High-Achieving Executive Women and Addiction

Woman at work struggling with addiction and other Substance Use Disorders

Contributor: Staff member at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Women with high-achieving personalities are often accomplished and successful. So, what is the connection between executive women and addiction?

Their passion and drive can motivate them to become game-changing entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and innovators. Yet, the same personality traits that lead to this success also make these women vulnerable to addiction.

The Connection Between High-Achievement and Addiction

There is an undeniable connection between high-achieving executive women and addiction. In fact, recent research from Arizona State University found that children that attend high-achieving schools had substantial elevations when it came to drinking to intoxication and “using marijuana and stimulants such as Adderall, cocaine, and club drugs such as ecstasy [1].”

These findings continued as the same children were followed to the age of 27, with the addiction to drugs or alcohol among women reaching 19-24%, approximately 3 to 2 times as high as the national average [1]. Researchers hypothesized that the reasoning behind this trend of Executive Women and Addiction has a lot to do with the pressure that is placed on those in high-achieving schools or positions.

This pressure continues to mount as they become adults and results in unhealthy coping behaviors, such as using and abusing drugs or alcohol. This is likely the case with many women in high-achieving positions, who must work twice as hard as their male counterparts to secure their spot at the table and are under intense stress to maintain this.

Female CEO investigating Executive Women and AddictionThe societal and self-imposed pressure and expectations placed on these women can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming, yet, the nature of their jobs allows little time for positive self-care. As such, high-achieving women may use alcohol or drugs to relieve stress or wind down. While sometimes harmless, it can also become problematic as the behavior becomes a habit.


Women who are high-achieving are often also highly intelligent but may not have the time to engage in healthy coping behaviors. However, engaging in more positive activities to cope with a stressful career can be a valuable investment in one’s mental health and does not have to take up a lot of time.

Individuals that work long hours and don’t have a chunk of time before or after work may consider taking short mindfulness or meditative breaks throughout the day. Consider stopping for 2 minutes every hour to focus on breathing or merely dedicating 5 minutes every few hours to a good stretch.

These aspects will not only invigorate you to get through the workday. They will work to slowly release tension and stress so that it doesn’t build-up.

Individually recognize those behaviors that bring you peace and joy and try to incorporate them into your day in small spurts. This will beat not doing them at all and deter you from engaging in less effective alternatives like drinking or using drugs.

It is also essential to promote yourself in the workplace. No doubt your contributions to the company are valuable and, with this value, comes power. Using that power to advocate for your needs can help you to find a healthier work-life balance that causes less stress and lowers risk of burnout.

Having a high-achieving personality is not a bad thing and can lead to incredible success. However, it is essential to be aware of the vulnerabilities that exist and to actively fight against them to avoid coping behaviors such as drug and alcohol use that aren’t helpful or effective.


[1] S. S. Luthar, P. J. Small, L. Ciciolla (2017). Adolescents from upper middle class communities: Substance misuse and addiction across early adulthood. Development and Psychopathology.

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 10, 2018
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.