The Functioning Addict

The stereotypical alcoholic or drug addict is a person who can’t keep a job or hold a relationship together, or who may be homeless, sick or incarcerated. In reality, only about 9 percent of alcoholics and addicts fit the stereotypical image of a life in shambles. In fact, and nearly 20 percent are high-functioning people who are successful in most aspects of life. High functioning addicts come from all walks of life; they may be executives, politicians, physicians, business owners or stay-at-home moms.

High functioning addicts appear to have it all together. They are adept at camouflaging their problems and are often highly respected by their community and coworkers. If challenged about drug or alcoholuse, they are quick to point out high salaries, intact families or other outward signs of a happy, successful life.

The truth is that addiction is a chronic disease that has absolutely nothing to do with success. In fact, the situation tends to be even more dangerous for high functioning addicts who may not be willing to change, even as they sink deeper and deeper into addiction. For many addicts, traumatic events such as accidents, divorce or legal problems often serve as the impetus to seek addiction treatment or rehab. However, high functioning addicts see no reason to change when things are apparently going so well. They often depend on employees or other subordinates to help them keep the problem under wraps.

Identify the warning signs

Life may be falling apart for the functioning addict, even if indications of trouble aren’t obvious. If you’re concerned that somebody you care about may be a high-functioning addict, don’t ignore the warning signs. High functioning addicts:

  • tend to be secretive about their drinking or drug use, or may lie about their activities.
  • often have well-rehearsed excuses for their substance abuse. For example, they may claim they were at a business meeting or having an after-work drink with friends. They may say they are simply easing the stress at the end of a long, difficult day.
  • may display symptoms such as shakiness, tremors, mood swings, frequent illness or other signs of deteriorating health.
  • often miss social events and no longer take pleasure from activities they typically find enjoyable.
  • use their high level of success for justification not to address the problem, even if they know they need to stop.
  • may miss work or important deadlines.

Taking action

High functioning addicts are often in complete denial and tend to become defensive if approached about the matter, which makes the situation frustrating and frightening for friends and family members. However, it’s important to take action as soon as possible because not confronting the problem only allows the addict to continue the behavior. The longer the addiction continues, the greater the chances of serious physical, mental and emotional damage.

  • Stop making excuses for your addicted friend or family member.
  • If necessary, confront your own denial about your loved one’s drinking or drug problem.
  • Consider a professional intervention, which may force your loved one to finally face the reality of the situation.
  • Don’t attempt to confront the person when he is drunk.

Concerns about anonymity

Functioning addicts in positions of authority may be concerned that word will get out if they enter drug treatment or rehab. Reassure your friend or family member that the illness can be treated anonymously.

We offer the world’s most comprehensive treatment for addiction, eating disorders, emotional problems and mental illnesses. We treat one client at a time, in total privacy.

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