The image of a drug-fueled Wall Street is often seen as a stereotype from the 1980s, when cocaine and heroin were common as after-hours entertainment and even sweeteners for business deals.
But in the latest issue of Investment Dealer’s Digest, Tom Granahan reports that abuse of cocaine, prescription drugs and alcohol remains widespread on the Street. There are few statistics to back up this claim, Mr. Granahan concedes, but he spoke with recovering addicts, doctors, law enforcement officials and Wall Street firms for his story, and many seemed to agree that the fast pace, lucrative salaries and the nightly ritual of courting clients can lead to substance abuse among the financial services ranks.
“They have the disposable income. They have lives which are often responding to the next crisis. They have access to drugs, drug-using friends, and associates, and they feel that drugs are part of the spectrum of entitlement,” Dr. Mark Gold, acting chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine, told Mr. Granahan. “Wharton may have prepared them for [Wall Street], but they are not prepared by evolution or experience for cocaine, heroin or other potent drugs of abuse.”
Others use prescription drugs to get an edge in a competitive industry, said Dr. Alden Cass, president of Catalyst Strategies Group. “I see a lot of patients addicted to prescription medications aimed at improving concentration or focus or numbing some emotions.” Ritalin, Adderall (both stimulants), Vicodin, and Oxycontin (pain killers) are most common, he told the Digest.
Mr. Granahan offers first-hand accounts from Wall Street insiders, albeit anonymous ones. One, a former executive in a financial services firm, said he’d been a functioning alcoholic and cocaine-user for almost two decades before a second DWI arrest landed him in jail. That finally got the attention of his firm, which censured him for generating bad P.R. “All through the years no one at the firm once pulled me aside and said, ‘Maybe you have a problem.’ And my behavior was very clear,” he said.
But Wall Street’s willingness to overlook addiction — as long as it doesn’t hurt business — may be changing, Mr. Granahan reports. One “large Wall Street bank” told him that the number of counselors in its employee assistance program, which helps employees with substance abuse, was recently increased from one counselor to five, in response to employee demand.
Dr. Cass, who has researched substance abuse among the upper echelons of Wall Street, noted that banks are starting to regard substance abuse as a “legitimate problem” that must be dealt with if employees are to remain productive. As a result, he added, employees are now more willing to admit abuse and seek treatment.
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