Are Executives/Management More Prone To Substance Abuse?

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C-suite executives aren’t what most people think of when they consider employees with substance abuse issues. However, addiction doesn’t discriminate, and one in 10 leadership professionals deal with drug or alcohol abuse.

Addiction Among Executives

C-suite executives are responsible for major decision-making within an organization. These top-tier roles receive the highest compensation, but they also shoulder the most liability.

Examples of C-level executive job roles include:

  • chief executive officer (CEO)
  • chief operating officer (COO)
  • chief financial officer (CFO)
  • chief marketing officer (CMO)
  • chief information officer (CIO)
  • chief technology officer (CTO)
  • chief human resources officer (CHRO)
  • chief compliance officer (CCO)
  • chief security officer (CSO) or chief information security officer (CISO)
  • chief data officer (CDO) or chief digital officer (CDO)

The U.S. workforce is made up of 167.1 million workers. C-suite executives account for about 17.6% of the total workforce.

More than half of all executives (51.3%) experience high stress in their jobs, and one in 10 management-level professionals abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

Addiction Rates Among Management

About 20 million adults in the U.S. have a substance use disorder (SUD). Of this population, nearly 75%, or 15 million, are employed.

Of the 15 million workers with substance abuse issues, management-level employees have the seventh-highest rate of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and the third-highest rate of drug use.

About 10% of people in leadership roles have a substance abuse problem. Alcohol addiction is highest among this cohort, with a rate of 9% compared to the general population (6%).

Executives And Drug Addiction

Cocaine is perhaps the most abused illicit drug by C-suite executives. Some executives who use cocaine consider themselves social drug users, which allows them to downplay their use.

There are also high rates of marijuana use among management. The increase is due in part to the legalization of marijuana across many U.S. states.

However, opioid painkillers are abused by executives at higher rates than cocaine and marijuana are. The rate of opioid medication abuse comes second only to alcohol abuse among this cohort.

Type Of Drug Use Rate Of Addiction Trend
Alcohol Use 9% Increasing
Illicit Drug Use N/A Marijuana us is increasing
Prescription Drug Abuse N/A Opioid and Adderall use are consistent

Signs Of Addiction In Executives

When a person abuses drugs or alcohol, there are telltale behavioral and emotional signs.

Common signs of an SUD include:

  • bloodshot or glossy eyes
  • pupils that are oversized or pinhole-sized
  • body shakes or tremors
  • slurring
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • sudden mood swings, e.g., depression, anxiety, irritability, and/or paranoia
  • lack of concern for personal appearance and hygiene

There are also indicators of substance abuse that are specific to the workplace.

Common signs of substance abuse among executives include:

  • reduced performance
  • missed meetings and/or deadlines
  • uncharacteristic periods of high productivity and/or low productivity
  • impulsivity and/or poor decision-making
  • difficulty concentrating
  • unexplained disappearances during the workday
  • exhibiting withdrawal symptoms during the workday, e.g., being hungover
  • problematic relationships with colleagues

Risk Factors For Addiction Among Managers

Management-level executives are a company’s top earners. These individuals receive the most accolades for a job well done, but they also take responsibility when something goes wrong.

The mounting expectations that surround top-tier roles can be daunting. Some of these professionals may use substances as a way to self-medicate and deal with stress.

Pressure To Perform

For some people, reaching C-suite status is their dream. Unfortunately, the stress of working so hard to succeed may be a contributor to substance use as a means of escape.

In many companies, management represents the face of the company. These are the folks who are present for meetings, trade shows, and other earning opportunities.

White-collar professionals may use substances as a way to feel cool and confident when interacting with stakeholders. They might also use substances to help boost productivity.

Binge Culture

Many industries are enveloped in the culture of “more.” Some companies, especially those that are heavily sales-oriented, may indulge in substance use in order to network and land deals.

It’s known that companies host networking events in environments where alcohol is freely served. High-level workers may perceive alcohol as a socially acceptable way to engage.

It’s common to take new and existing clients out for dinner, or to celebrate success at the bar after work. There is also the occasional workplace that permits access to beer on tap.

Power And Status

When it comes to substance abuse, the power that a C-suite executive holds can work against them. The leniency that may come with a high-ranking position can permit someone to hide an addiction for longer.

Some management have greater flexibility in their schedules. Others might have their own secretaries or direct-report teams who can cover for them during tardiness or absence.

Supporting Business Executives With Addiction

C-suite executives seeking addiction treatment may be fearful about news of their addiction being exposed to the office. Employers should take care to keep this information confidential.

Employers can take certain steps when working with any employee who is experiencing addiction issues. The first step may involve an open conversation about job performance.

Although companies can terminate staff if they feel an employee’s behavior affects the company’s reputation, the company can also offer second-chance employment.

If a company offers health care or is involved in a union, available treatment options should be disclosed to the employee. A human resources professional can help the employee devise a treatment plan.

The employer may follow up with an employee after completion of a treatment program. The employer and employee can work together to determine if they will return on a full-time basis.

Addiction Treatment Options For Executives

More and more, detox, inpatient, and outpatient treatment centers are being targeted to high-level professionals. These programs offer the same treatment services but with added amenities.

Some of these treatment facilities allow executives to stay connected to their jobs. These employees may be able to remain involved on a remote or part-time basis.

Outside of addiction treatment, employees can contact their healthcare providers for information about therapists to help with mental health issues.

Executives can also seek support through group therapy and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Addiction Treatment Is Available

Dealing with addiction is never easy, whether you’re a C-suite executive or not, but help is available.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact to get connected with a treatment facility today.


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Bedrock Recovery Center


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Plymouth, Massachusetts

Ohio Recovery Center


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Spring Hill Recovery Center


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