Are Successful People More Prone to Addiction?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Think those with lower IQs are more apt in becoming addicts? Think again.

A 2013 article in Forbes magazine titled ‘Why the Brains of High-Powered People May Be More Prone to Addiction’ discusses how successful business leaders may be at a higher risk of developing an addiction. In fact, the two groups actually share similar personalities.

While it’s not a huge shock to learn a number of overachievers are abusing drugs, the Forbes article takes things further, highlighting research that indicates the very character traits that make some people successful can send others running headlong into addiction.

The real question, however, is why?

Researching the Character Traits

David Linden, a neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine who has researched addiction extensively, believes this mysterious link can be explained in both neurological and environmental terms.

An addictive personality includes character traits of those who often succumb to addiction. Those traits tend to include:

  • Instant gratification
  • Impulsiveness
  • Drive
  • Obsession
  • Risk-taking behaviors

However, the above traits are often the same ones that make for good CEOs – they’re all tied in with pleasure-seeking and the reward system. It’s believed the set of skills that teach us to derive pleasure from success are the same skills that drive us to seek pleasure from chemical substances.

“My strong, strong suspicion,” says Linden, is that what makes some people more likely to rise to top is same thing that makes them more likely to be addicts.”

My strong, strong suspicion is that what makes some people more likely to rise to top is same thing that makes them more likely to be addicts.-David Linden

Shared Life Experiences

Besides genetic disposition, another similarity found between high achievers and addicts is an early life stress or trauma. While a traumatic experience can fuel the kind of drive that makes one successful, the same experiences can also drive addiction.


Painful Life Experiences: Basic needs that weren’t met as children, whether from love, security, or stability, can drive a person to succeed later in life. However, the pain from this past experience is still there, causing many to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

As a result, many successful executives are often pushed towards substance abuse and, ultimately, addiction.

Avoiding and Preventing Addiction

Treatment among the high-functioning addict crowd tends to be more difficult, due to higher skepticism of the process as a whole and an unwillingness to admit powerlessness over addiction; but there are ways to sidestep these hurdles.

The researchers recommend developing a personalized treatment plan for each individual – one that meets and supports the needs of each unique business person.

Successful treatment options often include:

  • Psychological and behavioral approaches
  • Prescribed medications
  • Mind-body methods

No matter the method, if you want to achieve long-term success, it’s crucial to treat both the underlying mental health issues and the substance abuse problem.

Learn more about treatment options for alcohol abuse and drug addiction.

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