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The High Functioning Addict

It is very likely that someone you know is currently struggling with addiction. It could be a relative, co-worker, neighbor or close friend. It could be a person you see every day, yet there are no obvious signs. They may have great jobs, loving friends and family, and a long list of hobbies and interests, but rely on substances like marijuana and alcohol to make it through the day. Though you don’t see it, they are struggling internally and making every effort to conceal the issue, often in denial themselves at first. This person is known as a High-Functioning Addict. High-Functioning Addicts are able to function without obvious impairment and believe or tell others that continued participation in daily activities such as work and school, means that they are not actually addicted. Addiction is progressive and physically changes the brain chemistry, causing the High-Functioning Addict to have a tougher time concealing his or her use. Eventually they will have less concern in doing so. They will exhibit riskier behaviors and will have less concern for consequences as time passes. They may begin to give up activities that once elicited joy such as hobbies or social events.

Characteristics of High-Functioning Addicts:

  • High level of education

  • Stable job

  • Supportive family

  • Commonly middle-aged

  • Family history of addiction

  • History of major depression

High-Functioning Addicts often experience telltale signs of addiction including hangovers and withdrawal yet they mask or excuse the behavior, often concealing it from even those closest to them. 10-15% of Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol and of those 20% are considered high-functioning.

Signs that someone may be a High-Functioning Addict:

  • Consuming more than others. Often they are the co-worker who always stays at the bar the longest.

  • Drinking as a reward or to cope. High-Functioning Addicts both create reasons to celebrate and use substances to deal with stress.

  • Focusing on social events where drinking is involved. They will often decline offers and invitations unless drinking is part of the agenda. They will cancel plans that do not involve drinking.

  • Feeling bad in the morning. They may feel worse in the morning after a night of drinking but say they are “coming down with something.”

  • Sudden changes in how they spend their time. Those suffering from addiction typically lose interest in social and recreational activities they once loved.

Being a High-Functioning Addict is dangerous for several reasons. High-Functioning Addicts may continue to drink or use drugs because they feel that they are successfully managing or masking it, though addiction is progressive and eventually leads to negative and, at times, tragic consequences. They may feel they have “too much to lose” so they continue to use alcohol or drugs despite knowing it is problematic. They may be enabled by others who are unaware of the issue or believe the High-Functioning Addict when he or she cites professional or personal success as a reason they do not have a problem.

In many professions, excessive drinking or substance use is part of the social fabric and considered normal behavior. It is known that the food service industry has the highest rate of drug abuse and addiction while alcohol abuse and addiction are more prevalent in healthcare and legal professions. High-Functioning Addicts in these fields have the potential to affect the public should they continue to operate professionally while masking an addiction. High-Functioning Addicts in all professions can often overcome the addiction with professional help such as counseling.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a counselor who can help, click here.


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