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Are Success and Addictive Traits Compatible?


When most people think about qualities of visionary leaders, intelligence, wisdom, charisma, and creativity come to their minds. Other traits that people think make great leaders include the desire to challenge the established practices and ideas, the drive for success, and unrelenting desire to innovate.

But, when you look at the psychological profiles of compelling leaders like Steven P. Jobs, Larry Ellison, Winston Churchill, and Jeff Bezos, you will realize that a  leader is also a compulsive risk taker.  Simply put, the qualities people think about when seeking visionary leaders are the same traits found in most addicts. It’s therefore not surprising that these leaders have a history of drug use at some point in their lives.

Generally, people see individuals that are dependent on alcohol, drugs, sex, and gambling as weak-willed losers. It’s therefore logical to say that it’s the addictive traits of entrepreneurs that have led some of them into executive rehab centers (read more here) when not streamed in the right direction.

Brain Functions

To understand how addictive traits can help you to become a great entrepreneur, it’s crucial to understand how the brain functions in relation to pleasure and subsequent reward. Pleasure is a key motivator that is at the core of learning. Basically, if water, food, and sex were not rewarding, humans would not have children and survive.

Neural signals are evoked by pleasure and these converge at the interconnected parts of the brain known as the medial forebrain pleasure circuit. These are tiny neurons’ clumps where the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine is crucial. The pleasure circuitry that uses dopamine can be activated artificially by some people.

Psychoactive substances like heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine can be used to activate this circuitry artificially. The pleasure circuits of the brain are hard-wired in order to be activated even by unpredictable rewards. That’s why some people find the uncertainty that comes with gambling rewarding. It’s also the same rewarding experience that high-reward, high-risk business ventures bring. But, research has shown that addictive traits can have a destructive influence.

Traits Shared by Entrepreneurs and Addicts

Many people think that great entrepreneurs have smooth lives and they always make the right choices. They think that entrepreneurs have nothing to compare with the people that struggle with substance abuse and addiction. In fact, many people look up to entrepreneurs as their leaders.

In his article in The New York Times, David J Linden, a neuroscience professor at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the addictive personality characteristics exhibited by leaders can make successful entrepreneurs when harnessed properly.

Using Addictive Traits to Become a Great Entrepreneur

There are ways addictive traits can be streamlined in the right direction to make an individual a great entrepreneur. These include the following:

Recognizing the Risk

If you have a privileged background, you may not think that you are at the risk of becoming an addict. That’s because you grew up in a stable home and had a good childhood. But, this doesn’t exempt you from the risk of drug abuse and addiction. You just need a single prescription for temporary relief to be hooked.

Work Smarter

As an entrepreneur, you can be tempted to work more hours every week. But, this will lead to stress that will necessitate the use of drugs for stress relief. To avoid this, optimize your productivity during the working hours. Strike a decent work-life balance by ensuring that you have time for friends, family, and hobbies.

Get a Support System

Entrepreneurship and loneliness go together. Being an entrepreneur can leave you without a life partner or friend because you can always be working on your venture. That means you may not have a person to talk to during tough times. Consequently, you may be tempted to turn to drugs and alcohol to escape the inevitable hardship and stress that comes with entrepreneurship. To avoid this, get a support system.

Find Healthy Hobbies

One of the reasons you may end up in a CEO rehab facility is because you are always busy without time to relax and cool off. Your body and mind need time to unwind. Engaging in healthy hobbies is a sure way to relax and get away from the stressful entrepreneurial life. Therefore, find healthy hobbies like biking, reading, running, volunteering or playing your favorite sport.

The Bottom Line

Addictive traits like obsessive personality help some people become great entrepreneurs due to their obsessiveness over where they want to go. They do not stop until they get to their destinations. These people are always looking for innovative ways to do things due to their novelty-seeking behavior and compulsive risk-taking traits.

John Adkins is a blogger and volunteer who deals with issues of mental health, addiction, and life in recovery. Also, he works with a foundation that helps drug addicts, so he has a clear understanding of their needs and problems.