Business

03.22.13

Live-in Sober Coaches Offer Wealthy Expensive New Way to Stay Clean

High-powered Wall Streeters can turn to $1,900-per-day Sober Companions to help them stay sober. But experts say there’s no evidence that these gold-plated services produce better results than cheaper options.

The concentration of wealth in the finance industry has spawned a boom in high-end services—from chefs to chauffeurs, from kids’ soccer tutors to standardized-test gurus. Now the bull market has given rise to expensive babysitters who keep high-powered adults out of trouble.

We’ve known for years about the existence of sober minders in Hollywood. Now investment bankers, attorneys, and other professionals with limitless budgets can shell out $1,900 a day to employ a 24/7 Sober Companion, a live-in coach who spends every waking minute making sure the client doesn’t use.

Sober Champion—the company that employs Sober Companion coaches—is a premium service for high-powered addicts who have tried everything else.

A 2012 University of Southern California study by Alexandra Michel found that Wall Streeters are likely to develop health problems and alcohol and drug dependencies as a result of long hours and constant stress.

And a recent New York Post investigation found that investment bankers and traders are increasingly turning to—and getting hooked on—prescription pills.

Doug Caine, who describes himself as an “ex–dope fiend and former convict,” is the founder of Sober Champion. He says his company has had more calls from Wall Street addicts seeking help “than ever before.”

Caine says finance types are calling with pill problems, “less about synthetic narcotics like OxyContin and more about old-school prescription meds like Valium, Xanax, and benzos [benzodiazepine].”

The last two Wall Street clients Caine worked with were both “stone-cold alcoholics” in their 40s. One was the wife of a successful trader; the other was a banker who was constantly traveling. Both employed a round-the-clock coach to come live in their homes, sit with them during meals, travel with them, and generally embed themselves into every aspect of their lives—from 14 days to three months, with a follow-up period lasting months to years.

Companions can cost anywhere from $900 a day to $1,900 and up for every 24 hours, depending on the case. Caine’s tagline: “I bring treatment home.” That means traveling to and from work with the client, sitting in on boardroom meetings at the office, and taking a seat at family dinner.

While Sober Champion is one of a few companies offering constant companionship, the mega-rich have a host of choices when it comes to rehab services tailored to their specific needs.

Turning Point for Leaders, based in New Canaan, Connecticut, specializes in interventions for wealthy alcoholic and drug-addicted professionals. Founder Robert Curry and his staff work for months to create dossiers on their clients, interviewing 10 to 20 of their friends, colleagues, and family members to provide a clear picture of how a client’s addiction is affecting others.

Experts say there’s no evidence to prove that round-the-clock sober companionship or expensive dossiers help people recover from alcoholism or drug addiction any better than AA sponsors and regular drug testing do.

“We create a mirror we can hold up to the individual. That’s the only way you can deal with a narcissistic, grandiose individual,” says Curry. “You have to create leverage and strip away all their armor.”

Curry says charges vary depending on “time and effort,” but the charge for services can range from $250 to $400 per hour. Services can also include accompaniment to and from rehab centers and traveling with the client—but not 24/7 live-in coaching.

Is it worth it? Does spending 12 grand a week on a sober companion produce better results than enrolling in a free 12-step program? Experts say there’s no evidence to prove that round-the-clock sober companionship or expensive dossiers help people recover from alcoholism or drug addiction any better than AA sponsors and regular drug testing do. There’s simply “no evidence one way or the other about hired live-in companions help get people sober,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford and expert on preventing and treating addictive disorders.

But there is proof, Humphreys says, that a free Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor helps people struggling with addiction stay sober. “The irony is, having a lot of money can mean you get more care, but it’s not always good care,” Humphreys says.

Physicians, Humphreys points out, have a rate of addiction that is slightly higher than the general population’s. Wealthy doctors have “astonishingly high success rates” seeking help in the same ways other addicts with less lucrative professions do—that means getting long-term care and regular drug and alcohol testing with consequences.

Humphreys says these same basic treatment methods are shown to work as effectively in the probation system as they do for high-paid doctors. “These are mainly human processes rather than rich-versus-poor-people processes,” he says.

Still, Caine and Curry say they’ve helped alcoholics and addicts who had tried everything else—Caine says he had one client who tried 43 treatment centers before turning to live-in coaching.

And they both say that wealthy addicts both require and demand specialized treatment—and hundreds of dollars a day to get clean is a fair price for the individual care their clients get. High-powered, wealthy addicts are demanding a higher level of care whether or not it actually helps them more than AA meetings and sponsors—often because they believe normal treatments are beneath them.

“These people think, I went to Harvard, and I’m smarter than the average guy,” Curry says. “The world is saying to these guys, you can go out and have a bender; it’s no big deal. It’s the age-old story of ‘I’m better than that.’”