Professionals have the smarts – and the motivation – to hide a drug or alcohol addiction. After all, they have a lot to lose. They put their reputation, their professional standing, their public image and their relationships in jeopardy if they are seen talking to a drug dealer in a seedy neighborhood or disappear for days at a time.
Thus, they maintain some semblance of normalcy in their lives, so convincingly that their spouse and children are often unaware that a problem exists. Professionals themselves may remain in denial longer than other addicts because they can point to their career as evidence that it “can’t be that bad.”
Due to the chronic, progressive nature of addiction, professionals can maintain the façade for only so long. By the time they acknowledge the problem and get help, or are encouraged to seek treatment by a colleague or loved one, their disease is often advanced. Is your colleague or loved one creating any of the following illusions to disguise a drug or alcohol problem?
#1 Working Late
Success is the ultimate red herring. It serves many purposes for the addict. To concerned friends and family, it is much more acceptable to “work late” in the name of ambition or financial stability than it is to spend every evening in a bar or alone getting high. Because so many professionals make their careers a top priority, loved ones may accept frequent absences as part of the job rather than a sign of a drug problem.
Depending on the drug of abuse and the severity of the illness, the addicted professional may have a number of unusual behaviors to hide, from how much or how little they eat or sleep to blackouts and mood swings. Behaviors that would raise a red flag, such as withdrawing from family or losing interest in activities, might be less noticeable when the individual is away much of the time.
By working hard, the professional feels justified in playing hard. Anyone who questions their relationship with drugs or alcohol is quickly refuted: “I work hard, I deserve to have a little fun” or “I need something to cope with all the stress.” Then there are the attempts to intellectualize the illness: How could I be so successful if I have an addiction?
#2 Befriending Colleagues with Drug Problems
Some addicted professionals make a habit of befriending colleagues who have even more serious drug problems. He’s late for work; they’re later. She drinks a lot; they make her look moderate. They don’t ask questions, nag or judge. Each feels better about their own habits the sicker the other gets. By normalizing substance abuse, these friends not only feed the addicted professional’s denial but also that of their loved ones.
#3 Scheming to Get More Money
Drug habits are expensive to maintain even for a professional earning a sizeable income. To cover up financial problems, they may begin selling valuables from the family home, tapping into long-term investments or a child’s college fund, picking up odd jobs, making frequent trips to payday loan establishments, or borrowing from friends or family. They may become secretive about their bonuses and raises or volunteer to take over the family’s financial management tasks to prevent a loved one from questioning how quickly the money is disappearing.
#4 Blaming Others for Their Problems
Blaming others is both a sign of addiction and a distraction technique. If a drug isn’t available when they want it, the addicted professional becomes irritable and short-tempered. Since they can’t explain the real reason for their frustration (or denial prevents them from acknowledging it), they shift the focus to others.
When confronted about their drug use, the finger-pointing heats up. The addicted professional may get excessively angry or defensive, make excuses or start bringing up other people’s mistakes to divert the focus away from their drug abuse. If their spouse treated them better, they wouldn’t need to drink. It’s not that they’re abusing prescription meds; it was the pharmacist’s fault for filling only part of their prescription.
#5 Going the Distance
With so much to lose, addicted professionals will go to great lengths to hide their day-to-day drug use rituals. For example, they may hide empty bottles or drug paraphernalia around the house or drive to a different town to buy drugs or alcohol or to dispose of empty bottles or containers. Those who abuse prescription medications may visit multiple doctors in multiple counties to avoid stirring up suspicion in their own community.
Alone, none of these behaviors necessarily means someone is abusing drugs or alcohol. But when the evidence begins to point to addiction, it’s important for concerned individuals to act. Addicted professionals are not hiding their behaviors because they are duplicitous or underhanded people, nor have they turned against the people they love. They are suffering from a chronic disease that compels them to do whatever it takes to maintain their drug use.
Loved ones and colleagues who are concerned for the professional’s welfare and the safety of those who depend on them can contact the appropriate professional assistance program in their state or a treatment center that conducts comprehensive evaluations to determine whether there is a drug problem. If there isn’t a drug problem, everyone returns to life as normal with renewed peace of mind. If there is a drug problem, you may be saving someone’s life and career.