Addiction and The Rich: Cushioning, Enabling and Low Self-Esteem
By Elizabeth Greatrex
When one thinks of the word ‘addict’, there are often a few stereotypical images that come to mind. Even if you hate to admit it, you’ll know the ones I mean. The down-and-out, homeless person wandering the streets looking to scrape together enough money for their next fix. Or perhaps the ranting, red-faced local from the pub, guaranteed to be sat at the bar every night until past closing time. At the other end of the spectrum, some might possibly extend their imagination to picture the showbiz section of the metro they skim read around 10 years ago: Lindsay Lohan hiding behind a pair of dark sunglasses while checking into rehab at the height of her fame. Or Kate Moss stumbling out of an after party, bleary-eyed. But in reality, addiction is far from black and white. This disease is all around us, and it appears in more forms that one. Drink and drugs, sure. But what about eating disorders, sex, love, gambling and exercise addictions? to name a few. Addiction doesn’t just fit into neat, regulated categories of human or cultural stereotypes that we can hurry past on the street, turn away from in the pub or put into a box and forget about, ignorantly assuming that we have no part in any of it. Why? Because it affects all of us. If not you, a member of your family, a friend, a partner, a distant relative, a co-worker, or maybe just someone you know. Many of us actually act as enablers to the addictions of these individuals around us, and often, we don’t even realise it.
It’s not that the image of the person that we tell ourselves represents the majority of addicts doesn’t exist. It certainly exists. The stresses that a person will feel as a result of poor education, a lack of employment opportunities and therefore a life of poverty, will often come hand-in-hand with addiction. The use of substances such as alcohol and drugs will often be turned to as a coping mechanism. But what about the addictions that plague their much wealthier neighbours across town? I’m talking about high-earners, captains of industry such as lawyers, investment bankers and accountants. A study carried out in 2017 measuring adult drinking habits in Great Britain concluded that 7 in 10 people (69.5%) working in managerial and professional occupations like these said they drank alcohol. In contrast, 51.2% (around one in two) of people working in manual occupations such as care workers, labourers, bar staff and lorry drivers, said they drank. Again, statistics from the Home Office’s annual drug misuse report show that cocaine use in households earning £50,000 a year or more has increased from 2.2% in 2014/15 to 3.4% in 2017/18. Whereas, in the lowest income category, households earning less than £10,000 a year, cocaine use was reported as being down from 3.4% to 2% over the same period of time.
Many high earners hold the opinion that an addict is an ungroomed person with a complete lack of prospects, and therefore are opposed to the idea that they, themselves, could be anything of the sort.
Meeting with Dr Cosmo Duff Gordon and Dougie Dudgeon from private addiction treatment centre in South Kensington, Start2Stop, it became clear how much of a problem an addict’s denial system is. Dudgeon reveals that,
“The two biggest things are, number one, that people’s denial systems stop them from realizing that they actually have a problem. And number two, there is a stigma of actually going and asking for help.”
Duff Gordon adds that “the addict is always the last person to know” that they have a problem.
Duff Gordon, Left, Dudgeon, Right
Start2Stop has been going since 2010, and is now London’s busiest and most well-known private sector outpatient programme. It is also the pioneer of residential continuing care in West London. Over the years, its renowned evening outpatient programme has treated models such as Adwoah Aboah, rock stars and celebrities. The centre mainly caters for self-funding individuals that have a binge pattern addiction problem, typically related to alcohol and cocaine. However, they also treat people who have codependency issues, sex, gambling and shopping addictions and eating disorders.
The evening programme is specifically designed to cater for people with binge-pattern addiction problems. “It’s two nights a week and Saturday mornings.” Duff Gordon explains. “Plus, individual counselling. It’s basically a four-month commitment designed to help you carry on living at home, living your life, while building a recovery architecture. It sets the foundations for a really good long term recovery. Anyone can go to a private hospital for 28 days to get clean, but if you build your recovery in the real world, you’re likely to have a pretty good outcome.”
Once upon a time, Duff Gordon was a student at Eton College and later harboured an all-consuming Heroin addiction. Incredibly quick witted and intelligent, he has a laid back manner, and speaks in a very open and matter-of-fact way about his past troubles. Duff Gordon hasn’t looked back since getting clean and founding Start2Stop; now a chartered psychologist, addictions treatment specialist and writer, he’s helped multitudes of people face their demons and beat their addiction for good. Similarly, once a dedicated rock-and-roller in every sense of the saying, Dudgeon started Independent record label, Snapper Music, in 1996. After “succumbing to the inevitable of doing some treatment”, Dudgeon swapped the music business for addiction counselling. Now also a trained counsellor, Dudgeon is a warm but straight-talking character, and glows from the inside out with the happiness of his new found vice: helping other people. “People say to me, what do you do to escape? And I say, escape what? I don’t miss anything.”
It’s hard to imagine that these two men once walked in the shoes of the patients they now treat. That they once saw life through the same foggy glasses that only those who have been in the throes of a serious addiction will understand. It makes sense that they should be the ones stepping in to help. They are fluent in the native language of the addict. They’ve been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. The way Cosmo talks about addiction and his deep understanding of the underlying causes of it, signifies this:
“I personally think of addiction as a spiritual problem. I think they are at it long before they discover any form of drink or drugs. They have probably had a hole in the soul since they have been tiny. In other words, they have felt different, probably not good enough and a sense of unease.”
Start2Stop is in the ‘catchment area’ of South Kensington, Notting Hill, Chelsea, Fulham, Battersea, Belgravia and Knightsbridge. Inevitably, the majority of Duff Gordon and Dudgeon’s clients have come from a rather ‘cushioned’ lifestyle, let’s say. Which as they explain, is often a major contributing factor to their illnesses:
“Their problem is they have money to cushion the consequence of their addiction. If a guy that can only afford one car crashes his car, it’s a major catastrophe. But if someone very wealthy crashes a car, they can just buy another one. People with less financial stability, the reality and the hard edges of life will hit them. It gives them the motivation to change. That’s the difference.” Says Dudgeon.
Start2Stop interior, above
A step up from high earners in managerial and professional occupations, are a group of people known as the ‘idle rich’. Some of Start2Stop’s trickiest clients. Otherwise known as ‘trustafarians’ or ‘trust fund babies’, many of these individuals have never worked a day in their lives, and often live without goals. While their middle class friends will have to call it a night and head home from the pub by 11:30pm at the latest, trustafarians can’t say the same. They have no office job to go to in the morning, no early train to catch, no structure to ground them. This socioeconomic group of child-adults never leave the playground, and are forever stuck on the merry-go-round of endless holidays, parties, shopping trips and unsurprisingly, alcohol and drug binges.
A study from Arizona State University released in 2017 backs this up, coming to the conclusion that wealthy teenagers were at a much higher risk for substance abuse than middle and lower class children. The study concluded that by age 26, upper-middle-class young adults’ chances of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol are two to three times higher than the national norms for this age group.
“With trustafarians, there’s a lot of cushioning, a lot of enabling. There’s going to be low self-esteem. They haven’t made their money themselves, and I think people only tend to value stuff that’s cost them something. If money just falls into your bank account every month, as a direct debit from Coutts, it gives you no meaning.” – Cosmo Duff Gordon
Addiction among those with means seems to be a prevalent problem. But why? Late literary legend AA Gill makes an important point in his memoir about his own alcoholism, Pour Me: A Life, that “professional committed indentured alcoholics drink for the darkness”. And that “all addictions become not about nirvana but about maintenance. Not reaching for the stars but fixing the roof.” When you relate Gill’s theory to the wealthy it makes sense. When it comes to finding comfort and satisfaction, most people can sustain these basic needs rather easily. Buying a new winter coat can make someone’s day, just as a pay rise can make someone’s month. Happiness is just around the corner for most people, and often in the simplest of forms. But when you can have everything, where is the motivation? What’s the point? Happiness is harder to acquire in these cases, harder to sustain. It’s rarely found at the bottom of a bottle, or through the tunnel of a rolled up £20 note, but it’s one of the first places people will look when they don’t know where else to. This type of feeling can be compared to Paradise Syndrome, a condition where extreme dissatisfaction is felt by a person, despite their wealth and success.
What help is there out there for people with these problems? It really depends on what your budget is, and to what extent you need help. People who are simply in need of advice can turn to independent charities such as Drink Aware, who work to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. Similarly, Rehab 4 Addiction imparts invaluable advice for people seeking recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, depression or eating disorders. More comprehensive services include Change Grow Live’s drug and alcohol service that supports adults and young people, helping them to reduce or stop their use in a safe way. As successful as these organisations are, those hoping to get proper, intensive treatment for free can usually expect can expect long waiting lists for government-funded rehab. A dangerous path to go down, as most addicts need help, fast. There are, of course, community based services such as AA and NA meetings where you can find group support and counselling on a daily basis, but treating addiction is big business, and many success stories have come from those who have managed to afford private treatment options. Even then, being jetted off to a luxury rehab facility such as The Kunacht Practice in Switzerland for 12 weeks to get clean is all well and good. Surrounded by a personal butler, chef, maid and driver to tend to your every need, you’ll be sent home bright and bushy-tailed in no time. But what happens when you do get home? It’s a whole different ball game. Slipping back into old ways is dangerously easy, and in the case of many, completely predictable.
Start2Stop interior, above
Cosmo and his team understand this like no other centre. Providing individuals with long-term treatment amongst the backdrop of their own lives seems to be the way forward. Genuine support, no sugar coating and no earth to come crashing down to once treatment has finished. The results prove it, too. A research study carried out in 2015 concluded that 76.36% of clients successfully competed treatment, 79.7% of clients were at least one month abstinent on discharge, and 100% of clients reported they had remained abstinent six months’ post treatment. Results also showed a significant effect on depression, anxiety, physical health and overall quality of life.
Ultimately, as AA Gill once said, everyone’s different addiction stories are “as unique as snowflakes”. Although people in more fortunate financial circumstances have proved to go on to develop a dependence on a particular substance, or engage in an unhealthy lifestyle, this illness can affect all socioeconomic groups, billionaires, beggars, and everything in-between. Whatever someone’s financial status, fighting addiction is the single hardest thing most people will ever experience in their lives. In every addict’s case, two things are certain, the road to recovery will always be rocky, and coughing up is inevitable.
If you are struggling with addiction issues, or knows someone who is, contact Start2Stop.
You can read the full interview with Cosmo Duff Gordon and Dougie Dudgeon from Start2Stop here.