Monday, August 4, 2008

Excecutives and Addiction

Getting Sober: What To Expect

After 30 years in printing, Alex Maysura thought he'd honed an effective business- development strategy.

“I would take customers out for a three-martini lunch and I would have nine,” said Maysura, 56. “I found I had a talent for drinking. ... I closed business deals that way. I did more business at the bar and the golf course than I did any other way.”

Maysura, owner of University Printing Services, a 20- person shop in Detroit, had lost touch with reality.

“You think you are in control with all events in your life. Drinking was good for business, and I had a successful company. Once 9-11 hit, my business went down the tubes. I was left with just my drinking.”

A 52-year-old executive of a major bank in Southeast Michigan who wishes to remain anonymous developed his drinking habit over cocktail lunches with clients. In the beginning, it was three times a week. Eventually it turned into two to three drinks a day, which continued for the next 10 years.

By 2004, he was up to nearly a quart of Jack Daniel's a night.

“I always was one who suffered from stress,” he said. “As I went through a job transfer and a promotion, the added job and social responsibilities led to me to pour myself that additional drink or two at home.”

But like the other alcoholic business professionals interviewed for this story, he was convinced that his drinking could be self-managed.

“I woke up one morning with the shakes. I needed to medicate myself or have another drink to get through the day,” he said. “I didn't want to go to work with alcohol on my breath, so I took antidepressants. I became cross-addicted.”

"Even the Dog Knows!"

Like others suffering from addiction, executives struggle with a loss of control. What sets them apart, though, is their common unwillingness to seek and accept help, said Tom Ghena, administrative director of Henry Ford Behavioral Health-Maplegrove Center in West Bloomfield Township.

Executives often delay care because they are embarrassed, worry treatment will be discovered and the revelation will hurt their careers. Rather than take the risk, they opt to manage the problem on their own.

“By the time many executives seek help, they've either been admitted to a hospital for emergency treatment or told by their company to seek help or be fired,” said Denise Bertin-Epp, president and chief nursing officer of Brighton Hospital.

“There is not a lot of education around addiction, and many people don't understand the issues surrounding it,” Bertin-Epp said. “There's a huge stereotype. People believe they choose that lifestyle or they are weak.”

But addiction is a disease that can be inherited, Christensen said. As such, people need a variety of tactics to beat it.

Treatment often includes an initial assessment, detoxification, outpatient drug treatment and inpatient care that can range from two weeks to three months, said Dr. Carl Christensen, an addiction medicine specialist at Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Other options include 12-step programs made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, and counseling and aftercare.

Once executives realize they need treatment, they often fear the admission process. Bertin-Epp and Ghena recommend executives first seek advice from their primary-care physicians. They also suggest executives call them directly.

In February, Brighton began a concierge service for executives who need substance abuse intervention but are too embarrassed to make traditional arrangements. Instead of calling a hospital's patient intake office, Bertin-Epp offers her cell phone number.

Some 10 to 20 executives from around the country call per week, Bertin-Epp said. They ask: “How could I have done this to myself? What will my staff think of me? What will the board think?”

Bertin-Epp answers questions on why treatment is important, where an executive can go, and how to explain an absence or educate the office staff.

It helps that Bertin-Epp has former addicts on her team.

Virginia June, Brighton's director of business development, began drinking with her alcoholic father at age 9. She was rather proud she could “drink him under the table.” But by 25, she was drinking a fifth of bourbon, popping 30 amphetamine pills and snorting a gram of cocaine a day.

“It is amazing I am still alive,” said June, now 47. “When I was 12, my mother used to buy me Boone's Farm. It was like a juice box.”

Dr. Mark Menestrina, director of Brighton's detoxification unit, has been arrested 12 times and lost his medical license.

“Pretty much anything I could use, I would use,” said Menestrina, 55, who has been sober 15 years. “The only substances I did not use were ones that were not yet invented.”

It wasn't until his wife filed for divorce in 1987 that he realized he needed help.

Over a 14-year period, Menestrina counted 49 times in which he had been in a treatment program. But it was the 50th time that he realized he needed to listen to the experts. In March 1993, he had his last drink.

Menestrina said many executives take elaborate steps to cover their admission, but few believe their stories.

“Even their dog knows they have a problem.”

Still, executives have assistants who sometimes cover their addictions.

“Professionals can control their environment more, and that can make the problem worse,” Ghena said. “My advice for subordinates is to talk with each other” and find a peer to approach the superior.

But Christensen said co-workers sometimes don't know there's a problem. “If you have a co-worker who is an addict and homeless, you might not even know until they have lost everything. It is not uncommon for a person to have a life completely destroyed but still show up at work,” he said.

Most people are relieved once they are in treatment.

“They have lied and made excuses to hide it,” Christensen said. “They want help. It is just difficult taking that first step.”

"I needed to shut up and listen'

When his printing business tanked in 2002, Maysura started to increase his drinking until he was up to a quart of liquor a day.

“I was having family problems, my parents were sick and my business closed. I just couldn't handle the pressure,” he said.

Maysura searched the Internet for self-help solutions and finally decided to seek professional help.

“I had a habit that I cultivated over 30 years, and I found you can't get rid of it in 30 days,” he said. “It is a disease, but you also have to deal with psychological traits, so it isn't easy to kick.”

After years of heavy drinking, the banker who wishes to remain anonymous had a pancreatic attack.

“My doctor told me in April 2006 that if I didn't stop drinking I might as well put a gun to my head because you can't replace your pancreas,” he said.

In May 2006, he asked his physician about checking into a treatment center. “I couldn't sleep without having a drink or taking a drug.”

It wasn't until his third admission at Maplegrove in June 2007 that he became receptive to the full treatment program.

“My way of thinking was not working. I needed to shut up and listen and do what I was supposed to do,” he said. The key, he said, was attending post-inpatient treatment meetings three to four times a week.

In October 2005, Maysura had his last drink. He has since gone back to college and will graduate this year with a bachelor's degree in psychology. He plans to earn a master's degree in social work to become an addiction counselor for seniors. Right now, he volunteers at Maplegrove.

“I go to meetings once a week and feel comfortable because I am around people who understand me and do not judge me,” Maysura said. “I am not worried about hitting the bottle again. I have the knowledge on how to say no to old friends who want to go have a drink.”

Jay Greene: (313) 446-0325,

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