Rehab Surges In Bad Economy With Executives Who Won't Stop Working

When Natalie was in rehab last year, she noticed a lot of people on the phone.

Many of the other patients at Passages Malibu -- the California treatment center where Natalie was fighting a cocaine and alcohol habit -- would come back at the end of a full day of therapy and exercise. They'd start making calls, catching up on what they were missing back at the office.

"Staying close to work" is important to the people getting help at Passages, said Natalie, who spoke to The Huffington Post on the condition that her real name not be used. The center caters to a high-end crowd, with many CEOs, entrepreneurs and high-powered professionals among its clients -- including mega-designer Marc Jacobs, who spent time at Passages in 2007, and Natalie herself, who owned a magazine and a consulting company before coming to the center.

For such people, it's important to be able to "connect to business and stay in touch," she told HuffPost.

Passages isn't the only rehab center where overachievers stay plugged into the working world. Many who work at treatment facilities said patients' connection to professional life can help the recovery process -- and make it more likely that the treatment will stick.

Balancing work responsibilities with personal health is an issue for an increasing number of people. The weak labor market of the past several years has driven up stress for mid-level workers and CEOs alike. That, in turn, seems to be causing a spike in the number of people seeking treatment for substance abuse.

"In bad times, people tend to medicate themselves," said William Moyers, vice president of public affairs at Hazelden, a Minnesota-based treatment center that Moyers said admitted a "record" number of patients in 2011.

"Every single person is being asked to do more with less staff, and maintain a profit," agreed Kathleen Bigsby, CEO of The Canyon, a treatment center in California that serves a primarily wealthy clientele. "The last couple years in this economy have far exceeded the performance expectations of everyone."

To cope with the pressure, said Bigsby, many people turn to drugs or drink.

"You take some alcohol, or you get some prescription medication that helps quell the mind," Bigsby told HuffPost.

Even though work stress can exacerbate substance abuse, rehab workers said keeping a finger on the pulse of day-to-day work seems to help employees once they get help.

"You have to be able to function at work in recovery," said Joe McKinsey, founder of the Dunes East Hampton, a New York-based addiction treatment center that serves many executives and "Wall Street guys," in McKinsey's words.

Patients at the Dunes are allowed to answer emails, talk to colleagues on Skype, and even take supervised trips for business conferences -- an approach that McKinsey said helps forge an immediate relationship between professional stress and recovery techniques.

By taking work calls in a therapy-based environment, said McKinsey, patients have the chance "to recognize what it is that business can do to you" -- how deadlines and office politics can send a person's blood pressure skyrocketing, or cause their stomach to flood with acid.

"Maybe there's a tweak that can be done to make that less stimulating in a negative way," said McKinsey.

Blending day-job duties and recovery work isn't just for people in the C suite. Employees of any background or income can benefit from that philosophy, said Neal Walker, director for community programs at the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The real ideal situation is to have folks stay within the context of their own work environment," as opposed to "isolating themselves in treatment," Walker told The Huffington Post. The ultimate goal of addiction treatment, he said, is to "be able to have a balanced life, to be equilibrated."

Balance, of course, means setting boundaries, lest work obligations eclipse the recovery process. Constant contact with the office can be "a distraction from the priority of being in treatment," Bigsby said, adding that work interaction among people in recovery should be "monitored and really honed down to what's critical."

Still, McKinsey said that patients tend to appreciate it when they're not kept sequestered from their work life.

Executives who came to the Dunes to deal with addiction have told the center's staff that they "couldn't have done this if [they] had to completely unplug," said McKinsey. "We never get anybody who tells us, 'You know, you should have never let me call my office.'"

Before You Go

Popular in the Community