The odds are stacked against family businesses. Most new enterprises don’t survive longer than five years. Only 33 percent of family businesses are passed down to a second generation, and only 12 percent survive to the third generation. While many factors play into a business’ success, including the efficacy of management, insufficient planning and lack of funds, there’s another significant yet often overlooked threat that is crippling more than half of family businesses: addiction.
A System Plagued by Denial
Addiction is a widespread problem that, if recognized at all, is often perceived as a “personal problem” that will resolve itself. But when addiction strikes the family business, it’s everyone’s business.
In a study of nearly 100 family businesses, over half (54 percent) said they had in the past or were currently working through some type of addiction within the business’ leadership team. This figure far exceeds the addiction rate among the general population and doesn’t account for those whose problematic use of drugs and alcohol falls short of addiction.
A lot of people still have a fairly simplistic view of addiction: go to rehab, maybe battle with a relapse or two and then go on with life as usual. But this disease is cunning and persistent. Even those who successfully eliminate drugs and alcohol from their lives may find themselves trying to diet away the 30 pounds they gained during rehab or losing days of their lives to online shopping or gambling.
Among CEOs, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, we often see addictive patterns surface at work. Some end up in treatment because their Type A personalities and obsession with professional perfection have literally driven them to drink or abuse drugs. One study found that people who worked at least 50 hours a week were 1.2 to 1.5 times more likely to develop alcohol-related problems than people who worked less.
Others find that they recover from an addiction to drugs only to overload themselves with work, often to avoid dealing with the same issues that drove them to abuse drugs. Now, in addition to a problem with workaholism, they are at increased risk of drug relapse.
Caring about someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is emotionally draining. It can also be a tremendous drain on the family finances. Whether the addict is a struggling youth or a distinguished professional, there may be little left of the family bank accounts, investments, even the home by the time they get help.
The advice for loved ones can be confusing: Support but don’t enable. Let go but stay close. Here are a few concrete ways to become part of the solution:
Sometimes it’s hard to tell: Are you helping a loved one in crisis or enabling their addiction? Enablers:
• Comply with the addict’s requests for money, favors or things just to keep the peace
• Assume drug use is just a phase that will get better on its own
• Take on the addict’s responsibilities as their own
• Rescue the addict from difficult situations
• Give not only second but third, fourth and fifth chances
• Engage in destructive behaviors alongside the addict despite knowing the addict has a problem
• Do things for the addict that they should do for themselves, such as paying bills or fulfilling job or family responsibilities
Even though enablers act out of love and concern, their attempts to protect the addict prevent them from experiencing the full consequences of their actions, thereby prolonging the addiction. In contrast, true supporters allow the addict to experience the natural consequences of their actions and encourage them to accept help.
Offering “help” that truly helps isn’t always second nature. For many families, it requires communicating and interacting in a way that is different from their norm. Enablers can learn to take care of themselves while offering healthy support by attending support groups for loved ones of addicts, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. If an addicted loved one is in rehab, family members may be invited to participate in a family program or family counseling. It’s also advisable to seek individual counseling to address the many ways in which the addict’s behavior has changed your life …
Your grandfather was an alcoholic. You were emotionally mistreated as a child. And your dysfunctional family continues to complicate your life on a daily basis. With this many risk factors, the odds of avoiding addiction certainly aren’t the most favorable. While you can’t control your genes, your past or the family you come from, getting hooked on drugs is not inevitable. Here are a few simple behaviors you can change now to help avoid a lifetime battle with addiction:
The only surefire way to avoid drug or alcohol addiction is to refrain from experimenting in the first place. However, as we know from the failed War on Drugs, this “just say no” approach simply doesn’t work. People are curious, bored and in pain, and have always looked to drugs and alcohol to feel better.
Still, understanding your personal risk factors can help you make an educated decision. Do you have a family history of drug or alcohol problems? Have you struggled with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues? If you’re at high risk for addiction, don’t take the chance – invest your energies in finding healthier ways to feel good.
Helping someone into treatment for addiction is a gift that yields a lifetime of returns for the individual struggling with chemical dependency, but its benefits extend much further than that. Loved ones, typically driven by unselfish motives to help turn the addict’s life around, also stand to benefit in very personal ways:
Living with an addict is traumatic and life-altering in ways only affected loved ones can fully understand. Everyone in direct contact gets swallowed up by the addiction. Once a respite from the outside world, the home becomes a battlefield where trust and honesty are replaced with worry, resentment and a constant state of alert. Rates of domestic violence and mental illness go up. Daily life becomes unworkable.
Treatment improves quality of life not only for the addict, but also for the people who live with and care for them. In a study from the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim, Germany, loved ones reported significant improvements in quality of life scores (from 60.6 to 68 on a 100-point scale) after the addict completed inpatient or outpatient treatment. These changes impacted not only their social relationships and living environment but also their own mental and physical health.
When most people contemplate addiction, they think about cigarettes, alcohol, and illicit drugs like crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. And certainly those substances are highly addictive—they are incredibly difficult to quit once a person is hooked, and prolonged use/abuse typically results in any number of negative life consequences. But these obvious potential addictions are far from the only possible problem areas.
Though addiction has traditionally been viewed purely in terms of substances, the American Society of Addiction Medicine now embraces a much broader definition that encompasses not only drug and alcohol abuse, but process (behavioral) addictions. Of course, everything we ingest is a substance of some sort, and everything we do is a behavior of some sort, so just about anything can become an addiction. Below is a short list of things many of us eat, drink, or do on a regular basis that can and sometimes do turn into addictions.
Caffeine is a stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee, tea, and yerba mate plants. It is also added to numerous consumer products, including a wide variety of sodas, some candies, and most “energy” drinks. Regular caffeine users, even those who take in as little as 100 milligrams per day—the amount in half a cup of coffee—can develop physical dependency and experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability, nausea, and fatigue when they don’t get their fix. While some people may think they just like coffee or other caffeinated products, many actually consume caffeine to stave off withdrawal symptoms (morning lethargy, mid-afternoon headache, etc). For the most part, the consequences of caffeine addiction are mild, though some people do experience anxiety or rapid heartbeat when caffeine is consumed to excess, and others may miss work or social engagements while dealing with symptoms of withdrawal.
Here’s a scary thought: Brain imaging shows that high-sugar, high-fat foods activate the same regions of the brain as heroin, opium, and morphine. In other words, processed sugar and fat (along with processed wheat and salt) stimulate the rewards center of the brain, causing many …
Not so long ago, addiction was seen as a “man’s problem.” In recent years, addiction research has broadened its focus to include the differential impact addiction has in the lives of both men and women. We know more than ever about the biological and psychosocial factors that affect how men and women experience addiction.
So in the battle of the sexes, who “wins” in addiction recovery? At first glance, men may appear to have the upper hand as women tend to progress more quickly into chemical dependency and face serious consequences faster than men. However, women are less likely to struggle with addiction than men and fare just as well in treatment. In the end, it’s a draw. Neither sex is better or worse off; they simply experience addiction and recovery in different ways.
Who Wins: Women
Drug and alcohol addiction are more prevalent among men than women. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men are twice as likely as women to meet the criteria for drug addiction in their lifetime (though rates of prescription drug abuse are about equal). The disparity appears to be even greater for alcohol abuse, with men struggling at three times the rate of women.
Every parent wants to raise a smart kid. It seems logical that intelligence would correlate to better grades, a higher paying job and improved satisfaction with life. Yet studies show that a high IQ can get us into all kinds of trouble. Not only are brainiacs more likely to max out their credit cards and declare bankruptcy, but they’re also at greater risk for substance abuse.
According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a high IQ in childhood is associated with a higher risk of getting drunk and binge drinking. Youth who were “very bright” (with an IQ over 125) engaged in binge drinking roughly once every other month while children with an IQ below 75 engaged in binge drinking less than once a year. Similarly, the National Child Development Study in the U.K. showed that the more intelligent participants were in childhood, the more alcohol they consumed in adulthood.
People with high IQs are also more likely to smoke marijuana and take other illegal drugs compared with those who score lower on intelligence tests, according to a study from Cardiff University in Wales. Researchers speculated that individuals with a higher IQ are more willing to experiment and seek out novel experiences. In addition, smart teens aren’t likely to see occasional drug use as particularly harmful, though they may not understand the serious risk of addiction or be able to accurately assess their own risk factors.
‘Too Smart’ to Be an Addict
In addition to being more likely to use drugs, people of high intelligence are typically less willing to admit a problem and seek professional help and harder to treat when they arrive in treatment. Here are a few reasons that intelligence can actually become a handicap to recovery:
Intellectualization. Intellectualization is a defense mechanism in which addicts argue over logical flaws and over-analyze insignificant details to prove they do not have a problem. What they discover in treatment is that addiction is not an illness that can be approached intellectually. Smart people do foolish things …
During Olympic season, the public watches in awe as talented athletes from around the world compete, secretly waiting to see which ones are going to test positive for steroids. But steroids aren’t the only drug problem plaguing elite athletes. There is growing concern in a number of sports that players are sacrificing their health and their careers to prescription drug addictions.
Two of the most commonly abused medications in sports are narcotic painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, and prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall. Prescription painkillers are frequently prescribed (at least initially) for legitimate pain complaints following injuries sustained on the field. Their widespread misuse isn’t surprising given the aggressive nature of sports and the intense pressure on athletes to play injured.
Retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population, according to a study from Washington University. More than half (52 percent) of NFL retired players said they used prescription pain medication, 71 percent of whom admitted abusing the drugs during their sports career.
Addiction science has come a long way, but old ideas are still hanging around. Regrettably, one-third of Americans still regard addiction as a moral failing or a lack of willpower rather than a treatable disease. People still want to see addicts punished rather than rehabilitated, and addiction remains more stigmatized than depression, schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.
Widespread misunderstanding about addiction exists even in the treatment field. Despite all of our sophisticated brain imaging techniques, our knowledge about genetic predispositions to addiction, emerging theories about how drugs work and the hundreds of compounds being tested that promise to “cure” addiction, we still don’t have a single treatment that works more often than not.
Here are three common misconceptions that are preventing people from getting the help they need:
Scientific research has established that the dopamine system in the brain is the reason people experience pleasure when they take a drug. Based on the assumption that people will no longer use drugs if the rewarding effects are reduced or eliminated, scientists have sought to develop treatments that block dopamine receptors in the brain, mimic the effects of dopamine in the brain and stimulate the production of dopamine.