Sam Polk, a former hedge-fund trader on Wall Street, tells the New York Times how his addiction to money and gambling was the source of his discontent. “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million,” writes Polk, “I was angry because it wasn’t big enough.”
Sam surrounded himself with all the nicest things which just kept pushing him to take in more. He reached a tipping point when he realized the injustice that he made more money in a year than his mother, a nurse practitioner, had made in her lifetime. However, the insular bubble he found himself in – an inflated sense of entitlement, money and resources, connections with other powerful financial tycoons – made it impossible for him to seek help. “Dozens of different types of 12-step support groups exist to help addicts of various types, yet there is no wealth addicts anonymous. Why not?”
Although Polk’s piece is specific to his addiction to money itself, his story illuminates the troubling issue of how to treat wealthy, high-achieving people experiencing a substance or process disorder and co-occurring mental health problem. He extrapolates—as his wealth grew so did his ego and money allowed him to build walls which protected him from taking a closer look at his behaviors that would put a middle income person on the street. While there are a plethora of treatment options for all kinds of disorders, finding the right place that affords privacy and employs smart and effective treatment methods for high-end, successful people can be a challenge.
There is an adage amongst behavioral health care providers that addiction does not discriminate. This is true—-but for wealthy people experiencing addiction, denial and entitlement put up a good fight. In conjunction with Alta Mira Recovery’s resource blog on wealthy clients, here are some of the ways wealthy people may rationalize their addiction:
The circumstances surrounding a wealthy and high-achieving individual experiencing a substance abuse, process disorder or mental health issue requires a unique set of tools and treatment options to ensure recovery. And just because a person of this caliber is used to luxury experiences, does not mean luxury must be the only quality looked for in a treatment program. Too often I’ve heard from high-end clients how their treatment center with the great view and Olympic-sized aquatic complex and golf course nearby was essentially a luxury spa and didn’t give them the help they needed. An authentic recovery program is the right approach.
Effective treatment centers start where the client is—a multi-modal approach that addresses family dynamics, friends and loved ones, and even consults co-workers and employees across companies and business pursuits. The idea is to remove the “yes man” mentality that feeds the wealthy person’s ego. Furthermore, treatment centers recognize that these types of clients should not receive special treatment, a commitment to every client with the same level of dignity and respect. It was Mrs. Betty Ford who was one of the first women to advocate for shared rooms amongst clients — movie stars, executives or shopkeepers — with a vision for equality.
Treatment programs also tailor to the needs of a busy CEO or executive. They will make accommodations for conference meetings and calls, business travel and events, in so far as the client is committed to their treatment plan and maintaining sobriety. Moreover, some treatment centers are at the forefront of experiential therapy for their clients. Experiential therapy invites guests to engage in indoor and outdoor physical activities that challenges the participants to apply the behavioral therapies and 12-step programs to real world problems and tasks. Activities include hiking, biking, rafting, fishing, and golfing, which help the wealthy client connect with the natural elements.
Additionally, some residential treatment centers use equine experiential therapy whereby participants use behavioral building techniques with horses, in turn re-building their own behavior and returning to their beliefs and values. Others may use high-ropes courses or other low-challenge courses for team building and boundary setting. The sum of these activities, in conjunction with behavioral therapies and a team of experts guiding individual clients each step of the way, is a gestalt of finding recovery for the most ardent high-achieving person.
To read Sam Polk’s insider look at wealth and addiction, read his New York Times op-ed here.
For more information about how wealth advisors can help clients with substance abuse, process disorders or mental health issues, visit Aspiriant’s article here.
For more information about families, wealth and addiction, visit the Charter Financial Publishing Network’s post on the issue here.
For more information on the dual diagnosis of economic status and addiction, visit here.
Check out the following list of treatment centers that specialize and are known for working with high-wealth clients. Don’t see a particular treatment center? Please write to us and we’ll consider adding it to the list. (These are in no particular order and not endorsed in any way by the author or publisher.)
Alta Mira Recovery – Sausalito, CA
Avalon Malibu – Malibu, CA
Betty Ford Center – Rancho Mirage, CA (professionals)
Caron Treatment Centers – Wernersville, PA (lawyers program)
Caron Ocean Drive – Florida
Cirque Lodge – Sundance, UT
Driftwood Recovery- Austin, TX (chronic pain)
Headwaters at Origins – Florida
Promises Professional Treatment Program – Los Angeles, CA
Reflections – Novato
RiverMend Health – Atlanta, GA
Suspire – Florida
The Canyon – Malibu, CA