When Leadership Leads to Addiction

Father and daughter discussion leadership

My dad recently came to visit me for nearly a week. We forgot about work and responsibilities, and after he left, I was able to look at the bigger picture of my life and what’s most important to me.

More specifically, I realized that while I’ve been able to recover from my eating disorder for four years and drug and alcohol addiction for six years now, I’m still buried in over-commitments to non-profit work, board appointments, and saying “yes” when other people ask me for help.

Being an Empathetic Leader

I’m both a natural-born leader and empathetic person. While I tend to organize, set and achieve extreme goals and am a perfectionist, I also am sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.

It may sound impossible to have all of those traits together, but it’s not; it’s what makes me both a great “life” director and my own worst enemy at times. I’m a self-proclaimed workaholic, and have to constantly train myself to be self-aware, taking time to give back to myself before I can give effectively to others.

Because leaders are often perfectionists, successful people, it can be hard to spot when they are workaholics [1]. Oftentimes, high-achievers will turn to further maladaptive coping behaviors, such as drugs or alcohol, to “take the edge off,” which only creates more problems [1].

Family enjoying sunsetThinking back, I never wanted to get help for my drug or alcohol addictions when I was climbing the ladder of success as a model; if anything, they were secret tools to improve my chances of succeeding. In the same way, many leaders who are addicted to drugs and alcohol will have a hard time seeking help, especially since grabbing drinks after work is a common activity.

Warning Signs for Addiction in Leadership

If you or someone at work may be struggling, there are some signs to look out for, including [1]:

  • Impulsive behavior involving the business
  • Serious mood changes with team members
  • Leader gets into fights often
  • Health of the business declines
  • Leader’s overall well-being deteriorates

Reaching out for help may feel impossible, but the great thing is that recovery centers are sensitive to the need for privacy. Most of all, there is no shame, and recovery is possible.


Nikki_Dubose_2015 Web-6About the Author:  Nikki DuBose is a former model turned author, advocate, and ambassador. Her debut memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light, details her recovery from trauma, severe mental illnesses and the dark side of the modeling industry. Nikki has been featured on television shows and networks such as The Doctors, The TD Jakes Show, CBS Los Angeles, and the Oprah Winfrey Network, and profiled in publications such as People, LA Times, Vogue UK, Esquire, India Times, and Inquisitr. To find out more about Nikki, visit http://nikkidubose.com/.


[1]: Rashid, B. (May 24, 2017). What to do When Leadership Stress Leads to Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianrashid/2017/05/24/what-to-do-when-leadership-stress-leads-to-addiction/#2e1ea4063ca3

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 discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of 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 June 12, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 12, 2017.
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.