Updated: Jan 10
Some things that we regularly see with affluent clients with substance use disorders (SUD) are difficulty in relationships, challenges with family, low emotional health, and toxic social structures. While this is true among most people who have addictions, these particular areas of recovery capital are frequently severely damaged for people in wealthy families. With a higher level of pressure to obtain and a higher amount of focus on the external, wealthy folks can lack the internal strength, connection, and meaning (Hokemeyer, 2019) needed to find a life recovering from SUD. Hurdles for the wealthy can be difficult to overcome because they are intergenerational, intertwined in family structure and culture, and ever-present in American society. Attempts to overcome them threaten the system, thereby threatening all they have known.
Feeling depressed and sorry for herself as well as struggling to get sober, one client described her difficulty with family (shared with permission - name and identifying details changed to protect client confidentiality). "I want so badly to be successful, to show my family I'm not just a piece of shit. I rely on my parents for all my daily living and to pay for my daughter's school. I want to break free from their requirements, their voices in my head, but I can't. I need the money, and I want to make them proud and happy, too. When we get together, we talk about finances, work, and we drink. The drinking is the only part I'm good at." It is a difficult narrative to untangle, unique to those with money. The money is important - and so is the love and connection. When money, love, connection, and alcohol are combined, the hurdles can feel insurmountable, and letting go of any one of the parts feels as though you might lose it all.
With the help of a counselor, this woman was able to untangle her thoughts, learning how to prioritize her own needs, learning to hear her thoughts more deeply and accurately. She learned to challenge the thoughts that were not working for her, not serving her. Moving at her pace, she was able to see how love and money were confused for her and that she could make some seemingly small decisions that dramatically improved her family relationships. She found her voice within her family of origin, and she was able to let go of the suffocating stranglehold she felt came with her financial dependence. She learned that she could listen to her parents, offer her thoughts, accept financial support, and stay sober - without losing love or connection with her parents. Reframing these concepts, working through the pain and fear associated with them takes time, but a healthy life is possible (though certainly not perfect!), just as our client above found.
Charlotte Kasl once wrote, "You cannot release what you do not grasp" (2001). One of the many gifts of therapy is the opportunity to process through our feelings, in a safe and confidential space, that allows us to respond with thoughtful action in our lives. Although challenges for the prosperous are significant, life can be more accurately examined to facilitate growth in overall wellness, emotional health, and internal fortitude. Once we learn to examine ourselves accurately, we can see what we hold on to so tightly and where we might release the grip. Through this process, we learn we do not have to sacrifice wealth to save our health, but conversely learn that in recovery from addiction, health and wealth must coexist for us to live a life of wellness.