Why city workers are more prone to addictions

Individuals working in the high octane world of financial risk taking are often at risk of anxiety based conditions and active addictions. The intense pressure to meet sales targets and to be successful in such a competitive environment as the city can generate a breeding ground for addiction. Such a climate can fuel an indulgent culture that can see endemic abuse of substances. Work addiction effectively gets rewarded by some financial institutions in sectors such as mergers and acquisition activity because of the 24/7 commitment to the successful outcome of deal-making. City workers who have a problem with addiction can function to a certain level but high functioning can unravel fairly rapidly when something in their life goes wrong.

Denial in addicted behaviour can be huge, especially in the city, both at an individual and organisational level. City firms might have become more enlightened in recent years by developing mental health policies for their employees but few have implemented a drugs policy. Reputational worries are massive and this can fuel denial. Few will readily admit to addiction issues if there are anxieties about reputation as so often people suffering with addictions are commonly stigmatised in such sectors.

Equity and currency traders can be at one end of a spectrum of city workers living on the edge of a roller coaster of fear in pursuit of a positive profit and loss account. Chasing returns by trading in highly liquid but often volatile markets can be extremely rewarding but can also be a highly risky business. Anxieties about an imminent flash crash can compound fears of a sudden meltdown in markets. This can lead to traders seeking comfort and relief in a culture of drugs and alcohol in order to maintain emotional balance and a feeling of well-being.

Work-related stress can mean different things to different people depending on the levels of extreme risk taking, pressure for the achievement of results, job insecurity, bullying and a culture of long hours. Some people will thrive in such environments whilst others might struggle. Huge financial rewards may be on offer but pressure can come from maintaining a certain lifestyle. Such pressures can fuel instances of addiction.

Traders might fear loss of control in their trading strategy when losses have occurred. This could be explained in psychological terms through the phenomenon of loss aversion. The pioneer of behavioural economics Daniel Kahneman has shown how traders feel the pain of a loss more than the pleasure of a win. This could help explain the phenomena of chasing losses when traders seek to recover past losses by doubling up.

We perhaps all need some form of stress to avoid boredom in our lives regardless of which sector we work in. However, individuals based in the city who do not have a healthy self-care regime or a robust social support structure are particularly susceptible to addictive behaviours. Such susceptibility will increase if there is a history of addictions in the family, if trauma has been experienced or if toxic shame has been a feature of growing up. Bereavement can also act as a trigger to addictive lifestyles. The resilience to cope with stress for all financial sectors, not just traders, and to maintain emotional balance when under pressure will often determine whether addictive patterns get triggered.

Getting people to enter rehab, start counselling, or even to take a holiday can be very difficult. The city is extremely fast paced and the fear is that there will be no job left if there is time out. Confidentiality can also be a major issue when people need help especially for senior managers. Senior bankers might worry whether they will be seen going into a treatment facility such is their perceived fear of the fallout from reputational damage in their sector.

Counselling and psychotherapy can be a safe place to explore problem behaviour within a private and confidential environment. The sessions could offer an opportunity to explore life choices and review decisions as well as helping to address a healthy personal self-care regime and social support structure.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London SE1 & SE26
Written by Noel Bell, MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP
London SE1 & SE26

Noel Bell is a UKCP accredited psychotherapist in London who has spent over 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel is an integrative therapist and draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, CBT, humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.

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