7 business leaders who've been completely open about their struggles with alcohol and drugs

audrey gelman

Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Audrey Gelman, CEO of co-working space The Wing, posted on Twitter to celebrate three years sober.

  • Professionals all over the country - including those in business, tech, and finance - struggle with alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Here are seven successful executives who have opened up about their past drug and alcohol use.
  • Many of them recovered and went on to run successful businesses, like The Wing and Twitch.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more.

Addiction can impact anyone - including highly successful business people.

The number of fatal drug overdoses in the US has risen significantly between 1999 and 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the world's alcohol consumption is set to rise by 17% over the next decade.

Pressure to drink at work and social events can contribute to alcohol abuse. This is especially common in the tech and finance industries, where there is often a pervasive drinking culture

Highly successful founders and investors - from The Wing cofounder to shoe magnate Steve Madden - have struggled with addiction in the past.

Here are seven successful business people who are open about their past alcohol and drug abuse.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call SAMHSA's National Helpline (1-800-662-4357) to get confidential, free, 24/7 support for individuals and family members facing substance use disorders. The service offers referrals to treatment facilities, support groups, and more.

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Austin Geidt, head of strategy for Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, struggled with drug addiction when she was 19.

Austin Geidt, head of strategy for Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, struggled with drug addiction when she was 19.

Geidt, Uber's fourth employee and current executive, had the honor of ringing the closing New York Stock Exchange bell after the rideshare company went public.

Despite her successful career at Uber, Geidt struggled with drug addiction starting at 19 years old. Business Insider reported that Geidt left college early to go to rehab and did not graduate until she was 25. She's been sober for over a decade.

"I had a drug addiction. I got sober. I'm 10 years sober," she said in 2015. "I was in a really dark place."

Audrey Gelman, CEO of co-working space The Wing, posted on Twitter to celebrate three years sober.

Audrey Gelman, CEO of co-working space The Wing, posted on Twitter to celebrate three years sober.

In July, Gelman posted a photo of a sobriety chip given to members of Alcoholic Anonymous.

Bronze chips are typically given when a member stays sober for a year. Gelman captioned the photo "three years today."

Beyond her tweets, there hasn't been much written about her alcoholism. But Gelman did make headlines for becoming the first visibly pregnant woman on the cover of a business magazine in September.

Oprah Winfrey, billionaire media mogul, revealed she was addicted to crack cocaine in her 20s.

Oprah Winfrey, billionaire media mogul, revealed she was addicted to crack cocaine in her 20s.

Winfrey, a wellness investor and the CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network, revealed her addiction to crack cocaine while she was an anchorwoman in the 1970s.

Winfrey said she used drugs with a former boyfriend she dated in her 20s.

"I was more addicted to the boyfriend than I was to the drugs," Winfrey told the Today show in 2005. Opening up about her drug addiction was the hardest private secret she shared on her show, Winfrey told Today.

Larry Kudlow, White House economic advisor and former Wall Street economist, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction when he worked for the investment bank Bear Stearns.

Larry Kudlow, White House economic advisor and former Wall Street economist, struggled with drug and alcohol addiction when he worked for the investment bank Bear Stearns.

Kudlow serves as President Donald Trump's senior economic advisor and as director of the National Economic Council. Before politics, Kudlow worked as a TV commentator and at several Wall Street investment banks.

In 1994, Kudlow told the New York Times he left his job at Bear Stearns to enter rehab after years of alcohol and drug addiction. The company later fired him.

He's been sober for 23 years.

Steve Madden, founder of the shoe company, said alcohol and drugs led him to launder money and commit fraud.

Steve Madden, founder of the shoe company, said alcohol and drugs led him to launder money and commit fraud.

Madden started his shoe company selling out of his car in 1990. Now the company is worth more than $3 billion in market capital, and has hundreds of stores all over the world.

But in 2002, a federal judge ruled the designer was guilty of fraud and money laundering. Madden's lawyer said his crimes stemmed from drug addiction.

In a 2017 Netflix documentary, Madden said he struggled with drug and alcohol abuse since he dropped out of college.

Madden told the New York Times in 2013 he was sober, and he more recently told the Wall Street Journal he spends most of his time with his three children.

Sam Polk, cofounder and CEO of Everytable, developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol in college.

Sam Polk, cofounder and CEO of Everytable, developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol in college.

Sam Polk began his career at Credit Suisse as a summer analyst, and later got a job trading at Bank of America. During his early career, Polk struggled with dependency on alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, Ritalin, and ecstasy. He also had a self described "money addiction," which led him to quit his job because his $3.6 million bonus wasn't high enough, according to an op-ed he wrote in The New York Times.

Polk later left Wall Street and wrote a book on the dangers of greed.

In 2015, Polk founded Everytable, a healthy fast-food company. Everytable provides low incomes communities access to healthy food by charging more affluent neighborhoods higher prices. Elon Musk's brother Kimbal Musk backed the company last year.

Justin Kan, the CEO of Atrium and founder of Twitch, decided to give up alcohol in 2019.

Justin Kan, the CEO of Atrium and founder of Twitch, decided to give up alcohol in 2019.

After he sold his startup Twitch to Amazon for $1 billion in 2014, Kan became CEO of the corporate law firm Atrium.

The young founder, currently in his mid-30s, said alcohol had been "part of his identity" since high school. "Unfortunately, it's also been an unhealthy way to avoid being fully in touch with my emotions and my experience of life," Kan wrote on his blog.

Now, Kan uses exercise and meditation to help him deal with stress.

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