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The Link Between Success and Addiction

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Addiction is so deeply stigmatized in our culture. So much so, that we tend to envision one “type” of a person when we think of an addict, and even those of us who struggle with addiction will resist seeking treatment to avoid the descriptors often associated with substance abuse. Ambitious and successful people tend to be even more likely than most to avoid this stigma. People in positions of power, those who are accomplished in their careers, and those who generally consider themselves intelligent and strong-willed, will often avoid the stigma of addiction at all costs, perhaps because it has been associated with weakness. On the contrary, research suggests that the brains of individuals prone to success may be wired in a way that makes them more vulnerable to addiction than others. By better understanding this connection we can help to dismantle the stigma and make seeking help for addiction an easier choice to access for all.



Leaders—politicians, CEOs, and influencers—all tend to fit within similar personality profiles. These people crave achievement and success, are unusually ambitious, and can overcome seemingly impossible odds to accomplish their goals. They also tend to be risk-takers, thrill-seekers, and capable of developing obsession-like behaviors when they are focused on creating a specific result. These attributes can contribute to the acquisition of success and power, but can also lead to reckless behavior and substance abuse. Addiction researchers have also noted that highly successful people are likely to have experienced significant pain or trauma in their childhood, as are addicts. Ambition and a never-ending thirst for accomplishment can become nearly addictive itself, and may be used to self-medicate alongside drugs and alcohol.

Addicts in positions of power tend to be some of the most high-functioning substance abusers, maintaining appearances and continuing to conduct business efficiently even under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While these leaders may be able to uphold their positions while feeding an addiction for some time, there are still significant physical and mental health repercussions that must be addressed. It is also common for powerful people with addictions to have trouble maintaining healthy relationships, and become isolated and depressed as a result.


Although it may seem counterintuitive, many studies have confirmed a connection between intelligence and a tendency towards addiction. Two separate studies conducted over forty-year periods found that children with higher IQs were more likely to try drugs as adults. While this correlation is clear, and can often be observed throughout history in creative geniuses, scientists are still unsure as to why this is so. It seems that with all the available information regarding the danger and health risks associated with substance abuse, intelligent people would be less likely to fall into the trap of addiction. Some researchers theorize that intelligent people may be easily bored and crave stimulation outside their day-to-day experience. Others have pointed to the connection between intelligence and mental illness. Highly intelligent people are more likely to have difficulty regulating their emotions and may experience anxiety and depression as a result. Unfortunately, even the most intelligent people can turn to substance abuse when they are unable to cope with life.

Wisdom and intelligence are often used interchangeably, but this is not an accurate assessment of a person’s ability to make rational decisions. Many highly intelligent people are naive or immature and may make irresponsible choices that hurt themselves and those around them. In some cases, intelligence can lead to success beyond what an individual can handle, which can lead to substance abuse in the face of extreme pressure and unwanted responsibility. Highly intelligent people may also be too prideful to seek treatment once they have developed an addiction, or believe that less intelligent people are unable to help them. This is an issue of immaturity and avoidance and must be overcome if an individual who fits this personality type wishes to be free from addiction.


According to research, highly ambitious and motivated people are more likely to experience depression. This may be due to the underlying reasons behind their inherent drive, or as a result of anticlimactic emotions once they achieve their goal. Many people become extremely driven individuals because they are naturally self-critical or insecure. They believe if they accomplish a specific goal or become the best at what they do, they will begin to feel worthy and whole. Unfortunately, for most people who suffer from low self-esteem, no amount of success will cure their sense of inadequacy. It usually requires quality mental health care and years of therapy to overcome low self-esteem, and many highly motivated individuals find themselves supremely disappointed when they reach their definition of success and find they are still wholly unsatisfied.

Highly driven people may also be more likely to compare themselves to others, which is sure to produce feelings of envy and inadequacy. These behaviors can affect an individual’s state of mind and overall quality of life, and in turn, lead to chronic depression. Many people choose to treat their depression with drugs and alcohol and may develop an addiction in the process.

Developing an addiction is not the mark of a weak, lazy, or unintelligent person.

Addiction happens for a variety of reasons and does not discriminate. At Burning Tree, you will find knowledgeable and compassionate professionals that structure treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders.  Through accountability and commitment to the 12 steps, each client will develop the tools to create a sober lifestyle and find lasting recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic relapsers and believe with the right support you can experience true and permanent healing. 

For more information, call us now at  866-287-2877


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