.
Alcoholic executives have the freedom to create their own schedules and usually, a team of assistants and secretaries go to great lengths to reschedule appointments or come up with viable excuses when the boss is out of the office.
Alcoholic executives wield a great deal of power, and employees may be hesitant to complain when the boss acts oddly or just doesn’t show up at all. In some cases, they feel disloyal to a boss who has treated them well.
The Economic Damage
Alcoholic executives cost companies billions of dollars in lost productivity and increased health care expenses. There’s little doubt that company image and employee morale is negatively impacted. Work performance suffers and promising careers are derailed.
The economic damage is difficult to calculate, but the cost racks up quickly when you consider that alcoholic executives are more likely to:
- experience social, medical and psychological problems
- have more absences due to illness
- arrive late and leave early
- be injured on or off the job
- become disabled
- have unfinished projects
- make more mistakes or errors in judgment
- commit fraud or theft
- have legal difficulties
- increase company liability
- develop difficulty concentrating
- have more emergency room visits
- take early retirement
- die earlier than their non-drinking counterparts
Alcoholic Executives and Denial
Hard-drinking executives frequently have difficulty seeing themselves as addicts because they don’t fit the stereotype of the unemployed alcoholic who has hit rock bottom. They tend to compare themselves to other, less successful alcoholics and they always come out on top because they drink expensive booze at fancy events instead of cheap, rotgut whiskey purchased at the corner market.
Alcoholic executives seem to manage well because they find ways to hide the problem, frequently drinking in private or becoming half-drunk before they arrive at an event. They become adept at deceiving themselves and others.
In truth, the disease of alcoholism is much the same for everybody regardless of financial standing or social status. It is marked by severe cravings, increased tolerance, and continued drinking in spite of the many adverse consequences of their self-destructive behavior. Like other addicts, alcoholic executives are unable to drink moderately. They may feel shame and remorse later, but repeated attempts to control their drinking have failed.
In time, it becomes impossible to hide a serious drinking problem. The longer the addiction is allowed to continue, the higher the chance of damage to company reputation and the greater the economic impact.
Alcoholic Executives: Recognizing Signs of Trouble
An alcoholic executive may display the following warning signs:
- Moodiness and irritability
- Compulsive behavior
- Unnecessary risk-taking
- Fluctuations in normal weight
- Dark undereye circles and tired appearance
- Gradual deterioration of physical health
- Frequent hangovers
- Unkempt appearance
- Reduced productivity
- Secretive behavior
- Tremors, sweating, or other signs of alcohol withdrawal
Alcoholic Executives and Treatment: A High Level of Success
Alcoholic executives frequently delay much-needed treatment, often because they’re embarrassed or concerned about tarnishing the company’s reputation if word leaks out. However, once executives begin treatment, their drive and motivation spurs them to success.
Once in treatment, executive alcoholics learn that alcoholism is a chronic disease that results from chemical changes occurring after repeated use of alcohol. Through counseling and education, executives discover how alcoholism affects areas of the brain that govern learning, stress, pleasure, self-control and decision making.
Like all alcoholics, executives deserve treatment, not judgment. High-quality, evidence-based treatment that includes behavioral therapy and a full medical assessment can restore wellbeing, manage the possibility of relapse, and restore normal functioning. Medications are helpful during withdrawal, and sometimes after.
An executive treatment program offers personalized care around the clock. The entire staff, including counselors, doctors and psychologists, are highly skilled and understanding of the particular needs of alcoholic executives.
Treatment Centers Offer Privacy and Confidentiality for Alcoholic Executives
Alcoholic executives must find a suitable treatment provider that understands the need for complete privacy and confidentiality. A calm environment safely removed from the typical stress and strain provides an opportunity for alcoholic executives to learn about the disease of alcoholism.
Treatment also involves an aftercare plan that helps the alcoholic executive deal with stress and learn to cope with the difficulties involved with re-entering the fast-paced business world. Counseling helps with depression or anxieties that frequently underlie alcoholism.
If other addictions are present, including substance abuse, gambling or overeating, they will be addressed at the same time. Frequently, treatment centers incorporate smoking cessation into addiction treatment.
Executive treatment centers and rehab programs understand that alcoholic executives have responsibilities and duties that won’t wait, even during treatment. While getting well is the first priority, it’s possible to maintain important duties and work relationships throughout the course of treatment.
Alcoholic Executives and Aftercare
Many alcoholic executives return to work with gusto, soon falling back into the same old destructive patterns. They may feel the need to step up the pace of work. They may work grueling hours, powering through lunch breaks and vacations.
A workable aftercare plan that includes mechanisms for coping with stress is critical for alcoholic executives because the weeks and months following treatment can be difficult. Through counseling, executives learn to establish boundaries, set limits, and delegate work to others.