Money can buy a lot of things, but one thing it can never offer is immunity to drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, money and status can fuel addiction and create a devastating cycle that impacts the wealth and security of families for generations.
For advisors and trustees, alcoholics and addicts present an enormously frustrating and seemingly impossible challenge. But a client's addiction can also present you with a unique opportunity to help and provide valuable support as you help the addict find appropriate treatment for lifelong recovery.
This article discusses how advisors can apply a clinical approach to addiction, treatment and recovery for the affluent, wealthy and famous. The approach is modeled on successful recovery programs for airline pilots and physicians, but modified for the well-off and well-known.
A Frustrating Disease
For the advisor, there is perhaps nothing more vexing than dealing with a client who is an alcoholic or drug addict, particularly clients who continue to use after treatment. More than just a distraction, addiction fosters complex dysfunction that affects families on multiple levels: from the rampant financial drain to support the addict's habit to the exhausting tension and family conflicts to the public relations nightmares of outbursts and arrests. It's a problem that can threaten the very underpinnings of the family's wealth and security.
Addiction is a chronic disease as baffling and complex as cancer, diabetes or heart disease, and sometimes just as deadly. While in the beginning drug use is a choice made by the person, research confirms that addiction changes brain chemistry and function in fundamental, long-lasting ways. Some addicts can even be high-functioning individuals capable of achieving continued success. However, left untreated, addicts become increasingly self-destructive, their addiction dominating and directing their behaviors.
Despite the physical, psychological and emotional complexity of addiction, it is a treatable disease. Ultimately, through comprehensive, interdisciplinary treatment, an individual can stay clean or sober. Getting there typically involves a cycle of treatment successes and relapse-a challenging journey for addicts as well as their families and advisors.
Wealth And Addiction
A basic tenet of addiction is that no person drinks or uses drugs in a vacuum. Family, friends and business associates can easily find themselves drawn into a maelstrom of anxiety and dysfunctional relationships and pain because of the addict's behavior. Their sincere efforts to support the alcoholic/addict may be ineffective and in many cases counterproductive.
This is particularly true in cases where the addict has unlimited access to money and can rely on others to manage personal and business affairs. These luxuries shield the addict from personal accountability. Money provides a cushion to avoid the consequences of drinking and using.
Even the idea of "hitting rock bottom" is skewed for wealthy individuals because their unlimited access to money and resources means they may never reach it. So the money paves the way for even greater self-destruction.
Wealthy addicts typically maintain a social environment conducive to their drug and alcohol use. Add to that the inherent pressures of protecting the family's name, a lifetime of being treated differently and the security of always having someone to bail you out, and you have a complex, dysfunctional, inward-facing family model that simultaneously isolates and insulates the addict.