Counselling service founder says record numbers of workers in City of London seeking treatment for drug and alcohol problems
Drug and alcohol problems are rising at an alarming rate in London’s financial district, according to the founder of what claims to be the only specialist addiction counselling service based in the Square Mile.
Richard Kingdon, 42, says the climate of markets going into meltdown and banks implementing mass job cuts has prompted record numbers of City workers to seek treatment for addiction. He says his service, City Beacon, has worked with nearly 100 clients over the past two years.
“I’m seeing increasing numbers of people who’ve been taking a variety of substances to deal with the stress of their lives.”
One of Kingdon’s recovering clients is Daniel (not his real name), now in his mid-40s, who started drinking heavily at 25. He moved on to cocaine and found it impossible to stop his habit of “shoving my six figure bonuses up my nose”, although he has not had a drink or taken drugs for two years.
“It is absolutely rife in the City,” Daniel says. “The cocaine dealers have not gone out of business because I’ve stopped. I could take you five minutes from here to 15 or 20 bars where you would be guaranteed to be able to buy cocaine.”
Daniel claims there are bars in the City where regular customers order bottles of wine that are not advertised. In fact, these vintages aren’t on sale, but are a code for ordering cocaine from bar staff.
“It is all put on the expense account as a £60 bottle of wine, but what the waiters are selling is a wrap of cocaine,” said Daniel. “These bars are run by criminal syndicates where the food and drink is incidental. They are fronts for drugs.”
Daniel did not disclose the names of the bars he used to frequent, although City-based bar staff have recently been convicted for dealing.
In March Anthony Alexander, a 47-year-old bar manager who sold cocaine alongside cocktails, was jailed for three-and-a-half years after a raid by 30 officers on Bar 9, near Finsbury Square.
At the time the City of London police said: “It is an unusual case for the City of London, but it shows that the drug is out there.”
Daniel believes the City’s macho, risk-taking culture plays a part in addiction. His supervisors weren’t interested in him as a person, he says, only the profit he was generating – and quickly the power and the money proved too much. He even stole money from his parents to buy drugs, despite his huge earnings.
According to Kingdon, City workers often buy their coke from colleagues rather than “standard” drug dealers.
Kingdon is himself a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, who says the carnage of his former life led to him becoming a football hooligan. At the age of 26 he ended up in a psychiatric unit.
Since then, Kingdon has turned his life around and has used his experiences to advise others – including spells working with addicts inside Swaleside and Belmarsh prisons – before private clients urged him to set up a City-based business three years ago to cope with the demand.
“There’s no doubt the City has a sizeable and growing addiction problem – and the current market turmoil isn’t helping. But addiction isn’t restricted to a specific industry. It’s an illness that’s part of human nature and pops up everywhere.”
Last year the UK topped the European “league table” for cocaine use and now even outstrips the levels seen in the US, according to the annual report of the EU’s drug agency.
Dr Neil Brener, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory, north London, says he spends two days a week treating patients in the City and at Canary Wharf, partly because of the stresses of the financial crisis.
“There is no question that there is a linkage between alcohol and cocaine,” Brener says. “Studies have shown that the brain’s alcohol receptor and its cocaine receptor are so close together that they are linked. If you are using cocaine it is much more likely you will get addicted to alcohol.”
It is a dangerous cocktail. Daniel warns: “I guarantee that this year at City Christmas parties there will be a woman who gets outrageously drunk on the free booze and then gets sexually assaulted by a colleague on cocaine. Yet if you ask that coke user [when not under the influence] if he would ever sexually assault somebody, he would say never in a million years.
“I was not robbing banks, and I didn’t rape anybody as far as I know – but I did have unprotected sex with women in public toilets because they were sharing my cocaine.”
Both Daniel his fellow City Beacon client, 39-year-old Andrew (also not his real name), admit to arriving at their desks and trading while under the influence from the previous night’s binge.
“I used to start the day with a whisky and a coffee to ‘straighten up’ in the mornings,” Andrew recalls. “I got the idea from other people I saw drinking the same combination, but they were just coming off a night shift.”
The pair are not the only traders to speculate on the markets while on drink or drugs – and the effects, predictably, can be catastrophic.
Last year Stephen Perkins, an oil futures broker who went on a drinking binge before trading more than 7m barrels of oil, was banned from working in the City for at least five years by the Financial Services Authority. His client ended up facing a potential loss of $8m (£4.8m).