Category Archives: Wealth

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part VI

Barriers to recovery: the Myth of the American Dream

Myth of the American Dream: With money and success, all our dreams will come true.

“While we spend our time enjoying the American Dream, in reality, is it all a lie?”


For the well off, America – The Land of Dreams, becomes America – The Land of All Your Dreams Come True. We’re raised to believe that having money means being happy and successful. For those working hard to accumulate wealth, we know one day our life will be one of leisure and worry free, as we delight in our deserved riches.

Wealth creates its own set of problems

“I have all this money, everyone tells me I should be happy, but I’m not and my using is out of control. What happened to me?”


The reality is that having wealth, earning high incomes, or accumulating money creates its own set of problems. Those who aspire to “make it” fail to understand the (mostly) hidden, pervasive dysfunction permeating affluent families and the ensuing guilt over leaving friends behind. Wealth, beauty, fame, and power are called the four curses due to their negative impact on the lives of their owners. Yet most people aspire to or would like to have any one of the four curses, believing their life would be better off no matter what the trade offs are.

Another hurdle to overcome

Being an alcoholic certainly is not fulfilling the American Dream, and when struggling with addiction, the Myth can be another hurdle to overcome. When addicted, we are living proof that the American Dream is fantasy, but the Myth soothes us and allows us to believe that we are living the good life and there can’t be any problems, so we continue on.


The Myth influences our lives in many ways:

  • We believe the Myth. Everyone tells us we have it so good – so we believe our experiences and feelings must be wrong. We don’t acknowledge the problems in our lives because we buy into the idea that our lives must be wonderful. This leaves us open to exploitation and an inability to take action to protect our selves because we can’t see our vulnerabilities – we are bullet proof.
  • People around us believe the Myth. We can be treated as objects to be seduced, deceived, or conquered by those who want a piece of the dream. Even our peers and counselors believe our lives are fantastic and refuse to accept that we might have problems.
  • We idealize the “family founder.” We adopt family stories about the famous family founder – without also examining the negative traits or luck that led to his/her success. We can never live up to the achievements of our family or fulfill our obligations to the world, when our forbearers become our idols.
  • We think achievements will make us happy. Especially for the self-made, we assume reaching our goals would make us happy – instead they often leave us miserable and searching for meaning.
  • We live our public image. We comply with the ought-tos and shoulds imposed by the life stylized for us by the media, merchandizers and our internalized messages. Whether ski goddess, corporate gladiator, trust funder, rock star, or philanthropic do-gooder – we spend our time acting the part and rarely experience who we really are.

Few experiences are more compelling than speaking with:

  • A lottery winner who is in treatment and can’t figure out what happened or why the newly-adopted lifestyle might be part of his problem: “You mean I should stay away from the Cubs, Blackhawks, Bears, Bulls, and the casino when I get home! What will my friends do without me?”
  • The tech guy who cashed out, with the much-envied wine cellar basement and accompanying bottle habit that makes him an unreliable parent and absent spouse.
  • The 40-year-old beneficiary who is filled with self-hatred when working at a recovery job at Home Depot.

These scenarios call for compassion, not scorn, because we, like them, all buy into the Myth at some level.

The Myth as an external message

While there are many similarities to other barriers, a difference is that the Myth is much more of a cultural, social, and media-driven concept, reinforced multiple times each day. In one sense, this is the other side of the coin from envy and resentment, which offends us, in that the Myth is something we become committed to. It makes acknowledging our addictions and seeking help to recover more challenging because we believe we cannot possibly have a problem when we’re following the recipe for success.


And if we become aware of problems, we cannot admit to them because that would be admitting failure where others are succeeding – failing to enjoy our privilege and power, failing to handle it, etc. That’s one reason why the thought of working at Home Depot or giving up the tickets generates so much shame, even revulsion. (Note: Recognizing our feelings as valid and reaching a compromise is far better than forcing us into a work or housing setting to prove a point.)


It’s usually when suffering the physical effects from using or we dry out for a while, that we come to grips with the reality that the Myth is not working for us.


And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful spouse

And you may ask yourself – Well how did I get here?

And you may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?

And you may ask yourself, where does that highway go?

And you may ask yourself, am I right…Am I wrong?

And you may ask yourself, MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?


The Talking Heads express what many of us feel as we begin to realize how much deeper our hole is when abetted by money, power, and status.

Our reality

How is the Myth supporting our use?

  • People close to us or helping us may look at our assumed power (or the power of those associated with us) and be afraid to confront us with our behavior.
  • If we are related to or associated with the moneyed, powerful, or famous, we may be so dependent on the connection for self-worth, livelihood, or recognition, we can never let go long enough to develop a life of our own.
  • Drug and alcohol issues are about managing the image of abstinence or recovery – not necessarily about changing anything.
  • It is hard to experience healthy pleasure (including sex) in relationships because of doubt: Is it me or my money/body/fame? Am I being star-screwed? Substances help us gloss over all these feelings.
  • While the well-off are able to afford household help, this supposed luxury is belied by physical/sexual abuse by child care assistants or other employees. Because parents are dependent on their help, parents are reluctant to take action or are “too busy” to pay attention to what is actually occurring with their children.
  • Professionals, such as school personnel or doctors, refuse to believe us, because we come from such good homes, and their careers could be jeopardized by filing a complaint.

Different life, new dream

Reflecting on personal experiences, tallying up the high percentage of relatives with addiction and mental health issues and talking with others from similar backgrounds, provides solid evidence the myth is a sham. There is no American Dream! But we can learn to live a different life with a new Dream.

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part V

Barriers to recovery: cultural and social rules

These rules act as breeding grounds for our addictions and prevent us from asking for help.

“What shows is what matters, and, above all, keep it in the family.”


In many settings, the very act of refusing a drink is viewed as being anti-social – so much so that when someone says, “No thanks, I’m in recovery,” common responses are: “You can have just one, right?” “Beer’s OK.” Or “Try this pill, it’s non-addictive.” Abstaining almost implies that anyone partaking has a problem, and that defies a heavily-invested-in norm – both literally (wine cellars and journeying) and emotionally (anticipating that drink or drug and conviviality).


The alternative of staying away is often viewed as an act of disloyalty, particularly for family summer or holiday gatherings, even though alcohol use is rampant and can awaken old using feelings for those trying to stay sober. And there may be a not-so-unspoken price to pay, when our economic wellbeing is dependent on family business employment or discretionary trusts. We may get a pass when first out of treatment, but many times we are simply expected to attend and tough it out, regardless of relapse triggers.

Examining social norms

One primary rule among wealthy and prominent families is that alcohol is served at every gathering. It is the social lubricant that allows many of us to function, connect with each other, and make our lives tolerable. (For the next generations, drugs serve the same function and are considered more socially acceptable than alcohol.) As Joanie Bronfman points out, this is one of many similarities between wealthy family culture and alcoholic family culture. Let’s look at others:

Our reality

  • The importance of maintaining appearances. What matters is what shows. What does not show does not matter.
  • Dress, manners, possessions, clubs, schools, activities, etc., show that one has money or is of privilege or power (can be counterculture as well).
  • Control and repression of feelings.
  • Limited interactions with people not like us. We’ve surrounded ourselves with “our kind,” going to the right schools, camps, colleges, living in the right communities, and associating with the right people.
  • A sense of entitlement. We believe we deserve what we have and expect to be treated differently than other people.
  • Judging ourselves in comparison with other people. This can be subtle or more direct, but comparisons often lead to feelings of superiority, based on what we have or who we are.
  • Expectations about appropriate work, mates, and social activities, which limit our individuality and creativity.
  • The message that we will be rewarded by our parents if we conform to their expectations as to how we should think and behave.
  • An emphasis on not showing off our wealth and prestige. Although some of us are ostentatious by choice – either deliberately modest or obnoxious.

And above all, when the going gets tough, we solve our problems our own way – thank you very much!


We learn social norms and rules as children, often by emulating role models or simply living a life organized around private schools, country clubs, camps, and second homes. The culture and expectations can be so internalized and stifling that we don’t speak our truth or have little idea as to what we want and who we are – a setup for the cocktail hour, joint, or pill taking on a life of its own. Handed down from generation to generation, this way of life is adopted by new entrants who are often unaware of the accompanying dysfunctions.

Save your face or save your ass

We can please our family and try to reclaim the veneer of respectability lost through our use, or we can recognize that committing to recovery means exploring, recognizing the limitations of our upbringing, and examining our delusions:


We live in the best neighborhood, our children attend the best schools, we support the best charities. Our family life is perfect – a credit to our family name… La-di-da.


When addiction strikes and it’s time to take a hard look at our lives and what needs to be changed to recover, breaking addiction means breaking the “rules.” It’s save-your-face-or-save-your-ass time; you can’t do both. Is what we tell ourselves, how we live our lives, and what we are told to do, working for us or contributing to our downward spiral?


Time to take a hard look at answering that question:


A valued trait for fundraisers, parties, business, and volunteer work, gregarity doesn’t work in treatment. For those shy or uneasy with small talk, alcohol and drugs ease the way at these gatherings.

Happy hour medicating out of reality

Alcohol and drugs make it possible to remain in intolerable situations.

Speaking the truth is betrayal

Destroying the family picture that “life is good” feels like a betrayal of family and social class, no matter how ugly the scene is: neglect, physical and emotional abuse, incest, etc.

Women: deference begets abuse

Women are taught not to make a scene and do as they are told, resulting in a reluctance to respond to emotional and physical abuse, date rape, or guilt trips by outsiders. (Although this is slowly changing with new generations.)

Male dominance

The family and cultural imperative to produce a worthy male heir at any cost can lead to a sons’ dominance over sisters and toleration of “boys will be boys” behavior.

Believing I can do this myself

Individualism and the feeling of being on our own inhibit us from talking about our lives and asking for help. Our training about self-determination prevents effective treatment since we believe we “should” deal with the disease on our own.

What’s public is what matters

It is the public display of drunkenness that matters, not the private display. Thus, dealing with a drug or alcohol problem is figuring out how to limit the public display – not how to sober up.

Secrets take priority over connecting with peers and therapists

Keeping the family secrets is viewed as a valued act of personal loyalty, rather than as perpetuating separation between us, our counselors, and peers, who perceive our “loyalty” as distant and withholding.

A no-win situation

Keeping secrets is also a no-win situation: “I can’t talk about what it is like to be me. But I can’t get help if I don’t talk.”


Ultimately, it’s tough to maintain the appearance that we are fine when we are in a treatment center because our life is a mess and our use is out of control. But many prefer to ignore these facts, perhaps because the alternative is too scary and holding on to the outward manifestations of success is all we have left.

Escaping social rules and expectations? Or not!

“That ain’t me. I’m not a creature of my upbringing. In fact, I am doing things differently from what I learned as a child.”


You may say that. But not so fast. Family and past experiences are very influential, particularly when overusing drugs and alcohol or returning from treatment to the same environment but without our “helpers.” In these stressful situations, the ingrained behaviors and relationship ties, often at an unconscious level, take control and steer us into trouble spots. Too many cannot give up or postpone pre-recovery activities (e.g., the weekly lunch at the country club, fundraiser, hunting trip, etc.), and relapse is around the corner.


For those whose identity is centered on rejecting the rules, we often fail to recognize a real element of belonging is knowing what the rules are – whether we choose to obey them or not. This is a common experience for many addicts who perceive themselves as rebels or marching to a different drummer but who are still dependent on the monthly check.

Learning a new culture

As mentioned, this blog is about how cultural and social rules inhibit our recognition of addiction and keep us sick or in relapse mode. Learning a new culture – the culture of recovery – is key to overcoming the power of norms and expectations that perpetuate our disease. Other practices include building intuition (learning to access your heart and feelings, rather than the voices of others) and spirituality (connecting with a power outside of ourselves, not the expectations of others). Neither is a quick fix and both require almost daily focus to be successful. More on these topics in future entries.

Helping addicts stay the course

8 ways leverage works to improve outcomes

Today’s topic could be called “Why We Love Leverage.” That’s because we use it for many purposes, including compliance with treatment recommendations, signing releases, and drug testing. As mentioned in past blogs, programs for substance-dependent physicians use leverage for similar purposes and achieve spectacular results when compared to other approaches.


To refresh: A high percentage of people who need treatment do not believe they need it and do not perceive themselves as having a problem with alcohol or drug use. Therefore, they are resistant to being forced into treatment. Adopting a leverage-based approach allows the family, working with their professional, to adopt a long-term strategy to address the addiction, including chipping away at the self-perception problem over many weeks, if not months. Continued pressure provides situations for the addict to develop insight into the disease over the stages of recovery.


Currently, no treatment center offers the medical board model to non-physicians, so we adapt and modify their model. Here’s why leverage is needed and how it works.

1. To help the addict complete the stages of recovery.

A recent article in a professional addiction journal discussed the developmental approach to recovery and the six stages to achieving stable remission[1]:

  • Transition – Recognition of Addiction
  • Stabilization – Recuperation
  • Early Recovery – Changing Addictive Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
  • Middle Recovery – Lifestyle Balance
  • Late Recovery – Family of Origin Issues
  • Maintenance – Growth and Development

In our experience, this is a two-to-five-year process, depending on the progression of the disease, severity of use, and co-occurring conditions (trauma, abuse, learning, mental health, etc.).


Leverage becomes especially important in the second stage.


Stage Two: Stabilization – Five Tasks to Facilitate[2]:

  1. Achieving recovery from withdrawal.
  2. Interrupting active preoccupation.
  3. Creating short-term social stabilization.
  4. Learning non-chemical stress management.
  5. Developing hope and motivation.

These stages take much longer than 28 days, which is why leverage needs to be maintained over many months – and also why relapse is so common: Addicts leave treatment without being stabilized. (By the way, did your loved one’s counselor ever tell you where s/he was in the recovery process? I think not!)

2. To allow time for converting external motivation to internal motivation to recover.

Therapeutic leverage to enter treatment and comply with post-treatment recommendations is needed because it is very difficult for people with substance dependence disorders to change harmful behaviors on their own.[3]


The goal is to maintain pressure until the person develops sufficient internal motivation to want to remain abstinent and active in a program of recovery on his/her own volition.


Internal motivation to recover is a much stronger indicator for success than external pressure. However, because the degree of internal motivation is measured by acts and attitude, rather than talk and intentions, it takes time for internal motivation to “kick in” and show itself – again, usually more than 28 days, especially after relapses.


To be effective, leverage must be used with sophistication and discretion and is much more a carrot-and-stick proposition than raw force. For the affluent, leverage comes from controlling money, participation in family businesses, access to family resources, and relationships. Leverage is most effective if senior family members, trustees, or others in positions of power support its use and are united when dealing with an addicted family member.

3. To obtain full releases of information.

One key element in recovery is open communication among the substance user, treatment center, and key players in the addict’s life. Substance dependence lives in secrecy, with the person often leading a double life and understating the amount and number of drugs, when caught. Insisting on being informed on treatment of your loved one’s disease is not only good practice but sends the message that your relationship is now different.


Leverage is an effective tool for encouraging an addict to sign releases. It is indeed more than ironic that so often families pay for treatment and then a wall of silence is erected based on confidentiality laws.


Affluent patients often will sign only partial releases and withhold information about post-treatment recommendations if the recommendations defy the patient’s wishes. One way to counteract game-playing by addicts regarding the scope of the release is to request the treatment provider to send a copy of the signed release to the professional hired by the family, who will understand any limitations in the document.

4. To encourage signing recovery contracts.

These contracts specify activities the addict will engage in when leaving treatment, such as counseling, drug testing, meeting attendance, etc. It usually includes a relapse plan and an agreement to sign releases of information for all therapists, who must be approved as addiction specialists. In exchange, the contract specifies expectations regarding support by the family or trustee for recovery activities and lifestyle.


If the person leaving treatment does not agree to the contract, the family can refuse to support him/her or provide minimal support, depending on their level of comfort.

5. To encourage long-term compliance with all treatment recommendations.

Failure to comply with treatment recommendations is the No. 1 cause of relapse. If a person had cancer and all they had to do to recover was follow treatment protocols, they would do so without fail.


Substance-dependent people – who also have a chronic disease where there outcome is death or disability – commonly ignore advice from professionals and go back to their old ways. Leverage encourages long-term compliance.

6. To require effective and comprehensive drug testing.

This should not even be up for discussion, given anyone’s history with an addict. Not only is it very wise to condition support and access to family resources on regular, observed, full-screen tests (because addicts lie), but testing helps keep loved ones on the path to recovery because they know they will be caught if they use.

7. To allow early intervention in the event of relapse.

When combined with drug testing and a written agreement as to what to do in the event of relapse, leverage provides for fast intervention before a relapse gets out of hand.


One problem with people who relapse is they can do so for some time before others become aware of it. Then, they deny it happened, and if proof exists, claim it was a one-time occasion. This is why drug testing is so important: It is undisputable data regarding use. And it allows for quick interceding before relapse becomes embedded.

8. To increase consequences of use to make the disease real.

One major block to recovery for affluent, substance-dependent people is that they suffer few external consequences from their use of drugs and alcohol. Research shows that the more consequences a person experiences, the more likely they are to take their disease seriously and take action to abstain and recover. For the affluent, a key challenge is figuring our how to recover without losing everything.

Making the disease more real

By using leverage to accomplish the goals in topics one through eight, we are in effect Creating Consequences™ by making the disease more real: Drug testing, recovery contracts, and treatment compliance create accountability and require action upon leaving treatment. Along with the written plan in the event of relapse, it means that if the addict returns home and takes it easy – does nothing much regarding further efforts at recovery – there will be consequences. The hard work begins after leaving treatment, and leverage provides the foundation to encourage continued progress towards stable recovery.


[1] Recovery From Addiction, A Developmental Model, Part One, It’s All in the Journey, Sept. 2008, p. 8.

[2] Ibid, p. 12.

[3] Satel, Sally, M.D. 2006. “For Addicts, Firm Hand Can Be the Best Medicine.” The New York Times, Aug.15.

A myth is that the addict must be motivated to quit – that, as it is often put, “You have to do it yourself.” Not so. Volumes of data attest to the power of coercion in shaping behavior. With a threat hanging over their heads, patients often test clean.

Goodman and Levy. Biopsychosocial Model Revisited. p. 3.

Chemically dependent patients, free of co-existing mental illness, with intact jobs and family, tended to do well in rehabilitation programs if families and employers applied therapeutic leverage and support.

Susan Merle Gordon. Relapse & Recovery: Behavioral Strategies for Change. Caron Found. Rept. 2003: p. 18.

Internal motivation is a more powerful predictor of recovery than external motivation. Moving from external motivation to internal motivation is a long process. Therefore it is critical for external pressure to continue until this transition is fully underway, if not complete. The failure to follow this advice is a major cause of relapse (paraphrased from report).

Chuck Rice. “Impaired Lawyers Overcome Denial, Stigma to Achieve Road to Recovery.” Hazelden Voice. Vol. 9, No. 2. Summer, 2004.

My experience with attorneys tells me that long-term outcomes are dramatically improved when lawyers can be monitored and when there is an accountability system with a fair amount of external support.

Alan I. Leshner, Former Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Institute for Mental Health. Science and Technology. Spring, 2001: p. 2.

Treatment compliance is the biggest cause of relapses for all chronic illnesses, including asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and addiction.


Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part IV (cont’d)

Barriers to recovery: resentment and envy

“Oh no, you are one of those people, I can’t sit with you.”


We continue our discussion of negative reactions to us as a barrier to recovery by exploring its origins and, in our pursuit of sobriety, ways to offset or overcome it. As mentioned, many us go to treatment actually wanting to recover but hostile reactions on the part of other patients and staff impede our efforts – one reason for our high relapse rates.

Understanding resentment, envy and wealthism

In our society, it is still permissible to make negative comments about people who are well-off, prominent, or powerful. This unfavorable opinion can come from various places. For one, we can be assholes, particularly when using or stressed. In some cases, people have had negative experiences with wealthy or famous people, finding them arrogant, rude, obnoxious.


The growing income disparity also breeds animosity.

  • The top 10 percent now receive one-half of all income and own 75 percent of all assets.
  • The top 10 percent also received 116 percent of income growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 lost 16 percent – that’s right, they went backwards.

No wonder people are angry with us.


Additionally, wealthism stems from myths we and others create. Many people believe that material experiences or possessions lead to happiness – and if you have money, you shouldn’t have problems. People subscribe to the idea that we are happy, have an easy life, and can do whatever we want when we want to do it. There are several reasons for this:

  • We build our image to give the appearance life is easy and grand.
  • We’re unwilling to talk about the realities of our lives, especially the problems and dysfunctions.
  • We believe we have transcended the basic activities ordinary people engage in to survive, yet we behave in ways that prove we are unworthy of this transcendence. (See bad behavior of the week in people or the tabloids.)
  • Our culture sells Americans on the idea that those who work hard will be rewarded with success. Many people work hard, yet do not achieve their goals for success. This can lead to anger against the successful, their family members, and successive generations who simply inherit money. (See: our upcoming blog on the myth of the American dream.)
  • The media sell Americans on the idea that material experiences or possessions create happiness and satisfaction (or access to happiness and satisfaction). Since we have money, a name, or are in positions of importance, others conclude we must be happy, and they either want what we have or resent us for having it. (See: our blog on materialism.)

Whether legitimate or not, being self-aware and sensitive rather than dismissive of the views and feelings of the non-wealthy reflects an appreciation for how our circumstances in life could so easily be different.

Wealthism in counselors and the recovery community

In the counseling therapy community, unspoken and sometimes barely-veiled attitudes include:


“I work hard and I’m not rich. Why should you be rich, rather than me?”


“I hope you never recover because I will loss my cash fee.”


“As an alcoholic (or addict), you don’t deserve your money.”


Insight into counter-transference seems to be gleefully ignored and therapeutic integrity sore lacking.


When in treatment, our counselors encourage us to let down our guard and begin to trust our peers and the recovery community. But when we do, too often our newfound friends – even “sponsors” – ultimately are more interested in accessing our wallets, pants, or famous parents than supporting our sobriety. Halfway or sober homes with meetings open to outsiders are open season for sophisticated predators taking advantage of vulnerable clients just out of inpatient treatment. For those from out of town or with no stable outside friends, when this duplicity become evident, we withdraw – or even worse, relapse or give up on life.

Needed: good treatment centers and supportive counselors.

Unfortunately, centers providing quality treatment that address the needs of the affluent and therapists who can support us and advise us on how to tell our truth are hard to find.


(Note to us: We need to start our own one.)


What about centers that specialize in affluent clients?

  • First, many of the patients in these centers are not interested in recovery; they are there to dry out or please others – not a healthy peer group.
  • Second, many of these centers are high-end spas and lack the rigorous treatment programs necessary to build a foundation for recovery.
  • Finally, one core principle in recovery is that we become comfortable in our own skin – who we are as a person. We can’t do that if we avoid 90 percent of the population.

Aside from these three concerns, in my view specialty centers do not truly understand our underlying drivers of addiction or the barriers to and challenges of recovery. Treatment approaches tend to be superficial, rather than helping us gain insight into deep-seated fears and well-guarded feelings about our childhood experiences and relationship with money, power, and prominence.


My experience


On personal level, I was outed by someone who knew of me, so I made a decision to be honest regarding my general circumstances. Because I had talked about the loss of my brother and son, a good connection existed with many peers. And having spent years in sports and all male schools, I knew how to navigate the treatment unit environment. But many others are not at all successful.


When I did discuss how my finances and upbringing were part of my addiction, several peers came up to me and talked privately about their situation. But when their time to share came, they kept all that quiet. I could see the difference between the relief I felt from being honest and their continued obsessions and resentments about being in treatment. This was a light bulb moment for me and a motivator for exploring how wealthism impacted other affluent people attempting to recover.

What to do?

Some recovery practices combat resentment and envy. Here’s how:

  • Ask for help from trusted counselors, mentors, or friends (a support team) about how to tell our truth to others. This is about coaching and support. Since this is new for us, there will be a variety of experiences to talk about with our support team. No one gets this right the first few times. It is empowering to let others know who we really are.
  • Tell who we are in a safe environment. The fear of speaking our truth is much greater than the reaction we receive when we do talk about our lives. Most people will still like us. A few will not. Don’t take it personally.
  • When describing events, use the general description of the problem rather than the specifics. Otherwise the focus of the listener is on the details, rather than the problem. Example: “I went to political events to make me feel important. I was able to donate large sums of money which gave me access to the most important politicians.” Do not say, “I donated $100,000 to the Republicans, which allowed me to have lunch with Dick Cheney.”
  • Speak to the feelings and emotions in our lives as any normal person would. Allow yourself to be fully human. It is OK to acknowledge serious problems in our lives and deficient upbringings, while at the same time having or being related to money or prominence.
  • Set boundaries. Another time to ask for help or coaching. Examples of boundary talk:
    • “I am afraid to tell you about me for fear that you will not like me, ask me for things, or gossip about me.”
    • “No, it is not OK to ask me for my autograph; I am here for treatment (a meeting).”
    • “I am hurt that you seem angry with me, but I am here for help and I can’t get help unless I talk about my life.”
    • “The person you see in the picture or film or on TV is not the real me. It is an act or an image. The real me is an alcoholic/addict.”
    • “I am angry that when I told you money was an enabling factor in my life, you turned around and asked me for money. I feel that is a violation of the group trust.”
    • “Just because I look good by society’s standards does not mean I don’t have problems. I do have problems and I would like your support.”

All of these suggestions require sound advice and strategizing with a trusted therapist or friend and the courage to try new behaviors. We need to be better prepared to face resentment and envy in treatment and outfitted with the skills required to work through wealthism and focus on what brought us there in the first place: recovering.

Tragedies in the making

In our work, many of our most painful conversations are with parents who give up on children who keep relapsing and are deemed treatment resistant. When we dig deeper, we find their adolescents and young adults were afraid to participate and sometimes abused because of their background. These are tragedies in the making – almost all avoidable – one critically important reason to ignite a conversation about wealthism.


Too many of us go to treatment and are blindsided by negative comments or withheld interventions by staff and it’s time to bring this problem out in the open. It’s our experience and if people resent us for who we are, it’s their problem, not ours. Individually and collectively, it’s essential to summon the strength to be who we are – tell our truth and get on with recovery. Nothing makes the resentful angrier than to see us become sober without losing everything. And nothing makes us happier than doing so.

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part IV

Barriers to recovery: resentment and envy

Wealthism, perceived or real, hinders our recovery.

“If I had your money, I would never be an alcoholic.”


Our fourth topic has a different twist to it in that we are talking about how others react to us as a barrier to our recovery. This is a sensitive subject few speak up about, as we are generally afraid to expose wealthism. However, discussing how it impacts us when we seek help is necessary. Unlike other barriers to recovery, which impede our commitment to change, this one impacts those of us who actually want to quit and sober up. But when we run up against prejudice, we lose our enthusiasm, become defensive, and try to “just get by” until our discharge date.


The genius of the 12-step movement is that people with a common problem learn from each other in order to stop self-destructive behavior.

  • We recover in groups, not alone.
  • Recovery is about the ability to tell our truth to other addicts and be accepted for who we are, flaws and all.
  • It’s also about reflecting on, identifying, and delving into what’s driving our addiction.

Without a doubt, wealthism, or prejudice against the privileged, runs rampant in the treatment and recovery communities. It’s a huge hindrance in overcoming alcohol and drug use, because unless we feel safe and free to tell our truth, it’s difficult to even contemplate stopping. And it’s nearly impossible if staff resents us, stands in awe, or caters to us due to our VIP status. A common reaction is to internalize the negativity, resulting in self-hatred that becomes even more corrosive when compounded with the shame of addiction.

Our reality

Resentment and envy can make it difficult for us to connect with other alcoholics/addicts and participate in recovery programs:

  • We’re stressed over hiding who we are really are in conversations with others and the fear of being discovered. By keeping our wealth private or hidden from others in recovery, we are essentially living a lie.
  • We don’t connect with other alcoholics and addicts through the sharing of our stories because we don’t feel we can speak freely. We edit or suppress important parts for fear that the telling will lead to negative reactions. Thus, we never complete the first step – we never rejoin the human race.
  • We withdraw from others, which results in not being present on an emotional level. Our peers in treatment and recovery sense something is missing, but what is it? We listen, but we don’t reciprocate.
  • We feel guilty because we also believe that money could “buy happiness” and feel like we have failed. This guilt prevents us from expressing our needs. Do we deserve to recover, when we blew it?
  • We try to manage or adjust the situation to minimize or offset anticipated or actual envy and hostility. This is another way of not connecting or surrendering – we are attempting to exercise control.
  • We lose contact with reality by avoiding the mainstream recovery community. Without regular contact with ordinary people, our personal issues can spiral into major emotional crisis. In reality, our problems are often trivial when compared to those facing ordinary people.
  • We’re reluctant to ask for feedback. We may not want to hear some truths about ourselves, especially truths related to our wealth, fame, or status.
  • We are perceived as objects or stereotypes instead of real people with a disease that is killing us.
  • We fear people will take advantage of us (i.e., gossip about us, sell our stories to the media, ask us for money, etc.).

Above all, it’s hard for us to feel good about ourselves when we repeatedly hear negative messages. We become mired in self-loathing and can’t summon the strength needed to engage in treatment.

Wealthism: what we experience

These wealth- and fame- related issues that crop up in recovery are byproducts of wealthism in the recovery community. Simply put, wealthism is prejudice toward people with money, simply because they have money. It includes actions or attitudes that dehumanize and objectify us. Expressions include resentment, envy, and awe.

  1. Resentment is a form of hostility or anger.
  2. Envy is a covert form of anger. Envy is based on the idea that anybody can be rich, well-known, or powerful. So why is it you and not me?
  3. Awe is the (apparent) experience of being overwhelmed by the beauty or extent of the riches or by vicarious enjoyment of our experiences as moneyed or well-known people. Awe is an indirect form of envy. Concern for our feelings is overwhelmed by the excitement generated by wealth. We are simply conduits for the assumed “magic” in our lives.

Thanks to Joannie Brofman for her dissertation on the experience of inherited wealth, for coining “wealthism,” and for her forthrightness in defining the problem.

Wealthism: what it sounds like

As children, we tend to hear the direct words, while as adults we experience indirect variations like patronizing behavior, false friendships, exploitative business, or charitable proposals. But in treatment, the juvenile directness returns:

  • “Your father is so wonderful. You are so lucky! Can I touch you?”
  • “Listen, if you got problems with your beautiful wife, let me have her, I know how to make her happy.”
  • “Our unit voted and decided with $20 million, you will never recover.”
  • “How can you have problems? You are so beautiful, you can have any man you want!”
  • “Oh look, here is your picture in Elle.”
  • “You got it easy. Why are you working so hard in treatment? Your life is handed to you on a silver platter.”
  • “What’s it like to work with Brad Pitt?.”
  • “You are so lucky, I wish I had what you had.”
  • “Can I have your autograph?”
  • “Oh no, you are one of those people, I can’t sit with you.”
  • “With his kind of money, put up with the abuse.”
  • “Will you lend me money?”

Constant comments like these make it hard to want to fit in, and even more so without the support of staff, who fall back on stereotypes, like “trust fund baby” or “arm candy” for a successful spouse.

Blaming the victim

It’s no wonder many of us are labeled “treatment resistant,” uncooperative, or reluctant to participate in group activities. Who wouldn’t be when faced with outright hostility from peers and the failure on the part of treatment staff to intervene on our behalf? A prime example of blaming the victim, when in fact it is treatment that failed.


In other blogs in this series, my preference has been to postpone suggestions on ways to overcome these barriers to recovery to future presentations to keep focus on the “problem.” But because resentment and envy emanates from others and so hinders our efforts to sober up, it is better to explore what to do now. Later this week, we’ll continue discussing resentment and envy, looking at what drives wealthism and what we can do about it.

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part III

Barriers to recovery: materialism

Materialism: Doing or having, rather than being.


Our third recovery barrier is materialism: putting money, possessions, lifestyle, and image ahead of self-care and recovery. It feels good to travel, spend, buy, meet celebrities, attend that special benefit, or be so philanthropic.


We love our new Jaguar; it just glides! Have you been to our beach house? Yes, it is a Rolex. Have you met his new wife – she must be 25 years younger. What about that endowment at Harvard or that reserve in Africa? And the investments!


For the wealthy, prominent, and powerful:

  • Externals matter, so we purchase a lifestyle that reflects our success. This can include relationships as well.
  • Hanging out with others like us leads to an atmosphere of comparison and competition. Who has the biggest private plane? Gives away the most? Is closer to GW, BC, or BA?
  • Since we can buy the best, why not have the best? Schools, second homes – whatever it is we value takes on meaning, rather than focusing on the quality of our relationships.
  • We learn immediate gratification because we get what we want when we want it.

In addition to a materialistic focus, many of us also buy into the notion that money, prominence, and power should make us happy. And when it does not, we turn to “more” as the solution, falling further into this trap. Alcohol and drugs help fuel and medicate this ride. Addiction is essentially the ultimate “consumer good,” in the sense that having a drink or a pill always alters our mood.

The transformation dilemma

Recovery is founded on transformation, an awakening or desire for a different life. But it’s really tough to let go of our self-identification and attachment to status, position, money, and possessions. Whether positive or negative, these feelings intensify when addiction strikes.


After detox, the hard, core question is:


Who am I without my money, name, power, or fame?


This is another “dark night of the soul,” stomach-wrenching question that many of us don’t want to face because we realize that when all else is stripped away, we are left only with our addiction. We’re just like every other drunk or druggie.

Our reality

  • We are used to buying what we want or our way out of trouble, so we try to buy recovery. This does not work for alcoholism/addiction.
  • We believe our own press/bank account and give lip service to our counselors. How much do they make? How do they dress?
  • Success in the material world leads us to conclude we know how to recover.
  • Money is more important than our own health or recovery.
  • We buy our way out of life’s experiences, like treatment. How much more do I need to pay for a private room?
  • We have a limited life view. Example: Trying to figure how to fly first-class on the way home from treatment without succumbing to the offers of free drinks. Flying coach is outside the realm of considered options.
  • We tell ourselves that attending to career, social, and extended-family needs takes priority over treatment recommendations.
  • We call upon outside advocates or helpers to influence treatment professionals.

In treatment, it is so easy to focus on what we lost and want to regain by abstaining: trust fund disbursements, cars, houses, jobs, assets, position, stardom, etc. These seem to be the only way we can identify ourselves to others or feel secure in a new environment without a substance to fall back on. Above all, we comply and lie, in hopes of retaining a measure of what we think is self-worth or identity, rather than commit to recovery.

  • I am here for winter vacation from graduate school. If I go to a half-way house, I can’t get my degree on time.
  • If I don’t do the publicity tour, I won’t be hired for another film.
  • I must go to my family’s annual summer gathering or they won’t give me money.
  • Don’t tell anyone my job is a sham, I don’t want to lose my position.

When these and other core attitudes and behaviors surface, it’s a crossroads moment: We can decide to stay in our addiction or try a life without drugs.


On one level, this is about being unwilling to take a leap of faith and trust treatment professionals or our affluent friends in recovery. But on a deeper level, it’s a struggle to let go of attachment to the “material” and make recovery our first priority.


The realization

Some of us are lucky enough to have a light bulb moment where we realize that money and our other special attributes and resources are fueling the fires of our addiction. Others discover through self-reflection or interactions with others in treatment how money is a negative rather than a positive in our lives:


  • We experience an underlying sense of unease when we take a good look at the world around us.
  • We’re objectified by others we meet in treatment, our “peers” and counselors. (“If I had your money, I would never become an addict.”)
  • Some feel bitter and disillusioned, wanting to get rid of the trust fund, get out of town, and change our name.
  • We question if we really deserve all this when we’re given every advantage or have exploited, tricked, or screwed our way to the top.
  • We substitute money and material possessions for love, self-worth, or achievement – leading us to feel alone and like failures in our personal lives.
  • Money interferes with genuine relationships. Our friends and mates become dependent on us rather than establishing genuine relationships. As a result, no one says “no” to us – and if they do, we get rid of them or avoid them.
  • We struggle to relate to others. Our toys, prerogatives, and privileges act as a barrier to forming meaningful relationships because we never go deeper than surface-level.

When these thoughts come upon us, we can feel very isolated. We are migrating beyond our comfort zone into uncharted territory. Few counselors really understand how hard it is to reframe and sometimes disconnect from the lifestyle that we begin to recognize is destroying us.

We long for something more

Ultimately, there is a persistent, underlying emptiness – a void that we previously filled with drugs and alcohol. In treatment, we hear that spiritualism stands in contrast to materialism and wonder if we can live with the contradiction and what that means. How do we sober up without losing everything and maintaining our abundance, however we define it?


These are excellent questions to consider in later blogs. But for now, the focus is how wealth, fame, and power are actually distractions from recovery, easily diverting attention from real issues, like keeping one’s sobriety and being just a first name.

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part II

Barriers to recovery: lack of consequences

Lack of consequences: Using resources to shield us from the effects of drinking and drugging.

What problem? Call my lawyer!


We continue our exploration on the connection between wealth, fame, power, addiction and family dysfunction in today’s blog with a discussion of lack of consequences – perhaps the Death Star of barriers to recovery.


Most people seek treatment when they “hit bottom.” Whether they are arrested or lose their jobs, relationships, and money – life has become so unbearable there is little choice but to do so. Those of us with resources and influence avoid these problems. We are insulated from the effects of our drinking and drugging – what I call the Featherbed Syndrome. We snuggle up in our cocoon of delusion with little or no sense of how we hurt others or even ourselves, and therefore, with few incentives to change.

Our reality:

Buying our way out of trouble

When arrested for a DUI or drug possession, we can use high-priced attorneys, friends of the family, or our position to avoid jail.


Substitute child care

We can avoid our responsibilities at home by hiring others to do our work for us; so we can drug, drink, and party.


Not needing to work

We may work, but work is not essential for our existence. It is often a cover. Losing employment may be an annoyance that needs to be explained away but creates few incentives to stop. When we are our own boss, there is no one to insist on performance standards.


Media madness

For some, relapse may make us a marketable commodity for a show needing a ratings boost. At a minimum, it’s good for a few hits on our website, where we describe how we use our renewed strength to stay on the straight and narrow.


Home or work environment supports use

When those around us are dependent on us for their well-being, our addictions will be tolerated, if not encouraged. “The drug lady and her briefcase come at 11:00.” When fearful things will change if we sober up, our habits will be encouraged. We get rid of or avoid anyone who objects.


Self-made – not self-aware

For the self-made, the reach of our empires smooth’s over any flaws or warts that might bring ordinary men and women to their knees.


The code of silence

Above all, there is a code of silence, where those in positions of authority like to do us or our family members favors, and drinking or drugging are viewed as private matters to be tolerated and expected without much comment.

Rules don’t apply

Most of us were raised in a lifestyle where we grew accustomed to not experiencing significant consequences of poor behavior. Nothing happens to us when caught in anti-social behavior as children. It is ignored, covered up, or spent away. We also see our parents or older siblings avoid trouble through the use of high-paid help or influential relationships (although we may not be aware of what is really going on).


Those of us with special talents or favored appearances learn early on that same rules do not apply to us. It starts with school excuses, postponed work, going home instead of to jail, trading a smile or a look for a warning – all playing on the need of others to be connected to us in some way, even if we know we don’t mean it. When addiction strikes, the distortions become exaggerated:


Mirror, mirror on the wall, I know best and that is all.

The lack of corrective feedback as teenagers and young adults makes it difficult to accept information about our behavior that does not fit with our desires or view.


The sound of one hand clapping.

When everyone seems so happy to be around us, we buy into the idea that they must be right (and you, counselor, are wrong).


The avoidance of consequences by family leaders creates a culture negatively impacting successive generations where children are afraid to speak up for fear of being cut out of the will. Spouses can be influential, but many of us would rather find a new one than continue to hear about our excesses.

Lack of visible consequences

Many of us experience internal consequences from our use, such as emotional and mental degradation and loss of spirit. Unfortunately, we tend to see these as resulting from the actions of others or events outside our control. This “projection” makes it bearable for us to continue in our use. The lack of visible consequences can impact recovery in many ways: 


We believe we don’t have a problem.

We are often able to deny the problem and point to positives in our lives as proof that the problem does not exist. This is particularly true in comparisons to others: “I can’t be an alcoholic, I’ve never been in a car accident or missed a day’s work.” (What is that you do, exactly?)


Without consequences, we stay in delusion.

Because our addiction lies below our level of consciousness in the primitive mid-brain, we are not consciously aware of our self-deception or that your perception of our behavior is more accurate than our own perception. In essence, our unconscious, primitive mid-brain tells us we must use or we will not survive. We buy into this message hook, line, and sinker and will continue to do so until we die.


Multiple/delayed treatments.

The result can be multiple treatments to please others. Only when the consequences of our use become severe enough or others confront us with sufficient leverage so as to break through our “must use or die” internal bind, do we admit we might have a problem we need to look at.


Enforced abstinence seldom succeeds without the lifestyle connection.

Many times we are able to experience periods of abstinence only when access to money, prominence and power are restricted by others or our own severe physical consequences. Unfortunately, during these opportunities to gain insight, little support is provided so we can see how our resources help get us to the spot we’re in.


Without consequences – without feeling the impact of our addiction – it’s unlikely we will stop using alcohol or drugs.

Make the disease real

When sitting in evening lecture, night after night hearing speakers say we had to lose everything in order to recover, I began thinking of ways to make the disease real. Asking myself, how can we recover without losing everything? This is a topic to explore in later blogs, but I will say that it has lot to do with our being accountable by developing recovery agreements and relapse plans. In other words, offsetting the Featherbed Syndrome by creating external consequences and prioritizing recovery activities.


In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how materialism and the pursuit of money and possessions stifle self-care and recovery.

When addicts say no

Using therapeutic leverage to encourage change and promote recovery


When alcohol and drugs assume a life of their own and begin to influence and, at times, take control of the behavior of the user, family members and advisors wonder how best to respond. The simple answer might be, “Why not ask them to stop?”


But anyone familiar with a substance user knows this request is very likely to be ignored or objected to (sometimes vehemently). The concerned person who is rebuffed or too afraid to ask the question faces three major challenges:


  • Understanding what is going on in your loved one’s brain.
  • Lack of motivation to change his/her behavior.
  • In the face of resistance, deciding on the most effective option to encourage the addict to seek help and be successful in recovery.


This blog will briefly discuss these challenges with an emphasis on why we much prefer “therapeutic leverage” to encourage addicts to seek help, versus other commonly-used approaches. As one parent wrote about her young adult child:


And the truth is without mom and dad forcing change, as some point either the law will force change, or tragically life will.[i]


This the stone cold truth – it is reality in world of addiction. And the purpose here and in the next few blogs is to talk about leverage and compare it to other, less-effective approaches.

Understanding the disease concept.

The first thing those dealing with a substance user need to remember is this:

  • It’s not your loved that is rebuffing you, it’s the disease.

With brain scans, we now understand addiction as an “automatism” – a disorder of the central nervous system partially located in the limbic system – the fight-or-flight area of the so-called primitive brain, which tells itself “I need this substance to survive.”


The intensity of the reaction to any request to stop is directly related to the limbic system’s commitment to the drug or drink.


This commitment to use can be for several hours a day, on weekends only, or two-to-three days a month. It’s not the frequency of use – it’s what happens as result that matters.


In order for the limbic system to become less reactive, an addict must abstain from mood-altering substances and learn new responses to the desire to use. This means in discussing change strategies, the idea is to look at the model(s) that provides the best opportunity to achieve abstinence in the long run. (If you, the reader, do not buy into the disease concept, you have an obligation to present credible alternative scientific evidence to support your view.)

Lack of awareness on the part of the addict.

One major hurdle is what we call the “self-perception” problem. A high percentage of people who need treatment do not believe they need it. They do not perceive themselves as having a problem with alcohol or drug use and are resistant to being told they need help or to seeking treatment. For example:


Of the young adults who needed but did not receive substance use treatment in a specialty facility in the past year, 96 percent did not perceive a need for treatment. Of the 4 percent of the young adults who did perceive the need for treatment, less than one-third made an attempt to get treatment.


This holds true even if there is a crisis that outside observers consider to be overwhelming dependence on alcohol or drugs: DUI, low grades or dismissal from school, car accidents, failed relationships, or a consistent pattern of binge drinking.


The addict’s inability to see the need to change is one of the core conditions that an effective approach to encourage the person to seek help must take into account. Addicts are not merely in denial, they are delusional because of lack of awareness regarding behavior or attitudes. Therefore, any change strategy must focus on chipping away at the self-perception problem – the delusion that the addict is fine as-is and you are the problem.


This can take weeks and continues on even after entering treatment. For example, merely because someone agrees to seek help does not mean they fully understand what they need to do to recover – the “learning process” is ongoing. Addictions are different from other illnesses in that the degree of effort is greater for recovery, and it requires a unyielding determination to remain abstinent no matter what.

Choosing a change model.

While there are a number of different approaches used in the treatment field, we firmly believe in the leverage model used by medical boards for substance-dependent physicians because its results are spectacular when compared to other approaches. Let’s look at the numbers:


“The research showed that 78 percent of 904 doctors in the studied programs completed an average of 7.2 years of monitoring without relapse. …

Those are just over-the-top numbers for a chronic, progressive disease that kills people.” – Dr. David Carr, Director, Mississippi Physicians Health Program


Seventy-eight percent rate of continuous abstinence at seven years!


These results are much better than those for other programs. (And the data is reliable because it is based on regular drug testing overseen by medical boards, rather than self-reporting or very small, restrictive samples, as is the case for success rates reported by other programs.)


One reason for their very good outcomes is that medical boards use the license to practice medicine as leverage or pressure to assure that physicians comply with treatment recommendations, including post-treatment plans and reliable drug testing for two or more years.


“A skeptical argument often goes that physicians are a special case because the threat of losing a lucrative profession they have worked so long to pursue gives them extra motivation to stay sober.


But Carr believes most everyone has something similar in their life that they value, and that is what the treatment system must identify and tap into.


The plumber has a good job and doesn’t want to lose it,’ he says. ‘Or he’s got a great wife.’


Carr says the field needs to analyze what it is providing to groups such as physicians and airline pilots but not to others. Then it can determine how to overcome barriers to a more widespread application of a treatment model that is based on accountability.”


Our goal, then is to identify and tap into what the addict values and does not want to lose.


Finding and using leverage points.

Parents, family leaders, trustees, and business owners need to find pressure points to encourage their addicts to enter treatment and comply with post-treatment recommendations, via either explicit or non-explicit leverage.


  • Explicit leverage includes using continued employment, access to funds, and professional licenses as incentives for compliance.
  • Examples of non-explicit leverage include requests to seek help, embarrassing social incidents, and school or employment failure.


Non-explicit leverage is far less effective because it does not provide enough pressure for the addict to engage in recovery activities long enough to sustain stable abstinence.


Using leverage to encourage compliance with treatment recommendations over many months helps make the disease “real.” People with few external consequences – especially those with wealth, status, and power, who are immune to the Average Joe’s “rock bottom” – begin to recognize they do have a problem, particularly when there is accountability and drug testing.


Why leverage works

The primary goal of applying leverage is to modify behavior by encouraging the addict to seek effective treatment and follow post-treatment recommendations. The pilot and physician model is, in essence, forced behavior modification in which the addict is required to engage in recovery activities until they internalize the desire to remain sober.


Internal motivation is a more powerful predictor of recovery than external motivation. Moving from external motivation to internal motivation is a long process. Therefore it is critical for external pressure to continue until this transition is fully underway, if not complete. The failure to follow this advice is a major cause of relapse. (Paraphrased from report.)

Susan Merle Gordon. Relapse and Recovery: Behavioral Strategies for Change. Caron Foundation Report. 2003: p. 18.


As noted in a New York Times article, “The Secret of Effective Motivation,” internal reasons for remaining sober are far more conducive to success. Therefore helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their new life without drugs or alcohol is one of the primary goals of treatment, beginning with initial detoxification and continuing on as a life-long process. We cannot stress enough how important it is to maintain pressure until the addict is motivated to recover for the sake of recovery, and not for the benefits of doing so – or the punishments for failing.


Leverage is a strategy to obtain compliance – it is not treatment.

Leverage is not treatment. It is a technique to get the addict to enter treatment and stay in recovery. So you have to find treatment centers who support your use of leverage and has an abstinence-, 12-step-based program that respects and treats the individual clinical needs of your loved ones.


In upcoming blogs, we’ll discuss other aspects of leverage as well as other approaches to treatment and recovery and why we believe these fall short of the therapeutic leverage model.


[i] Lynn Benson, Star Tribune 8.6.11

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted – Part I

Barriers to recovery: being special

Being special: Feeling unique, different, and superior.

Are we too special to recover?


In a previous blog, we discussed the connection between wealth, fame, power, and addiction and family dysfunction. We said:


The advantages and privileges of money, fame, or power support and feed our use of alcohol and drugs. When using, the very resources distinguishing us from others are in fact part of our disease and in essence killing us.”


We selected eight areas to explore as barriers to recovery, beginning with being special – the topic for today. As we know all too well, treatment centers and counselors that cater to the wealthy do not understand or adequately address our core issues  one reason for our high relapse rates. So if we want to achieve stable recovery, the only alternative is to start identifying and exploring them on our own.


There is a fine line between feeling good enough about ourselves to want to recover and too lost in ourselves and the expectations of others to keep from taking action to do so. Reflecting on being special will likely be uncomfortable for many, but we feel that unless we face some hard truths about ourselves – our reality – we will remain stuck in our addiction. So our goal is to consider some common experiences about “being special” and, if you identify with some of these traits, ways to respond positively.

Being special: a core issue

As people with wealth, status, and power, we often feel better or different than others. And why not? People want to befriend us, be near us, touch us, sleep with us, drug us… We’re the center of attention at social and professional gatherings. For some of us, the media reports our every move.


Where does the notion of being special come from?

  • From how other people treat us as children and adults.
  • From our search to secure love and affection.
  • From our need to wield influence over the feelings and behaviors of others.
  • From our experience growing up as children seeing how others treat our parents.
  • Being watched and courted for our imagined power, access to funds, social set, or our bodies.

It’s not the size of the town that matters – the important families in the smallest of towns experience this phenomena, particularly if they are “the town.”


Because other people are constantly affirming that we’re important, we begin to feel that we are entitled to special treatment. This “specialness” can directly impact our recovery in many ways:

  • We need to be special. Special treatment confirms that we are, indeed, special. Without it, we feel unsafe or unloved. So we insist on unique treatment so everyone knows we are important. This demand for special services makes it difficult for people to tell us what our real clinical needs are and limits our ability to connect with other people in recovery programs.
  • People tell us what we want to hear. Our friends, publicists, lawyers, agents, and groupies tell us we are not the problem. Our use is due to our schedule or pressures. We can’t get sober because we are going to the wrong treatment center, therapist, or program.
  • We make our own rules. We use lawyers, lobbyists, or agents to beat the system and obtain special favors. We believe that rules, including the rules of recovery, apply to other people – not us.
  • We create a public image – and live it. Often as a result of childhood abandonment and rejection, we create a false, admirable self to assure we are never alone. It is easier to buy into the image than deal with our life as it is. We start to believe this image is who we really are – we want to be recognized, sign autographs, and give gifts – even in treatment. The problem is that our addictions live in that image.
  • We fiercely protect our public image. Without our public image, we fear we will have nothing or be nothing. We live in constant fear that people will find out about the “real” us. Not only does this fear prohibit us from participating in recovery programs but it gets worse without drink or drugs.
  • We can never achieve enough. To know a wealty or famous person well is to know what cherished fantasies he has not fulfilled.”* The need to achieve more and more keeps us from being OK with the fact that we are alcoholics or addicts.
  • We are important to the world. Our careers (even if non-compensated) can put us on a treadmill that we can’t get off. We believe our donees, fans, employees, or constituents depend on us to continue working. We don’t have time for treatment.

Ultimately, these are the primary negative consequences of being special:

  • It’s hard to find personal power that is not at the expense of other people.
  • The desire for excellence to show we deserve being special leads to an inability to admit we may need help.
  • Our belief that we have valuable contributions to give to others or the world makes it difficult to hear from others or accept a program of recovery without trying to improve it.
  • Lack of empathy for or understanding of the points of view of others or their problems.
  • Overly-intense emotional reactions when things do not happen as we think they should.
  • For those related (or in the entourage), derived power and vicarious living is a great substitute for the real thing, even though one must make appointments to see the “special” relative (e.g., going through a scheduler to find time to speak with a famous parent).

Above all, are we taking the easy way out by falling for any offered “cure” other than the self-examination, behavior changes, and lifestyle adjustments necessary to recover?


How does it feel to be on your own, like a rolling stone?


Not so good – in fact, terrifying! Hand me the Xanax or that joint. What about a little Molly or a handcrafted whiskey?

Mixed emotions about being special when thinking about recovery

We have mixed emotions as to whether we want to think about this topic, let alone discuss it out loud with others. That’s partly due to feeling badly around newly-recalled memories of inappropriate (all right, obnoxious) behavior when using. And it’s also because if we start to look at the details, it will mean cutting back and changing – become less “special” in order to become clean.


Then there is the very real problem of finding a safe place to even begin to reflect on the topic, let alone start a conversation. Trustworthy and empathetic counselors are hard to come by, whether in or out of treatment centers. Sometimes affluent friends in recovery can be really good listeners, share similar experiences, and can be very supportive. Otherwise, try journaling and thinking about some of our ideas.

  • Accessing the shame over childhood abandonment and rejection as part of evaluating the drive for success. Where is the trauma?
  • Looking at the pros and cons of the public image. What does it do and not do for us?
  • When the public self denies the private self, the contrast creates personal fraudulence. How much of a fraud am I?
  • Evaluating fears about disengaging from our entourage, staff, or family office. What is it about being on our own with others who don’t want something from us that is so frightening?
  • Focusing on the let-down after the performance or the spending spree. Why is the “high” of the applause, exotic trip, or last purchase so difficult to sustain?
  • Reality checks with ordinary people. May be a reason to go to meetings and just listen.
  • Perform more of the basic functions of life. A “chop wood, carry water” philosophy. 

Ultimately, those of us who suffer from feeling or being special need to be willing to expose that which we are ashamed to see that others can accept us for who we are – flaws and all. This is definitely a “dark night of the soul” journey where it is easy to get lost in despair, so look for that trusted counselor or friend to join you in your travails.


In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how wealth, fame, and power insulate addicts from the consequences of their behavior/disease.


* For more on this topic see “Fame: The Power and Cost of a Fantasy,” an article in The Atlantic by Sue Erikson Bloland, daughter of Eric Erikson.

Wealthy, famous, powerful, and addicted

Why do those of us with so much, get so little from recovery programs?

Most people would assume that those with wealth, fame, or power could afford to do what it takes to stay clean and sober, but that is often not the case. Recovery rates for these groups are significantly lower than for other alcoholics and addicts, and there are a multitude of reasons how these seeming privileges end up hindering sustained sobriety – and happiness.


Given the recent deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Peaches Geldof, and Robin Williams, it’s time for us to come out of the shadows and talk about it.


We are a community of recovering individuals and professionals with backgrounds in family businesses, affluence, and prominence – dedicated to educating, connecting with, and encouraging people living with addiction and significant resources, media visibility and status. If you are a substance abuser, family member, or concerned friend, you have come to the right place.

Our reality: Our resources are killing us

Money and power are an integral part of our addiction, alcoholism, and family dysfunction. The advantages and privileges of wealth or fame support and feed our substance use. When using, these very resources distinguishing us from others are, in fact, part of our disease and, in essence, killing us.


In many ways, we are like other addicts: We do whatever it takes to get our drug of choice; we can’t imagine life without alcohol; we use drugs to cope with our emotions; etc.


But unlike other addicts, we can use our resources, position, and influence to obtain our drug, manipulate the world around us, and – most dangerously – isolate and shield us from our consequences.

Money fuels the fire of addiction

The dangers are in our access to money, our lifestyle, our attitudes, and our family secrets. While these traits are present to some extent in most wealthy people, when addiction strikes, they can become toxic. They allow us to appear normal, while the obsession to drink or use continues to grow unabated. Unless examined and addressed, sustained recovery is almost unobtainable.

Barriers to recovery

In talking among ourselves, we’ve identified seven areas that are common barriers to recovery – barriers that keep us stuck in trying not to use rather moving on to the tranformation of soul and spirit that is the foundation for sobriety.


Being special: Feeling unique, different, and superior.

I’m not like those other lowlife addicts.


Lack of consequences: Using resources that enable us to deny our problem.

What problem? Talk to my lawyer!

Resentment and envy: Envy, perceived or real, hindering our recovery.

“If I had your money, I’d never be an alcoholic.”


Cultural and social rules: Cultural rules encouraging our addictions and preventing us from asking for help.

What shows is what matters; keep it in the family.


Materialism: Putting money and possessions ahead of self-care and recovery.

Doing and having, rather than being.


Myth of the “American Dream”: Expecting money and success to lead to happiness.

What’s wrong with me that my lifestyle and toys don’t make me happy?


Suppressed pain: Submerging the intolerable and denying our experiences.

Hey, it’s not so bad.


Fame: The personal and family impact of being prominent/famous.

Reconciling what is real versus what is imagined.


Above all, if recovery is about moving from isolation to relationships, how can reach our goal if so few people are trustworthy?  


In our next blogs, let’s explore these topics and see how they impact use and recovery.