Addiction isn’t solely a problem of the poor, homeless or uneducated. It is a serious, life-threatening chronic disease that affects people from all walks of life and all socioeconomic levels – even extremely affluent, ultra-high net worth (UHNW) individuals.
Like folks in lower income brackets, people of extreme wealth become addicted for a number of reasons that may include mental illness, genetic predisposition and other factors.
UHNW, defined as a net worth of more than $30 million, is a designation belonging to the richest of the rich. To most people, it seems like life should be on easy street for people with this type of wealth, but in reality, extremely affluent people have a set of unique problems that can complicate drug and alcohol treatment and rehab.
In fact, many wealthy people suffer alone as they let their disease get progressively worse instead of risking potential damage to family standing or reputation.
Ultra-High Net Worth and Reputation
There’s much at stake for individuals of ultra-high net worth, including family reputation and an incredible amount of money and power. Most ultra affluent people are highly visible, and if word gets out that a family member is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the impact on family wealth and security can be staggering, sometimes for generations.
In many cases, an addicted person may function at very high levels, but if left untreated, the illness becomes worse and the addicted person grows increasingly self-destructive. The family of an addicted person may go to great lengths to keep their loved one’s troublesome situation out of the public eye, but ultimately, even extreme wealth offers no guarantee of protection.
Are the Wealthy Immune?
In many cases, it’s hitting rock bottom such as a stint in jail or a mandated trip to rehab that helps an addicted person see the light and get much-needed help. Rock bottom, however, is a very different concept for UHNW individuals.
For example, extremely wealthy people have easy access to drugs, often purchased by a trusted member of the inner circle. There are plenty of people around to shield the addicted person from problems or to handle business issues if the person is indisposed, thus enabling them to continue the destructive behavior without limits.
Although friends and family are well-meaning, avoiding natural consequences removes personal accountability and actually puts wealthy addicts at higher risk.
It’s also true that substance abuse is often decriminalized for the wealthy, which provides an advantage for people with endless resources. Individuals of ultra-high net worth may seem untouchable and above the law. They are unlikely to go to prison for drug-related activities, and unlike most people, they are rarely compelled to enter drug and alcohol treatment or rehab to fulfill mandates of parole or probation. To protect their family name, families may bail them out of trouble time and time again.