In my line of business, which involves the sale of drug testing kits, I run into many a sad story about how addiction has ruined lives and caused an immense amount of grief among people who get hooked on any number of substances, especially opioids.
And while you may think I am talking about people who were born into poverty and were down on their luck and looking for an escape (and I've heard those stories, too), I'm not. I'm talking about people who have lived privileged lives, earned college degrees, started successful practices and followed their entrepreneurial dream.
David J. Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says there is some evidence that the traits that make a good entrepreneur also make one susceptible to addiction. It can also be a rather lonely road entrepreneurs walk as they get their businesses off the ground and that, coupled with a constant fear of failure hanging over their heads, may also lead to addiction.
Much of the time, addiction actually does start with legitimate physical suffering, like chronic back or knee pain, before it spirals into full on addiction. Opioid painkillers can easily go from being used to numb physical pain to numbing emotional pain.
While most entrepreneurs are not likely candidates for developing an addiction, I have personally seen enough succumb to it to know that it does not take long for opioids taken for legitimate reasons to turn into an out-of-control addiction.
There are steps entrepreneurs -- and anyone else, for that matter -- can take to help protect themselves from the scourge of addiction, like these five steps:
1. Be aware that you might be at risk.
People who come from the aforementioned privileged backgrounds have a hard time believing they are at risk of addiction. Having a good childhood and a stable home to grow up in doesn't automatically mean you are exempt from abusing substances.
All it takes is one prescription that is meant to be temporary to hook a person and if you are under a lot of stress trying to get a business off the ground, you might inadvertently find solace in the wrong place.
2. Work smarter instead of harder.
Putting in obscene amounts of hours per week is a misguided badge of honor for entrepreneurs, especially those who are just getting their businesses started. I was this way myself, although I've managed to cut my working hours down to a more respectable 40-50 hours per week from 70-80.
Find ways to maximize your productivity during your working hours so you can still have a decent work-life balance and have time for your family, friends and hobbies. The importance of making time for non-work related things is so you don't get into the habit of "rewarding" yourself. People who work extra hard often feel like they deserve a bit of a treat in their down time as a reward for all their hard work. If your treat is something harmless, that's fine. But, sometimes these treats are alcohol and/or drugs and that's when it can become dangerous and habit forming.
If you work smart and have a decent work-life balance, there will be no need for this reward system, which can quickly spin out of control.
3. Have a support system.
Entrepreneurialism and loneliness can sometimes go hand in hand. If you don't have a friend or a life partner (or you've alienated everyone because you've been working too much), that can leave you without anyone to talk to when times are tough.
Without someone to confide in, people sometimes turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with the inevitable stress and hardship that comes with starting a company. You need people by your side to support you while you tackle this huge undertaking.
4. Find a healthy high.
Whether it's running, reading, biking, playing a sport, putting together puzzles or maybe coloring, find some other way to get that euphoric feeling. When you accomplish something you've set out to do, it gives you a great feeling that no drug can match.
If you're looking for a particularly potent high, I suggest doing volunteer work and fundraising for the less fortunate. It's an amazing feeling.
5. Respect your body.
If there is one lesson that stands out above the rest in all the years we've been helping small businesses eradicate drug usage at work, it's that people who respect their bodies don't use illicit drugs (and that includes steroids). There is no drug, illicit or prescription, that doesn't have effects on your body when used and often overwhelmingly negative effects when abused. Keeping fit will also help you avoid injury, which is how many people inadvertently end up with an addiction.