How to manage addiction in a family business

Apr 05, 2023
1 year ago

This newsletter will feature guest commentary, white papers and reports from prominent members of the family-office community. This week, we are including an excerpt of a piece that originally appeared in Campden FB — the magazine of Campden Wealth, the global organization of wealthy families. The article — written by Fiona Yassin, the founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic — it addresses the risk of addiction in family businesses.

There’s a lot less empathy for mental illness in people who have wealth. Society as a whole is not as empathetic or charitable to those perceived to have it all. Let’s be clear — money in no way discounts the pain and suffering a family experiences with addiction, whether that’s the head of the business or a younger employee. I quite often come across people who dismiss the pain and suffering of those in a higher socioeconomic background, and frankly I find the lack of compassion to be disturbing.

And it’s not just others’ perception that can be a barrier. Oftentimes, people in ultra-high-net-worth families believe they are protected in some ways, which can result in things getting much worse before anyone takes notice. Living with a layer of financial protection does not mean you have a protective layer of resilience, too. In fact, young adults in wealthier families are often very dependent and need a lot more support and assistance to function than others.

So what can be done for family addicts? Acceptance is said to be one of the first and most important points in order to move on from addiction within a family system — and that includes acceptance from the entire family. It can be hard to accept that another family member has something that’s gone beyond mildly problematic. Sometimes the word “addiction” can be too much for families to process.

Addiction in any situation needs to be managed with incredible care. People often talk about needing to hit rock bottom in order to find some sort of recovery. However, this is not an idea that I believe in. I do not believe people need to reach the depths of despair to be offered a hand out. I believe conversations need to be opened much earlier on, even knowing that they might not be accepted.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that treatment doesn’t have to be the start of recovery. It is possible for the family system to begin recovery without the protagonist being involved. That could be family and business partners coming together and planning how to manage the problem. Bringing a culture of recovery into the family business is really important. 

Understanding that the individual does not need to be thrown aside, but planning a way to move forward and around it together while getting them the help they need, is entirely possible.

Addiction is very difficult to treat alone. It’s not usual that someone will be able to get out of it without the help of others. But a united family business that manages the situation with care and compassion can create the support system an individual needs to recover.