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What is High-Functioning Addiction?

High-Functioning Addiction, High-Functioning,

If you saw a well-dressed, successful businessperson sitting at their desk, a disheveled woman pushing her belongings along the sidewalk in a shopping cart, a young mother walking with her toddler in the park, or a grungy man passed out in the doorway of a building, which one would you think is likely to have an addiction? 

The truth is that any of these people may or may not suffer from addiction. You cannot always see signs of addiction in how someone looks or acts. People who are high-functioning in their addiction are very good at hiding their struggles.  

What is High-functioning Addiction?

Anyone who outwardly appears “normal” but who struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction can be considered “high-functioning” in their addiction. They take great care making sure they do not look like their lives are out of control. Many have successful careers and generally enjoy active social lives. They may deny that they have an addiction or be afraid that their addiction, if discovered, will cause them to lose their career and their reputation. 

Someone who is high-functioning can even keep their addiction hidden from their family and friends, at least at first. Although they may appear to have everything under control, their intense cravings and struggle with addiction are constant. They are chemically dependent and, almost always, their ability to maintain a normal-looking life is temporary.

Is High-Functioning Addiction Common?

According to the U.S, Department of Health and Human Services, there were 46.3 million Americans with substance use disorders in 2021, including 24 million people with a drug addiction and 29.5 million with an addiction to alcohol. Dr. Matthew Goldenberg, an addiction psychiatrist, believes that many of those, including 20 percent of alcoholics, are high-functioning. 

How To Identify High-Functioning Addiction

In someone who is high-functioning, the common signs of drug and alcohol addiction, such as unhealthy relationships, devastating financial problems, severe depression, and unemployment, are not visible. Their lives seem in order. If a family member, friend, or co-worker is aware of their addiction, they often do not say anything. Nevertheless, the signs of addiction will become more and more visible over time. Look for the following:

  1. Denial
    Many people who are high-functioning are in denial. Some may feel that since they have a good job, take care of their family, and have friends, they are not addicted. Others set specific standards for themselves. For example, they may not use drugs or drink every day, or they may only drink expensive vintage wine. Even if a person knows they have a substance use disorder, they will not consider addiction treatment because they do not feel it is a priority. 
  2. Making Excuses
    Someone struggling with addiction may make reasonable-sounding excuses for their behavior. They may say they have to drink or do drugs to cope with the pressure or stress of their work. Or, they say that because they work so hard, they deserve to have some fun. At work, if they make a mistake, miss a deadline, or have a faulty performance, they will make excuses or try to blame someone else.
  3. Drinking or Using More Drugs Than Intended
    When a person has more alcohol or uses more drugs than they intended, and it happens almost every time, or every time they go out, there is a substance problem. When a person has a substance addiction, they cannot control the amount of alcohol they drink or the drugs they use.
  4. Hangovers and Withdrawal Symptoms
    In the morning, the person may have stomach pains, diarrhea, headache, or lethargy. They will say they are ill, but most likely, they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms or a hangover.
  5. Isolation
    People with substance use disorders prefer to be alone. They isolate themselves from family and friends so they can drink or use drugs. Someone with a high-functioning addiction can usually convince others that their behavior is normal.
  6. Memory Problems
    People with substance addiction generally have memory problems. Sometimes they may experience incomplete memories of certain situations, events, or moments. Other times they may have no memory at all of certain things. When addiction affects a person’s memory, they need immediate help.

We Can Help

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that can affect anyone. If you or a loved one struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, we can help you regain your sobriety. Contact Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona, and learn how to regain control of your life.

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