When you hear the words drug addict or alcoholic, what often comes to mind is someone who wears their addiction on their sleeve—always under the influence, doesn’t take care of their appearance, careless, etc.—but that’s not always the case. High-functioning addicts are not always labeled as alcoholics or drug addicts. While the people closest to them might notice that they have a problem, functioning addicts are pretty good at covering it up and “living a double life.”

What Does it Mean to Live a Double Life in Addiction?

Living a double life due to addiction looks different; however, the fundamentals are similar. A High-functioning alcoholic drinks much more than the average amount on any given day yet will still make it to work the next morning. A functioning drug addict will abuse substances to “feel something” but can sober up before going home to their families.

Often, addicts don’t want to admit they have a problem or have someone tell them they do. This is why they do their best to know their limits and find ways to conceal their addiction. Most functioning addicts have a high tolerance for their substance because they’ve built it up over the years. Family members and friends won’t always notice when a loved one uses drugs because they seem like their usual selves.

An article from the National Library of Medicine shares a quote from Dr. Steven Melemis, an addiction specialist and physician in Toronto. He states, “The job is always the last thing that goes…A [person with an addiction] knows you need your job first and foremost to continue with your addiction.” When an addict lives a double life, they do it because they must. They know that if they constantly come home looking drunk or on drugs, they’ll be caught, and their life will never be the same.

Signs of a High-Functioning Addict

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a high-functioning addict could help you save or change someone’s life for the better. Here are some of the characters to look out for when someone is struggling with an addiction:

  • Drinks or uses an extensive amount without getting drunk or high
  • Always needs a drink or a hit
  • Constantly drinking or using it to feel something
  • Using their addiction as an escape
  • In denial about their addiction
  • Changes in behavioral patterns
  • Making excuses for their mood and behavioral changes
  • Stealing and/or constantly borrowing money from family or friends for alcohol/drugs
  • Taking part in risky activities and putting themselves in dangerous situations
  • Caring more about themselves and their addiction than hurting their loved ones
  • Distancing themselves from family and friends
  • Hanging around the wrong crowd
  • Lying and deceiving family and friends

So many dangerous scenarios can coincide with addiction, especially with someone in denial. Addicts who deny their addiction end up putting themselves and those closest to them in dangerous situations.

Why People Hide Their Addictions and the Dangers of It

The stigma that addiction carries is often the main reason people hide their addiction from their family and friends. Someone with an addiction is looked at differently than someone who doesn’t have one, and an addict knows that. Addiction is a weakness—someone who is typically undisciplined, unstable, and careless. While this might be the stigma, it’s not always the reality. High-functioning addicts are usually skilled at covering up their addiction precisely because they don’t want to taint their image.

Addiction doesn’t only impact the life of the addict; it affects everyone close to them. Another reason someone might hide their addiction is that they fear burdening their loved ones. Addiction flips everyone’s lives around—family and friends feel like they must monitor the addict 24/7, can’t casually drink around them, and often have to change their schedules to help their loved ones.

Many high-functioning addicts don’t believe they “need” treatment—another reason they keep their addiction a secret. When family and friends find out you have an addiction, the first thought is to put them in treatment to get help. The idea of putting your entire life on pause to go into detox and treatment is frightening, causing addicts to be in denial about the severity of their problem.

How to Help a Loved One with an Addiction

An addict in denial about their addiction often refuses to go through detox or treatment. They might say they can do it on their own—which is not only not safe, but it’s also not always practical. When someone says they’ll stop drinking or using alone, they’ll either never do it or fall back into their old habits.

American Addiction Centers discusses quitting drugs without treatment in an article saying, “You might be able to quit drugs without rehab, but doing so could pose significant threats to your health and well-being. Quitting drugs without rehab carries risks and may threaten your health; mild-to-severe withdrawal symptoms may arise within six hours of stopping your drug – or sometimes sooner. Withdrawal from certain drugs can lead to dangerous symptoms including seizures, organ damage, and sometimes death.”

At a treatment center, when experiencing withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, you will have professional care 24/7. Addiction treatment provides accountability and support from experienced addiction specialists. Patients receive guidance and care for their physical well-being and mental and spiritual health in treatment. Different forms of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Psychotherapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, are practiced in treatment programs. Often, the addict will struggle with a mental health disorder—-depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc.—while battling addiction. Co-occurring conditions are so common in addicts that many treatment centers offer them as part of their program.

While recognizing your addiction and getting into treatment before it gets too bad is most optimal, it’s not always how it plays out. If you’re living a double life in addiction, your ultimate decision to get help and treatment is yours. Only you know the severity of your addiction, and the earlier you accept that treatment is the best course of action, the better.