When a powerful or successful person is revealed to have an addiction, their family is often as surprised as everyone else. The high-functioning addict fools people by appearing to keep it all together – job, family, home and friendships. They often justify their substance abuse by telling themselves and other that drugs or alcohol are part of their formula for success and that they are immune to the problems of addiction. This incorrect thinking is often the downfall of a high-functioning addict.
According to addiction experts, at least 20 percent of alcoholics are high functioning. The sharp increase in prescription drug abuse over the past decade means that an increasing number of people are now high functioning drug addicts. High functioning people with drug and alcohol addictions can be found in all walks of life, including business executives, lawyers, engineers, doctors, nurses and stay-at-home moms. What they have in common is a secret that they may keep hidden from even their closest relations. They may be able to mask problems with drugs and alcohol for years, but eventually, the severe consequences of their behavior will catch up with them.
Symptoms of a High Functioning Addict
If you suspect that a friend or loved one is a high-functioning addict, these are some of the signs to watch for.
- Denial. The addict may acknowledge that he or she has a problem with drugs or alcohol but is not ready to admit that the problem needs to be confronted. They may feel that they deserve to “let off steam” or that they need alcohol or drugs to relax. Because many high functioning addicts effectively hide the full extent of their substance abuse, family and friends may contribute to the denial by not recognizing the signs of addiction.
- Effects of Living a Lie. addicts that are high-functioning are compelled to hide their dependence on drugs or alcohol from family and friends. Deception becomes an integral part of their lives as they struggle to maintain a normal facade. Over time, living with this lie can take a psychological toll. The high-functioning addict can become isolated, paranoid and alone and experience physical symptoms that include insomnia, loss of appetite, shakiness and irritability.
- Changes in Behavior. Even though high-functioning addicts may hide their substance abuse for several years, sooner or later they will begin to show the consequences of their addiction. Changes in behavior or health may be the first indicators of a problem. They may suddenly want to spend more time alone or begin to miss deadlines and forget important family occasions. Their decision-making ability is compromised by their addiction. They may even have a run-in with the police.
A high-functioning addict who needs treatment may live with a substance abuse problem for years without hitting “rock bottom” or experiencing a life-threatening event that causes them to change their life. Because they are in denial, by the time they admit that they have a problem it may be even more difficult to treat.