Sometimes it seems like the high achievers in life are coasting along on a tide of good fortune. They get good grades, go to powerful schools, rise to high levels in their workplaces—maybe even start their own business that leads to great wealth and influence in society. Heck, the rich and powerful even seem more attractive than the rest of us.

But high achievement doesn’t just happen.

While some native intelligence or talent might form the foundation for a person’s success, racking up impressive accomplishments comes with a great deal of work behind the scenes. Sometimes that work ethic is a result of pressures—internal, external, or both—that drive a person to push themselves to keep succeeding at higher and higher levels.

For those who have shaped their identity around achievement, that relentless drive can sometimes lead to a substance use disorder.

High Achievers: The Need to Succeed

When we think of high-powered people using drugs, we often think of something like cocaine use—lines on a table at a party that seems to have been thrown in celebration of self-destructive behavior. But high achievers are more likely using drugs to stay alert, concentrate better, and work longer hours. If working excessively in pursuit of achievement were a sport, these sorts of substances would fall into the category of PEDs—performance-enhancing drugs.

Take, for example, Adderall.

Adderall is commonly prescribed to those struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as to those suffering from sleep disorders like narcolepsy. As a stimulant, the drug helps users focus more effectively and for longer periods of time. Used appropriately, it can be a great help to many individuals.

But it is pretty easy to see how a drug that sharpens focus and enhances wakefulness would be tempting for the student who wants to study more, the business professional who wants to get a promotion, or the lawyer trying to become a partner in the firm. If the drug can make those things possible by allowing for more and more work, what’s the downside?

The downside, of course, is addiction.

Pressures Plus Genetics Can Equal Problems

The pressure to succeed can come from a number of sources. Maybe your parents were always after you to “live up to your potential.” Maybe you were raised in challenging circumstances and are dedicated to pulling yourself out of that situation. Maybe you have a rival in business that you are devoted to beating in the marketplace or in terms of personal accolades. Maybe you feel a passion for your work that drives you to do more and more, always looking for the next challenge to overcome or innovation to introduce.

An intense desire to succeed can be grounded in genetics—and the same genetic predispositions that lead to high achievement may also be correlated to addiction.

In a 2011 opinion piece with a provocative title—“Addictive Personality? You Might Be a Leader”—David J. Linden wrote in the New York Times:

“[T]he psychological profile of a compelling leader…is also that of the compulsive risk-taker, someone with a high degree of novelty-seeking behavior. In short, what we seek in leaders is often the same kind of personality type that is found in addicts…”

Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggests that positive leadership qualities and negative addiction susceptibility go hand-in-hand from a genetic point of view.

The Real Achievement Is Getting Help

If you are using drugs as a way to push yourself to achieve more and more, it is essential that you get help right away. It may seem as though the drug use has more upside than downside, but over time that will become increasingly less true. It can often be difficult for a highly successful person to admit that they need help. They would rather struggle in private than reveal any problem publicly.

But getting help is not a sign of weakness or failure. Rather, it is a perfect example of the high-level problem-solving that has likely driven your success. Faced with a problem, you are the sort of person who finds the best possible solution and then pursues that solution diligently.

And if the problem is a substance use disorder, the solution is treatment.

We Are High Achievers When It Comes to Helping You

At The Aviary Recovery Center, we don’t mind admitting we are very good at our jobs. Using an evidence-based, compassionate approach, we will personalize your treatment and help you put substance abuse behind you. And we will give you the tools and resources to succeed in your recovery. Make no mistake: that is a kind of success you can be truly proud of achieving.

Looking for a St. Louis addictionologist? For more information about The Aviary Recovery Center, please contact us anytime at
(888) 998-8655. We’re here to help.