When people think of addiction, usually they imagine a certain stereotype. Since the media and popular television display addicts as low-income individuals who focus solely on getting their next fix, most people imagine that this is what addiction looks like for everyone. However, many people who are struggling with substance abuse can maintain outward appearances.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 46.3 million people met the criteria for a substance use disorder in 2021. With numbers like these, it’s easy to see that not everyone struggling with addiction will display their struggles in the same manner.
Someone who suffers from addiction but continues to work, care for outside responsibilities, and maintain their reputation is referred to as a “high-functioning addict.” Since they can hide their suffering, it can be difficult for those around them to notice that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol.
High-functioning addicts often make excuses for their substance abuse, have a hard time controlling how much they drink, and hide or lie about their substance use. However, since they can maintain outward appearances, it can be difficult to realize whether or not they truly have a problem.
The most common signs of a high-functioning addict include:
Denying or Making Excuses
When someone notices that a high-functioning addict is drinking a lot of alcohol or using drugs often, they might become defensive about their substance abuse. Instead of admitting that they have a problem, they will make excuses for their drug and alcohol use or deny it completely.
For example, someone with a high-functioning addiction might claim they need alcohol to be social, decompress after work, or cope with the stress of their life. Denial takes the blame off of themselves and makes it easier for their friends and loved ones to swallow, lessening the chances of the conversation continuing further.
Being Unable to Limit Substance Use
Once a high-functioning addict begins using alcohol or drugs, they will have a hard time controlling how much they consume. While they can keep their addiction under wraps long enough to work or care for other responsibilities, once they begin using substances it will spiral out of control for the time being.
High-functioning addicts almost always binge when they use a substance. The work they are doing to stay undetected puts them under an immense amount of stress, causing binging behavior when they can partake.
Hiding or Lying About Drug and Alcohol Use
High-functioning addicts often hide their drug and alcohol use from those closest to them. They do this to prevent their loved ones from noticing they have a problem and keep their reputation intact.
If your loved one is a high-functioning addict, you might find that most of their substance use is done in private. You might find bottles of liquor or pills hidden in parts of their home that people won’t check. Additionally, they will lie about how often they abuse substances to ensure that people do not confront them about their substance misuse.
Living Two Separate Lives
People who have high-functioning addiction will lead two separate lives. Oftentimes, there is a professional version of them and something similar to a “weekend warrior.” While they remain professional and perform highly during work, they binge on substances in their free time.
Living two separate lives can be extremely stressful, which means this is not sustainable long-term. Eventually, a high-functioning addict will become unable to keep their two lives separate. This is when they will begin to experience the consequences of drug addiction.
Viewing Drugs and Alcohol as a Reward
High-functioning addicts are often successful in careers or school. Since they work so hard during work and school hours, they begin to tell themselves that they have earned the drugs or alcohol they are abusing. They view substances as a reward for their hard work.
While many of us drink a glass of wine at the end of a hard day, a high-functioning addict might drink a whole bottle or two. Additionally, the substances are used as a coping mechanism and cause intense cravings during times when the high-functioning addict cannot consume them.
Refusing to Get Help Because You Haven’t “Hit Rock Bottom”
High-functioning addicts can keep their addiction from causing the common consequences of addiction, such as job loss, financial distress, and even legal troubles. However, since their substance abuse has not caused this, they think they do not need help.
There is a common misconception that you have to “hit rock bottom” to receive addiction treatment. High-functioning addicts lean on this to continue abusing drugs and alcohol as long as they can.
Find Help for a High-Functioning Addict
If you or a loved one suffers from high-functioning addiction or alcoholism, it’s time to consider treatment. Drug and alcohol rehab centers can provide you with the tools and support you need to live a life free from the constraints of substances.
To get connected with a top-rated drug and alcohol rehab center, contact New Jersey Interventions today.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): SAMHSA Announces National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Results Detailing Mental Illness and Substance Use Levels in 2021, Retrieved January 2024 From https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/01/04/samhsa-announces-national-survey-drug-use-health-results-detailing-mental-illness-substance-use-levels-2021.html
Medically Reviewed: January 22, 2024
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.