The world of financial executives has long been the subject of fascination. The Wolf of Wall Street, a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio based on a memoir by Jordan Belfort of the same name, tells a compelling story of a financial executive’s meteoric rise and equally spectacular fall.
Belfort, an ambitious young stockbroker, comes under the tutelage of a superior who teaches him one lesson: to make money for himself. Under the drug and alcohol fueled culture of the high paced brokering world, Belfort makes a fortune selling penny stocks and running scams under the guise of a legitimate company called Stratton Oakmont. After an investigation by the FBI, Belmont is arrested, but he ultimately only serves a 22-month sentence in a minimum security prison.
Though enticing, the reality of the financial world is much different. Even though the film highlighted the difficulty of Belfort, it did romanticize the lifestyle. Financial workers face stress and competition but also must adhere to fiduciary duty and federal regulations. Though sensationalized in the film, the stress-fueled drinking binges and struggles with substance abuse are real – but many stories have a more tragic ending than Belfort’s, who made millions from his memoir and subsequent film rights.
As anyone who has money invested during a financial crisis can attest, the business of investing stocks and bonds can be stressful. From the perspective of a financial executive, that stress is intensified as you hold the financial future of clientele in your hands. A recent survey from the Financial Planning Association shows just how stressed out financial workers are – and it’s more than their investors.
Advisors were asked to evaluate the level of stress in their lives. An alarming 71 percent said that they were moderately stressed, and 37 percent experienced high negative stress. Survey respondents were not only stressed, they said their stress was getting worse.
- 28% said they were more stressed than they were 12 months ago
- 44% were more stressed than they were 5 years prior
A Changing Financial Landscape
By definition, the financial field continually evolved. The stock market has enjoyed a bull atmosphere for the past 10 years, but there is still plenty of stress in the post Great Recession market. For example, the post financial crisis market led to more regulation by the federal government and a greater need to keep current with credentialing. Though the financial crisis has passed, investors remember the panic and are similarly antsy with their investments. Shrinking profit margins may also lead financial executives and advisors to take on more work than they can handle.
The Job Stress/Addiction Link
Some jobs are inherently more stressful than others. So-called “professional jobs,” which include doctors, lawyers, and financial executives, are more likely to experience high levels of stress than other professions. Repeated exposure to job stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms that can spiral downward into addiction.
According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:
- Nearly 25% of all U.S. workers reported drinking during the workday, at least once in the past year.
- An estimated 14.8 million Americans use illicit drugs. Of those, 70% are employed at least part-time.
- One-fifth of workers admit that a colleague’s drinking has compromised their on-the-job safety.
- Workers who have a drinking problem are nearly 3x as likely to experience injury-related absenteeism.
What leads some professions to have greater problems with substance abuse and stress than others?
What Drives Stress and Substance Abuse in Financial World
- Environment. The financial world is particularly fast-paced, and competition is fierce. If someone makes a mistake, there is a list of similarly qualified professionals ready to take their place. Financial executives must continually be on the top of their game, which can take a toll over time.
- Peer Pressure. At the end of a long day, many workers choose to blow off steam at the local watering hole. In a field where client relationships and lucrative partnerships rely on booze-filled dinners and celebratory parties, the lure of alcohol or other substances can be difficult to resist.
- The Job Description. Wall Street and the financial profession as a whole have a “models and bottles” reputation. Alcohol is a type of social capital, and it can amount to a person’s capacity to get along with others and even make deals. According to a Wall Street teetotaler who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity: “There were times I knew the guys were going out with customers that could help advance my career, but it was just unspoken: ‘Yeah, we won’t invite him ’cause we’ll probably get up to some drinking and he won’t partake, so what’s the point?’ ”
- Lack of Appropriate Coping Skills. High pressure to drink combined with high job-related stress can lead to problematic drinking or other forms of substance abuse. When executives do not have effective tools for relaxing, they turn to substances, which often make the problem worse.
Stress, Addiction, and Co-Occurring Disorders: A Vicious Cycle
High stress jobs can lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Often, an individual in a high stress environment will experience a mental health disturbance such as anxiety or depression. To combat feelings of helplessness or stress, they will self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. However, using them will stimulate the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that makes symptoms worse. To combat worsening symptoms, they will use more substances, and the cycle continues.
Deal with It…Or Leave
Many high level employees at banking institutions experience high levels of stress but are reticent about taking the steps to care for their mental health. A recent survey from MetLife found that two-thirds of senior-level decision makers at financial institutions would entertain the possibility of leaving their jobs if their current levels of stress do not improve. According to that survey, 40 percent of executives said their jobs were “extremely stressful.”
Unfortunately, the culture of the profession leads to a “make it or break it” mentality. An additional study by Capita Employee Benefits found that three-quarters of workers had experienced serious work-related stress in the past 12 months… but only one-fifth actually took time off to manage it. On the other hand, half of respondents said that they go into work in spite of illness to avoid work stacking up.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that according to the MetLife study, 70 percent of banking executives said that they should keep quiet and not complain – they believed that if they said something, it would lead to negative consequences. A taboo about mental health persists throughout the industry.
Drinking for Work
Coupled with the taboo about mental illness in the financial industry is also the idea that alcohol gets you ahead. American business rituals, especially in the financial world, revolve around alcohol. Courting clients, hammering out a deal, and “proving your worth” all revolve around rounds of beer, shots, and wining and dining. This can lead to extreme pressure to drink and can quickly spiral into addition.
The Need to Focus
While drinking is a form of capital in the finance industry, in some sectors there is the impossible expectation charge from long nights wooing clients into long days securing deals and making money. This lifestyle draws many executives and traders to drugs like Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta. Feigning signs of ADHD, workers will visit unscrupulous doctors for a prescription or obtain it from the black market. Under the influence of these drugs, some young workers can stay awake for days.
One former Wall Street intern wrote:
“I was notorious for staying up two or three nights in a row without a wink of sleep, and even the security guards that checked my ID would be in a catatonic awe of my regular habit of leaving the office at 5am and returning at 5:30am, having only went to my apartment to change out of my suits (which were drenched with sweat because of the drugs).”
Kevin Roose, who wrote a book on young recruits after the financial crisis, found that the drinking culture is alive and well, but cocaine and other illicit drugs are not. Rather, those trying to make their mark on the financial world are obtaining an ADD evaluation and getting prescriptions that help them stay up for days in a row in order to stay ahead.
Tackling the Problem with Addiction Treatment
Even if a financial executive does want to break the cycle and get clean, they find themselves back in a work environment where triggers are everywhere. Without appropriate treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, returning to a stressful work situation can lay the groundwork for relapse. Substance abuse treatment should be evidence-based and involve medically supervised drug and alcohol detox.
Searching for an Addiction Therapist Near Me
A qualified addiction therapist can help manage all aspects of substance use and co-occurring behavioral health disorders, including detox and neuropsychological testing for ADHD. While some professionals do show some signs of ADD or ADHD, formal testing can help identify the presence of the disorder to aid in treatment and minimize health risks from potential misuse.
In some cases, medically supervised detox is necessary to protect the patient’s safety. This especially applies to alcohol use disorders. Alcohol detox symptoms can be serious, or even fatal if the affected individual has been using those substances for a long time. A deadly condition called “delirium tremens” can result in seizures and cardiovascular collapse if the individual does not wean off alcohol gradually.
An Individualized Approach to Treatment
Professional workers like banking managers and financial executives value their privacy. In an industry where reputation is everything, some are reticent to seek treatment for substance use disorders or behavioral health conditions, fearing that a client or colleague will find out. Fear of reprisal should never keep an individual from treatment. For this reason, individual treatment can be an attractive option. One-on-one approaches to treatment are preferable for several reasons:
- Discretion. Individualized treatment approaches allow a person with a substance use disorder to taper off substances in private and with minimal disruption to routine.
- Individualized approaches allow each person to learn tailored strategies for managing stress and any dual diagnoses. Therapeutic approaches work together to provide holistic treatment of the affected person.
- Learn to manage stress in the real world. Stress is often a trigger that can lead to relapse, especially in the earliest stages of recovery, and finance is a highly competitive, stressful environment. Patients have the opportunity to learn tailored techniques for managing their unique stressors in the real world.
Overcoming Addiction with the Help of a Psychiatrist NYC
Substance abuse is common in the financial world for a number of reasons. First is the “models and bottles” attitude inherent in the industry itself. Executives often feel they should drink in order to bond with clients and forge new lucrative partnerships. Second is the high level of competition and drive to succeed. Stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues may prevent executives from seeking help, as they’re worried that someone else will step in to take their place. Workers feel like they need to be the “wolves of Wall Street,” or be thrown to them themselves.
Institutional issues exist, making substance abuse a large problem within the industry. Unfortunately, these problems are unlikely to resolve by themselves anytime soon. Individuals who struggle with problem drinking or substance abuse must take steps to better their health and achieve long-term sobriety. High-quality, outpatient mental health services can help give financial executives the tools they need to recover from substance use disorders while maintaining privacy and providing minimal disruption to professional activities.
Find Help with Opioid Addiction in Private
Fifth Avenue Psychiatry provides evidence-based therapies for mental health conditions and substance use disorders, such as opioid addiction, for financial executives who want to seek help discreetly. All therapeutic modalities emphasize individualized attention and treatment of the whole person, addressing all the factors that contribute to substance use and mental health disorders. We only provide one-on-one treatment, allowing each person the benefit of working directly with a provider. Convenient outpatient treatments allow professionals to continue with their careers while maintaining privacy and dignity. At Fifth Avenue Psychiatry, your well-being and confidentiality are paramount.