Have you ever heard the term “high-functioning addict” or “functioning alcoholic”? There’s a good possibility you know one, and don’t realize it. Functioning alcoholics and addicts are people that can hide their addictions by appearing to “have it together”. We often associate addiction with someone who has “hit rock bottom” and cannot function although, most of the time that’s not the case. A person can suffer from addiction while living what appears to be a normal life. This article addresses what it means to be a high-functioning alcoholic or a high functioning addict and recommends appropriate treatment.
To better understand high-functioning addicts, we must look at how addiction works. Alcoholism and addiction are non-discriminatory world-wide diseases. When a person experiments with their substance of choice (whether it be alcohol or drugs) they may develop a desire to use more and more frequently. This desire or compulsion comes from the brain’s release of dopamine after the ingestion of alcohol or drugs. Dopamine causes a sense of euphoria. This euphoric feeling, brought on by the release of dopamine, can become problematic as the alcoholic or addict will require more and more of their drug of choice to experience the same level of euphoria. As the disease progresses, and it is a progressive disease, the alcoholic or addict requires their drug of choice solely to avoid physical illness.
The High-Functioning Alcoholic or Addict
What is it that makes us think that addicts are only people who “hit rock bottom”? Could it be the portrayals we see in movies and television? Could it be our scripting? This could very well be a major factor as to why we see addicts this way, although this is not a representation of the majority of those who struggle with addiction. High-functioning addicts are quite the opposite of the usual stereotype of addiction. A high-functioning addict is a person who seemingly has their life together but hides their addiction behind “a wall of success”. These individuals are often people that have seemingly normal lives (good job, friends, family, hobbies, etc.) however, behind all this, they have a dependency on substances that they may not realize.
As alcoholism and addiction are non-discriminatory illnesses, anyone can struggle with addiction just as anyone is subject to cancer or becoming diabetic. Someone you know may appear to “drink a little too much” or “use drugs recreationally” and you may not see the negative consequences as this person appears to be “high-functioning”. We may not see that this person is suffering from a substance use disorder as they may still have a job, a family, hobbies, so we assume they are “relaxing”, and they are not an alcoholic or addict.
High-Functioning Alcoholics and Addicts hide their dependency
It can be hard to tell if a person is a high-functioning alcoholic or addict. They’ve adopted ways of hiding their dependency, such as hiding their usage and lying about the quantity of usage. High-functioning addicts are people who essentially live double lives. High functioning alcoholics or addicts eventually begin to experience negative consequences personally (with their relationships), professionally (as an income earner) and physically (DUI Injury or organ damage).
As the disease of addiction and alcoholism is progressive, the high-functioning addict or alcoholic at the early stages may still maintain their marriage, their career and their health and this contributes to loved ones not noticing the progression of the disease of addiction.
Just because a person appears to be maintaining their normal life, doesn’t mean there is not a problem, no matter how “in control” this person feels, the addiction typically controls their decisions. Some high-functioning addicts feel more in control when they have people that enable them (enablers). Enablers indirectly encourage the person’s substance abuse. Enablers may be the colleague who enjoys alcohol or recreational drugs, or the colleague that covers for the addict at work, or more frequently the enabler is a spouse or parent that makes excuses for the addict or alcoholic’s absence or behavior at work or social functions.
Treatment for High-Functioning Alcoholics and Addicts
Since high-functioning addicts feel as though they are in control, and as denial is a symptom of the disease, high functioning alcoholics and addicts are often reluctant to seek treatment.
The best way to help one of these individuals, is to talk with them about the progression of the disease and to recommend treatment before the negative consequences (personal, family, social, professional, financial, health…) increase.
Most of the time, high functioning alcoholics and high functioning addicts believe their drinking or using is a means of relaxing. It is very important not to enable this belief.
Enabling prevents the addict or alcoholic from grasping the full weight of their substance abuse issues. Once enabling has ended, the addict can start to self-reflect and come to terms with the fact that they have an addiction.
Soberman’s Estate is a residential treatment center that has created clinical programs specifically for adults that have been high functioning alcoholic or high functioning addicts. Soberman’s Estate assesses each adult and customizes a treatment program that includes both individual and group therapy. Individual therapy provides a personal approach to recovery that helps one feel safe and secure with a licensed professional who knows and understands their struggles. Group therapy is also utilized to help high-functioning addicts learn they are not alone and can be an ideal choice for addressing concerns and making positive changes. In addition to Soberman’s Estate sophisticated medical and clinical care, Soberman’s Estate provides therapeutic and holistic treatment modalities including on site labyrinth walks, equine therapy, fitness training, yoga, acupuncture, nutrition counseling and Chef prepared meals. High functioning alcoholics and addicts benefit from residential treatment. Residential treatment at Soberman’s Estate is where the cycle of addiction is broken and where the once high functioning alcoholic or addict learns the tools and strategies to enjoy life without alcohol and self-medicating.