C-Suite and Addiction

How Addiction Develops and Treatment for High Performing Professionals

Learn about how pressure at the top of the business ladder contributes to addiction, common drugs of choice, and effective treatment options.

Addiction in the C-Suite
Addiction in the C-Suite

C-Suite and Addiction

How Addiction Develops and Treatment for High Performing Professionals

Learn about how pressure at the top of the business ladder contributes to addiction, common drugs of choice, and effective treatment options.

The information presented on this page is a general overview and is offered here as a comprehensive resource. At Ampelis Recovery, our programs are customized and tailored to the individual’s needs. Specific details below that cover treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols used for our clients.

If you would like to learn more about Ampelis Recovery and our customized programs for professional men, please do not hesitate to reach out.


Addiction is equal-opportunity. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t cower in front of status, nor does it care what a person’s title is. Addiction’s reach is the same whether an individual works in the C-suite or on the factory floor. Yet, although addiction can occur in every stratum of society, the experience is not always the same.

What is the C-Suite?

Every large company holds a group of people at the pinnacle of their organization. The term “C-suite” refers to this top tier of leadership. The name stems from a common first letter in the C-suite titles of these leaders. Typically, these managers report to the board of directors and the founders of a company. These C-suite titles include:

  • CEO:      Chief Executive Officer
  • CFO:      Chief Financial Officer
  • CIO:       Chief Information Officer
  • CMO:    Chief Marketing Officer
  • GC:        General Counsel
  • SCMO: Supply Chain Management Officer
  • CHRO: Chief Human Resources Officer

C-suite jobs come with a tremendous amount of responsibility and pressure. The futures of employees, customers, and the company rise and fall with the decisions they make. The constant high-stakes environment can make the C-suite feel like a pressure cooker.

Learn More About Healing the Brain

C-Suite Pressures and Stresses

Advancement into the C-suite level is not easy. Working at that level is even more challenging. Judging by the number of books, lectures, and articles attempting to help coach people into the C-suite, competition for the top positions is intense. Unfortunately, according to the Harvard Business Review, “the skills that help you climb to the top won’t suffice once you get there.” 1

When it comes to climbing the ladder of success, the C-suite is the goal. Once there, however, the work does not stop — it only gets harder. Entire departments, hundreds or thousands of workers, and sometimes whole industries hinge on what happens at this management level. For some C-suite executives, the same perfectionism and drive that lands them in the C-suite can lead to burnout in the long run. Turnover at the C-suite level steadily rose from 11.9% in 2010 to 16.5% in 2019.2

The endless performance measures and accountability structure makes the top-level isolating. The time demands and extreme focus on a career can harm relationships with friends and family. In addition, the “work hard, play hard” mindset of many executives, combined with the isolation of being on the top tier of the corporate ladder, can be a recipe for maladaptive coping skills — namely substance abuse.

Addiction in the C-Suite

Top-tier professionals of a company may feel the need to utilize any method to stay on top of their game and manage stress. Relying on the aid of drugs is one way to cope. Whether prescription or illicit, leaning on drugs to maintain their edge can feel like a natural means of keeping up; unfortunately, the consequences at the end can be disastrous.

Why Do Successful Professionals Use Drugs?

A high-ranking, high-earning professional using drugs is a perplexing concept for someone on the outside looking in. For those who are in that position or know people who are, the presence of substance abuse in that realm is not surprising.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 72% of gainfully employed adults struggle with substance abuse.3 Some of them are successful trailblazers in their industries. But the relentless energy it takes to remain at the top is unforgiving. Relying on the aid of prescribed or illicit drugs becomes a way for successful people to self-medicate against stress and deal with the demanding hours.

The type of personality that manages to get to the top requires risk-taking and competitiveness, which match the kind of personality most likely to try drugs. A 2017 study published in Development and Psychopathology found that white-collar workers were 2-3 times more likely than laborers to develop an addiction to drugs.4 The higher rate of drug use in higher-income, white-collar workers may stem from an unlikely source; a college education.

In a 2016 National Institutes of Health (NIH) report, 9.9% of students took Adderall (a stimulant) without a prescription to help them with school work.4 An Ivy League education may be a higher risk factor for substance abuse than a typical college experience. A 2015 study in the Academy of Pediatrics found that 1 in 5 students at Ivy League colleges tried drugs to “enhance” their study skills.5 This reliance on drugs can turn into an acceptance of their use to improve performance, rather than recreational use. The habit of leaning on drugs to succeed can follow these students into the professional world.

What Kind of Drugs Do

C-suite Executives Abuse?

Data regarding drug use amongst company leadership is hard to come by. Considering the stigma surrounding addiction, it is not surprising that successful people would prefer not to divulge their secrets on research surveys. However, studies involving specific high-paying professions provide insight into the substance use occurring at the C-suite level.

For example, a 2014 study asked attorneys to reveal what drugs they had used in the last 12 months:6

  • Stimulants (74.1%)
  • Sedatives (51.3%)
  • Marijuana (31.0%)
  • Opioids (21.6%)

The range of drugs used by executives is across the board, as they have the means to obtain any drug they wish. The limits and boundaries set by money do not apply to successful people, especially when the people surrounding them are their subordinates. Management roles, which include company leadership, rank as one of the top professions with the highest rates of drug use.7

Stimulants, which include drugs like cocaine and Adderall, are common among the C-suite because they can boost performance and energy. Benzodiazepines like Valium, on the other hand, provide stress relief and relaxation. Opioid pain medications, like OxyContin and Vicodin, induce feelings of euphoria and provide distraction worries. And when it comes to alcohol and marijuana, these substances make an appearance in the many social settings business leaders attend, exposing them to routine drug use.

Signs of Substance Abuse Among C-suite Professionals

Very often, the people surrounding top professionals find it challenging to approach them about their addiction. A successful drug users’ status shields them from criticism and allows them to hide their drug use. Starting a conversation with anyone about their substance abuse is always tricky, but having that discussion with someone in the C-suite is intimidating. It can get a subordinate fired.

Corporate leaders also possess the flexibility to hide their addictions. Unlike hourly wage workers or other employees, C-suite executives can easily modify their schedules without calling attention to themselves. They have the freedom to schedule their work around their addiction. Regardless of anyone’s status or pay grade, however, addiction’s consequences can be dire. It is vital to spot drug abuse signs and offer intervention options.8, 9

Behavioral Signs of Addiction

  • Mood swings or moodiness
  • Missing important meetings
  • Consistent lateness to work
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • A large decline in job performance
  • Excessive sick days or absenteeism
  • Continued use of the drug despite negative consequences
  • Taking unnecessary risks, like driving under the influence
  • Periods of hyper-productivity
  • Discussion of personal financial issues at work

Physical Signs of Addiction

  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Red eyes
  • Less attention to grooming
  • Hand tremors (Alcoholism)
  • Heart problems or blood pressure issues
  • Changes in pupil size (dilated or constricted pupils)
  • Facial bloating – Unexpected abnormalities in heart rate or blood pressure
  • Depression, anxiety, or sleep problems

Trying to Justify Drug Use

Some successful drug users attempt to justify their drug use because of the grueling nature of their jobs. Although the executive work culture is indeed tough, it is a red flag when a leader uses drugs to cope with their job title demands. No career requires habitual drug use to function successfully.

Treating Addiction in the C-Suite

Fortunately, there are rehabilitation treatment options that cater to successful people. Luxury and executive rehabilitation centers focus on a more upscale, personalized approach to treatment. These rehab centers help executives and VIP status clients overcome their addiction in a non-traditional setting with a higher client-to-staff ratio.

Luxury Rehab Centers

Unlike the more traditional hospital-like or dorm-like settings of most programs, luxury rehab offers a more holistic treatment approach. Using a comfortable, hotel-like environment, these centers provide increased privacy, alternative methods to recovery, and a more personalized treatment approach. What a luxury rehab center offers depends on the center itself. Many include:

  • Gym facilities
  • Private rooms
  • Gourmet cuisine
  • Spas
  • Outdoor activities

Executive Rehab Centers

Like luxury rehab centers, executive rehab follows a more non-traditional approach to the rehab environment. In addition to amenities like private rooms and gourmet meals, these centers also have meeting rooms and personal workspaces. These professionals can meet with others who do not have to wonder, “What is the C-suite like?” They are with other professionals who understand their work environment.

Geared towards busy C-suite executives, executive rehabs allow people in essential high-powered roles to work while receiving treatment. Because companies rely on these professionals’ involvement, executive rehab centers work closely with their clients to offer whatever they need to operate their businesses while in treatment.

Overcoming Addiction in

the C-suite

Success, wealth, and education do not make an individual immune to addiction. It may even make addiction much easier to conceal. In the end, addiction impacts each person negatively, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Addiction can have deadly consequences, and the C-suite is not a guarantee against addiction’s worse effects. Help for addiction is available for everyone. For clients in the C-suite, their treatment options are broad enough to include luxury and executive rehab centers.

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