Cocaine, Sex, and Executive PrivilegeIn recent months I’ve written extensively about individuals struggling with the all-too-common interplay of stimulant drug abuse and sexual acting out. However, I’ve not spent much time discussing WHO we are dealing with in terms of this treatment population. In this blog, I examine one segment of this growing clientele – a man I call “The Executive Player.”

The Executive Player

Numerous studies have shown that the fusion of stimulants and sex – much like substance abuse and addiction in general – is a cross-cultural phenomenon affecting all races, genders, and sexual orientations, regardless of social status, country of origin, etc. For certain subcultures, however, a fused pattern of drug abuse and sexual acting out is not only socially acceptable but expected, maybe even required. For certain high-level men in the financial, legal, entertainment, and similar high-profit industries, plying clients with cocaine and expensive alcohol and taking them to strip clubs or hiring expensive escorts is an accepted part of “doing business.” Getting a potential client amped up and laid is seen as a way to encourage and/or celebrate “sealing the deal.” Drugs and women are also regularly offered as “rewards” to successful high-end sales reps and executives. Readers may remember, as one small example, the scandals that came to light following the recent financial bailout, with millions of “rescue” dollars being spent by banks and Wall Street behemoths on booze, cocaine, and hookers. (What happens in Vegas….) It seems the recession of the past several years has not slowed the long-cherished “need” for such firms to indulge the hedonistic fantasies of coveted clients, top salespeople, and upper-level executives.

Culturally, this is all just another example of “boys being boys” in a way that drives the business world forward, right? So why all the fuss? After all, we are only a few decades beyond the routine multi-martini “working” lunch/dinner. (See Mad Men for further details.) Well, aside from the obvious moral, ethical, and socioeconomic implications, the “fuss” is about the fact that some of the men involved in this circuit – keeping the client happy by providing drugs and hookers – are ruining their lives, relationships, and careers. A weekly, monthly, or even quarterly diet of cocaine, strip clubs, alcohol, and prostitutes can destroy marriages and intimate relationships, cause financial problems, bring on legal trouble, and lead to declining physical and emotional health. Plus, the long “workdays” and subsequent hangovers decrease interest in personal friendships, family, hobbies, and other life-affirming interests. In other words, the driven, successful, cocaine-abusing, escort-using Executive Player will over time suffer the same basic negative life consequences as “lesser” addicts – the ones that hole up in cheap motel rooms with crystal meth, porn, and street hookers.

Eyes Wide Shut!

The primary difference between the Executive Player and other addicts for whom stimulant drugs and sex are intertwined is the depth and power of this man’s denial (and the role his job plays in maintaining that denial). The man who can “get the big deal done” will rarely be called out for whatever it took to make that happen – in fact, he is more likely to be rewarded than reprimanded. And if he’s gotten into legal trouble but is “too valuable” to the firm/company to discipline or fire (much like “too big to fail”), he usually doesn’t experience the full brunt of the negative consequences that typically cause other addicts to seek help. With the assistance of his employer and a high-priced lawyer, he gets his drug charge reduced to a misdemeanor, and he keeps his understandably needful family quiet via money, vacations, and expensive gifts.

Typically, Executive Players are wildly out of touch with the true cost of their behaviors. They routinely ignore warning signs that most others would not – unexpectedly contracting an STD, another broken relationship or divorce, being detained at an airport, etc. Their intelligence, success, entitlement, and ability to skip out of negative consequences leave them literally unable to see the destructive effects their drug abuse and sexual experiences are having not only on themselves, but also on those who love them.

The Executive Player uses his intelligence to weave an intricate, highly plausible fabric of internal lies and deceit. (How else do you get cash out of your expense account to pay for drugs and sex?) Typically, each lie has its own set of rationalizations and justifications, bolstering its “truth” in the mind of the Executive Player. Deeply enmeshed in this convoluted web of falsehoods, the drug abuse and sexual behaviors seem utterly reasonable to him. After all, it’s just the “cost of doing business.” The rest of his world, if given adequate insight into his behavior, might unravel his tapestry of deceit, but the Executive Player either cannot or will not, repeatedly defending his behaviors until his functional world disintegrates in divorce, disease, arrest, job loss, public humiliation, etc.

Amazingly, when an Executive Player’s house of cards collapses, he oftentimes views himself as the victim, even when it is clear his behaviors have harmed other people. Justifying drug use and casual sex to himself and to others, he argues that he is at the mercy of people or problems in his life, and he has “earned” the excitement/reward/control/freedom that drug abuse and sexual acts provide. He sees himself as burdened by the seemingly unceasing demands of others, especially his spouse, boss, and the company he works for. Unfortunately, feeling like a victim of his own circumstances feeds his self-entitled need to do whatever it is he wants, whenever he wants to do it.

Treating the Executive Player

As is the case with other individuals for whom stimulant drug abuse and sexual acting out are closely tied together, both halves of the Executive Player’s addictive behavior pattern need to be addressed. If we don’t treat both at the same time (drugs and sexual acting out), he may not heal from either. For these men (and other addicts for whom stimulants and sex are fused), treatment initially focuses on three main issues:

  1. Separating the individual from his addictive behaviors and the environment that maintains them
  2. Breaking through his denial
  3. Providing insight, education, and supportive tools he can use to combat triggers toward relapse

In order to stay sober post-treatment an Executive Player will require active involvement from his world to help “oversee” future activities and situations that can trigger him back into using.

With an Executive Player, as discussed above, breaking through denial can be difficult. He sees himself as irreplaceable and completely unable (read: unwilling) to take time off to get help. One potentially useful therapeutic task is asking him to document and then read back (in therapy) all the reasons his drug use and sexual acting out are OK. In other words, ask him to spell out his rationalizations, justifications, and minimizations. Then have him read that laundry list aloud so he can fully experience how that sounds. To him, one excuse by itself will seem plausible, maybe even two or three excuses, but when his list of defenses goes on and on (and usually it does), eventually it will start to sound crazy even to him. It can very effective to use Gestalt, role plays, or a similar methodology that will give him the experience of reading that same list while imagining his spouse, children, pastor, and boss are in the room. This process alone – taking advantage of his intelligence to replay for him the way his reasoning presents to others – can be enough to help him move from denial into early insight.

Ultimately, the most effective tools for breaking through the Executive Player’s denial are residential treatment, 12-step support, and a long-term commitment to an outpatient addiction therapy group for men. In the facilitated group setting, a treatment specialist works with six to eight similar addicts. This format is ideal for confronting the addict’s rationalizations and justifications – with confrontations providing powerful lessons not only to the individual being confronted, but to the group members doing the confronting. Through such interaction, everyone present can see that denial is nearly always built on a foundation of small, seemingly innocuous falsehoods that over time combine to make irrational behavior seem rational to the addict. Another advantage of group work is it helps to minimize or even eliminate potential power struggles between the therapist and client – common when dealing with Executive Players – as the individual and shared voices of the group are harder to ignore than that of the hired gun (the therapist).

Unfortunately, Executive Players rarely if ever seek treatment on their own. More often than not, they are forced into seeking help by the threat of divorce or separation, arrest, job loss, disease, financial ruin, or some other negative life consequence. Interventions are useful and necessary toward speeding up this process. Sadly, by the time Executive Players finally do enter treatment, most end up wishing they had asked for and accepted assistance long before they actually did.