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The Connection Between Affluence and Substance Use With Bill Messinger

Jul 27, 2022

In this episode, Arden speaks with her  dear friend and professional mentor, Bill Messinger. Bill,  a retired lawyer, is an alcohol counselor and leading expert in helping affluent families with substance use issues. Arden and Bill start the conversation by discussing whether affluent families have higher rates of substance use, in addition to the stigma experienced by affluent families and the treatment they receive. Bill explains how consequences are key to helping people with addictive disorders and how families have to understand the long-term nature of recovery. This is a great conversation for those who have loved ones with substance use disorders and for professionals seeking to better serve affluent families.


  • [03:24] Do affluent families have higher rates of substance use and what’s the reason  given their financial resources?
  • [07:24] Why is there a stigma when affluent people get help with substance abuse disorders and what do treatment centers, or other types of providers need to do to decrease their clients’ nervousness?
  • [11:00] How important are consequences for wealthy people with addictive disorders and how do they vary from those who are of more modest means?
  • [13:16] What to do when the leverage used, or the consequences incurred are harder to define based on the person’s affluent position.
  • [18:29] How can wealth management professionals  help clients who may be struggling with a substance use disorder?
  • [21:04] How to address a family member’s struggle with substance use and how industry professionals can  improve the recovery system.


  • Data show it may take four to six treatment cycles for a person to become stable. Families have to understand that recovery is not a 30 day or one-and-done proposition. It’s a long term process that has to be managed by professionals. 
  • One reason affluent families do not seek professional treatment for substance use issues is because there is prejudice against the wealthy. This prejudice is rampant in our society and often results in affluent family members being treated poorly in recovery groups and at treatment facilities.
  • Affluent families should consider adding a clause to every trust that reduces access to funds if there is an addiction problem and gives the trust manager the power to hire experts to help the beneficiary get the recovery they need.






Bill is a retired lawyer and alcohol counselor who grew up in a family business on one side, trusts on the other side, and alcoholism on all sides. After completing treatment in 1995, Bill was surprised at the high relapse rates of his peer group.  In 1997, he learned about the excellent outcomes for pilots and doctors. He began applying their treatment programs to other groups, including the well-off and well-known, to improve recovery rates.  He is a leading expert on what works in recovery for the affluent and prominent and he has written numerous articles on this topic. 

Bill is also an advocate for treatment reform because the current system is ineffective and needs to be converted to a community-based system with a focus on long-term management.  He contends that we need to stop blaming the addict for treatment failures and, instead, take a hard look at the failings and distorted economic incentives of the delivery system – both private and public. 


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