A Functional Abuser: Why Successful People Abuse Drugs

When you come across the term ‘drug abuser,’ chances are that you immediately think of people who use drugs as a matter of circumstance. As recently as 2008, epidemiological studies have shown that the rate of drug abuse is higher among certain groups, which includes people with lower socioeconomic status. Other risk factors in the United States include being male, being Native American, living on the West Coast, and being unmarried, widowed, or divorced. However, these correlations aren’t as strong as they have been in previous years, and people who abuse drugs more frequently come from backgrounds that aren’t normally considered at risk. In fact, a stronger risk factor for drug abuse is a high level of everyday stress, which is becoming more prominent in the lives of people that society considers successful professionals. The type of drug abuse is generally somewhat different in this demographic, with alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs being the drugs of choice.

Healthcare Professionals Susceptible, Attributed to Stress

According to the Student Doctor Network, healthcare professionals are at the same base risk for substance abuse as the general population, but with the added stress of their profession. Studies indicate that the overall rate of abuse isn’t higher in healthcare professionals, but that the stakes are higher when drug abuse does occur. In the same way that people with low socioeconomic status are likely to abuse prescription drugs as performance enhancers because of their stressful environment, people with high-stress jobs that require many hours of commitment may succumb to drug abuse as a way to manage stress and stay awake through long shifts. There’s also an added pressure on healthcare professionals to conduct themselves well and avoid precarious situations, as being under the influence on the job is particularly risky for those who deal with the health of patients.

The Complications of Perceived Success Alongside Drug Abuse

Unfortunately, the added pressure to maintain a professional image exists in all professions, whether the person in question works in healthcare, corporate communications, politics, or another field. In high-profile professions especially, or in professions where the safety of others is on the line, it may seem impossible for the affected drug user to seek help. Instead of addressing the drug abuse, it’s even more likely that a person perceived as successful in his field will hide his habit at all costs and deny that he has a problem. For this reason, professionals whose recreational drug use turns into abuse or dependence may have a poorer prognosis than the general population. Hiding drug abuse makes it very unlikely that recovery will occur, as drug dependency programs require the cooperation of the user.

The Cases Where it Didn’t Matter

Of course, in some cases, drug users are recreational or social users, who may avoid using often enough to become addicted. Professionals are more likely to use marijuana, or socially acceptable drugs, such as alcohol, both of which are easier to fit into a social and professional life without scrutiny. Another common choice is prescription drugs, which seem easier to obtain and less inherently dangerous than street drugs. Interestingly, many professionals manage to use drugs at one point during their career and admit to it later with few repercussions, including United States presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Others use drugs and remain quiet about it while leading a successful career, including some scientists, as reported by WebMD. Some report that using drugs on a limited basis help increase performance, although this is certainly an individual phenomenon, as drugs tend to affect individuals differently. Overall, it seems like the potential repercussions of using drugs to cope with stress as a professional outweigh the benefits, especially in cases where jobs or even lives could be affected by being under the influence. Of course, no one’s superiors appreciate their staff members using drugs on the job, or even outside of work where it might be documented. Despite this, drug abuse is a common way to deal with work-related stress, and in many cases, the more successful a person is, the more stressful his or her job becomes. Sources: DeNoon, Daniel J. “Scientists Use Brain-Boosting Drugs.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. “Drug Facts: Workplace Resources.” Workplace Resources. National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2008. Web. 14 Jan. 2013. Frances, Richard J. “Prevalence, Correlates, Disability, and Comorbidity of DSM-IV Drug Abuse and Dependence in the United States: Results From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.” Yearbook of Psychiatry and Applied Mental Health 2008 (2008): 76-78. Print. Kenna, George A., and David C. Lewis. “Risk Factors for Alcohol and Other Drug Use by Healthcare Professionals.” Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 3.1 (2008): 3. Print. Seelye, Katharine Q. “Barack Obama, Asked about Drug History, Admits He Inhaled.” New York Times, Oct. 2006. Web. “Some Inhaled. Some Didn’t. One Ate It With Beans.” City Room. New York Times, Mar. 2008. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. “Substance Abuse in the Healthcare Professions.” Student Doctor Network, 23 Aug. 2009. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.

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