Facing the truth

Many business professionals seem to have it all together.

For a time, I was no exception.

As president and CEO of a medical device distributorship at 34 years old, I was already an expert in molding myself into who my audience needed me to be. On the surface, who could argue? I had more money than most of my friends. I ran a team of several dozen people whose job security rested on my shoulders. I had a nice car, a comfortable house and a beautiful family. I lived the life that society demands.

However, that was nothing more than an illusion. In reality, my life was a series of silos designed to let me be whom I needed to be to get what I wanted from others. I had my employees who knew me as the boss who worked hard/played hard. I had my vendors who knew me as a professional, well-spoken, over-achiever who could make my business partners money. I had my family who knew me as a hard worker willing to work long hours to help secure our financial well-being.

And I had my secret silos. I had a group of friends who drank alcohol like me. They stayed separate from my other silos. I had a group of friends who occasionally participated in illicit drug use like me. I kept those friends separate from everyone. My life was spent not working towards growing a business or raising a family but, rather, managing to keep all these silos functioning to support me while keeping knowledge of what I was doing silent.

What was real was my addiction to drugs and alcohol. I used opiate pain medication or alcohol every day for almost 17 years. It ran my life despite my best efforts to manage it — and hide it from everyone. When I would be confronted by a friend or loved one concerned with my use, I could always deflect by saying, “How could I have a problem? Look at what I have? Look at how successful I am?”

The truth is I did have a problem. But as many executives and business professionals know, there are various reasons why we cannot face this truth. First, we typically are high-functioning over-achievers. We aren’t the homeless, living-on-the-street types. We are VPs, sales representatives, marketing managers, C-suite executives. We still have our cars, our houses and our families. For now.

Second, we are “too busy” with our careers to shut down for 30 minutes, let alone 30 days, to seek help. How can the world I know function without me? Third, and most important, we cannot accept the fact that perhaps we are not running the show. Many of us have been successful because we were the go-getters, the win-at-any-cost types. Just hit the numbers, make the quota and show a profit. Nothing else matters. The hardest thing for me to admit was that I had a problem. But until I was willing to do that, I could not find a solution.

My addiction cost me dearly. I was arrested. I lost my wife and children. I lost my best employees. I lost my friends. But there was also a significant cost to my business. I faced several lawsuits, had high turnover and had generally poor production due to my absenteeism as a result of drugs and alcohol.

Since 2012, I have educated myself. I have learned that I am not alone in this scenario. Many of us are “functioning” addicts or alcoholics; and executive-level positions are a perfect hiding place for people like me where time is easily explained away, opportunities for secrets are everywhere, and the depths of pain are covered up by titles, money and power.

The stats support much of my personal story: According to the Office of the National Drug Control Policy, 67 percent of drug users are full-time employees. They aren’t the homeless. They are your co-workers, your employees or your VPs. The stats say one out of every 12 of your employees uses illicit drugs every month. With alcohol, the frequency of use and abuse is even higher. According to NCAAD.org, 24 percent of all employees report having used alcohol during the workday within the past year. WhiteHouse.gov estimates that 70 percent of the costs of alcohol abuse are due to loss of productivity in the workplace, amounting to nearly $120 billion in costs annually.

For people who may have a problem, there are warning signs that can be spotted at work. Depression, irritability, mood swings, absenteeism and turnover are all clues. According to the ONDCP, addicts and alcoholics are twice as likely to miss work compared to those who do not use. They are also twice as likely to have undergone multiple job changes within the last 12 months. Easier to spot are other indicators such as office holiday party behavior, smelling alcohol on a person or neglecting responsibilities at work.

But what can you do to help someone you are concerned about? Employers can serve an important role offering workers options to face the problem and serving as a place to turn for help. A 30-day visit to a treatment center may be daunting to some. Inpatient treatment is always an option, but it is not the only option. There are other available treatment modalities that allow employees to continue a relatively normal work schedule while simultaneously treating their substance use issues.

Outpatient treatment, sober coaching, education, awareness and prevention are tools that can help mitigate these habits into something treatable. Too often we wait until the inevitable “bottom” hits. Sometimes employees need sober companions, detox, drug testing or clinical therapy. If you are concerned for yourself or others within your organization, take action. Say something to offer help and guidance. An intervention with someone suspected of having a problem should be done with compassion and care. They need to know you care about them too much to underreact to the situation. Help can come in many forms. But the first step is to address the problem so that you can work towards a solution.

Ryan Cain is a co-founder of Music City Interventions.

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