Entrepreneurial fervor, that perfectionism, that drive to succeed can lead to addictive habits. "Entrepreneurs adhere to the myth of invincibility," says clinical program director Scott Stacy of the Professional Renewal Center in Lawrence, Kansas. "High achievers will do just about anything to not fail and to keep going, including using substances to deal with professional burnout." Entrepreneurs can also be addicted to gambling, food, shopping, sex, even making money. Early warning signs of addiction are cynicism, anxiety, sleep disturbance, irritability, emotional and physical exhaustion, and an inability to internally regulate mood. Says Stacy, "The tendency is to excessively rely on external relationships or objects to regulate mood; for example, if you feel down and go buy a new car."
Epi Torres, 48, founder of ChangeYourHabits LLC, a personal improvement consulting firm in Pittsburgh, developed a problem with food addiction after he quit smoking. It was at its worst when he was running his first business, Contemporary Technologies Inc., an IT management and consulting firm in Pittsburgh. "I would eat until I felt sick," he remembers. "I was tired; I wasn't sleeping well. I was stressed all the time." He realized his problem and got psychological and physical help. Today, he's healthy and runs a third business, Fox Chapel Yacht Club and Conference Center in Pittsburgh. Projected 2004 revenues for the three businesses combined is about $20 million.
Stacy says that to recognize addictions, "sometimes it takes people getting into serious trouble." For Eric Aronson, founder of DASH Systems Inc. in Garden City, New York, it took a 3-year prison sentence for conspiracy to commit securities fraud to jolt him into changing. He was addicted to making money, and he drank, smoked and gambled. "Money was my God," says Aronson. Selling fraudulent stocks in his company landed him in prison, and while there, he had an epiphany: He was missing the lives of his three children. He changed his priorities, and when he got out, he founded DASH, a personal coaching company that's expected to gross $4 million to $6 million this year.
Overcoming addictive tendencies is difficult but possible, says Stacy. If you see the signs, get help. "You'd consult with an attorney [about] the way you structure your company," he says. "Why wouldn't you invest in yourself and consult with somebody who really knows about addiction? If you don't take care of yourself, the company won't do well."