Addiction and White-Collar Professionals

Popular culture depicts those struggling with addiction as unemployed and often homeless. While there are many vulnerable populations who struggle with addiction, many seemingly successful individuals also struggle with this condition. High-achieving, wealthy people in white-collar careers experience substance use disorders at high rates. Some professions that  are at greater risk for addiction than others.

Our guide will help you understand addiction and co-occurring disorders and how to get treatment if you, or someone you love, needs help.

What is Addiction?

Clinically referred to as a substance use disorder, addiction is a chronic disorder involving changes to the reward structure of the brain, causing compulsive substance-seeking behaviors. Many people who develop addictions escalate how much of a substance they consume until they feel like they need the drug in their system to feel “normal.” This involves the body’s physical dependence on the drug and a tolerance to the substance, leading to greater consumption to reach the original high.

Additionally, the changes in the brain caused by drug or alcohol use may make it incredibly difficult for someone to stop using substances, despite negative consequences in their lives. Substance use disorders often require professional addiction treatment in order to get on the road to recovery.

White-Collar Professions and Substance Abuse Rates

According to a 2012 study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)the white-collar jobs with the highest rates of heavy alcohol abuse include:

  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 11.5 percent
  • Management: 9.9 percent
  • Real estate, rental, and leasing: 8.5 percent
  • Information: 8.1 percent
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services: 7.7 percent
  • Finance and insurance: 7.4 percent
  • Healthcare and social assistance: 4.4 percent

Illicit drug use among these professions included:

  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 13.7 percent
  • Management: 12.1 percent
  • Real estate, rental, and leasing: 10.9 percent
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services: 9 percent
  • Finance and insurance: 6.5 percent
  • Healthcare and social assistance: 5.5 percent

Rates in white-collar professions of diagnosed, past-year substance use disorder include:

  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 12.9 percent
  • Management: 11.4 percent
  • Real estate, rental, and leasing: 10 percent
  • Information: 9.8 percent
  • Finance and insurance: 9.4 percent
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services: 8.8 percent
  • Healthcare and social assistance: 5.7 percent

Among the higher levels of educated, white-collar professionals, SAMHSA found that substance abuse rates were on the rise. Heroin, opioid drugs, prescription stimulants, and alcohol are among the most abused substances in various professions.

Women from wealthy families reportedly had drug and alcohol addiction rates of 11-16 percent, close to the national average.  Wealthy men, on the other hand, had rates of 19-24 percent —  twice the national average

Pilots, Drugs, and Accidents

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) lists the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concerning substance abuse diagnoses and treatment. The federal regulatory body requires pilots, whether private or commercial, to complete one year of abstinence after undergoing detox and rehabilitation. This requires documentation from physicians, therapists, and addiction treatment specialists.

The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), along with the FAA, keeps record of pilot accidents. Most fatal accidents involving intoxication or impairment from substances come from the civil sector rather than the commercial sector. The NTSB found that, between 1990 and 2012, 3 percent of accidents were due to an impairment or incapacitation from drugs or alcohol; 1.8 percent of accidents were due to incapacitation from an underlying medical condition, without medication.

Executives and Substance Abuse

Executive positions, such as CEOs, COOs, and CFOs, abuse substances at very high rates. Some studies suggest that this is, in part, due to higher rates of co-occurring mental health disorders that have certain characteristics in common.

Traits that are associated with high-level executive positions include:

  • Risk-taking.
  • Obsession with work and success.
  • Novelty- and pleasure-seeking.

These traits are also often associated with substance abuse and addiction. Pleasure derived from succeeding in closing a deal or making a sale releases endorphins and dopamine. Intoxicating substances like cocaine and alcohol also release neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and mood.

Risk factors for the development of substance use disorders may also be at play.  Genetics and brain development — including the receptivity of dopamine receptors — may have something to do with why high-level executives struggle with addiction. However, family history and trauma, may also be contributing factors in the development of substance abuse, too. 

Lawyers, Mood Disorders, and Alcohol Struggles

Several reports found that lawyers have high rates of alcohol abuse and may also struggle with heroin or opioid abuse. One analysis reported that lawyers struggled with alcohol in particular due to job-related stresses like:

  • Excessive workloads and long hours.
  • Intense competition.
  • Emphasis on logic and analysis rather than morals, feelings, or values.
  • Personality types attracted to the legal profession.
  • Loss of connection with original reason for entering the legal field.
  • Emphasis on image and status.
  • Being trained to ignore emotions and focus on representing clients, regardless of acts or personal differences.

One survey found that 21 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, which includes alcohol use disorder; 28 percent struggle with depression; and 19 percent struggle with anxiety. Alcohol abuse and mood disorders are closely linked.

Doctors, Dentists, and Prescription Abuse

One of the greatest risks substance abuse poses for doctors and dentists is their ability to hide their addiction. They know the signs of addiction while also having access to prescription medications like opioids. These professions are high-stress, with long hours, and stress is closely associated with abusing drugs or alcohol.

One interview of 55 doctors found that 38 of them, or 69 percent, abused prescription drugs. While the general rate of addiction among the public is 8-12 percent, doctors may develop these conditions at higher rates than the average individual due to higher rates of job and family stress.

Another report found that dentists were as likely as the general public to develop a substance use disorder, with about 10-15 percent reporting these struggles, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Etta, MS

If you are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, or co-occurring disorders, there are effective treatment options that can get you on the road to recovery and improve your work life and mental health. At our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Etta, MS, our team of expert addiction specialists use evidence-based treatment to create personalized care plans that help individuals manage substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Contact one of our admissions navigators at to find out more about the levels of care that we offer, payment options for rehab, and to get help with the admissions process. To find out if your treatment will be covered by insurance, you can speak with a representative or fill out our

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