Addiction is an equal-opportunity nightmare.
Even CEOs and others at the pinnacle of their careers aren’t exempt from the price an addictive dependence can exact on one’s career and personal life.
“Addiction does not discriminate, whether you’re a high-powered executive in the C-suite or a bricklayer in Detroit,” said William Moyers, the vice president of community relations at Hazelden Betty Ford, a nonprofit addiction treatment provider.
But C-suite executives who develop a problem with drinking, drugs, gambling, porn, sex or other compulsive behaviors often have more options to hide their addictions.
“We have flexibility with our schedules. We have people unknowingly able to cover for us. We have the ability to be absent at times,” said Doug Tieman, president and CEO of Caron, which runs not-for-profit addiction treatment centers in several states.
A C-suite executive’s power and status can also deflect concerns that their direct reports or board members may have when an executive starts acting uncharacteristically — e.g., showing up late to meetings, being absent from work or making rash decisions.
“If there’s a modest level of suspicion people think ‘That can’t be. Look how well he’s doing,’” Tieman said.
He should know. Despite being in the substance abuse field for decades, his drinking became a real problem in the early 2000s and he went into treatment in 2010 after getting arrested for driving under the influence. His wife and board members were shocked, he said.
“My drinking was always underground,” Tieman explained, noting that he would only drink on business trips and for a time he adhered to any one of several self-imposed rules: Drink on just one of his nights away. Only order four drinks. Drink only until midnight.
But eventually he broke all those rules.
The excuses executives lean on to indulge often center around a “reward” for all the stress they endure and their successes at work. “‘Work hard, play hard’ is a very common theme,” Tieman said.
The risk of losing it all
Thanks to the Americans for Disabilities Act, merely having an addiction is not a fireable offense, unless, for instance, the addict is actively using illegal drugs.
But the ADA protections do not excuse bad behavior or poor job performance, nor do they overwrite the terms for potential termination in an executive’s contract.