A functional addiction, also known as a high-functioning addiction, is when someone can effectively manage their daily responsibilities while hiding an addiction, either to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other addictive behaviors. While a functioning addict may appear to have it all under control, this can have severely dangerous consequences as their addiction progresses.
The Misconception of Functional Addiction
The misconception of a high-functioning addiction lies primarily in the belief that they can maintain an underlying addiction without entirely losing themselves or enduring negative repercussions in their daily life. When functional addicts are capable of upholding responsibilities like their career, family duties, and social relationships, it creates the illusion that their addiction is not a problem. For family members and friends who are aware of their loved one’s substance abuse, this perception leads them to underestimate the severity of the addiction. The long-term health risks of functional addictions can have a substantial impact on the physical and mental health of the person with an addiction.
Functional addicts, and even their peers, are often blind to or in denial about the severity of their substance abuse issues. When functioning addicts seem to have it all together or don’t fit the stereotype of a person with an addiction, it’s common to rationalize their addictive behaviors as being under control. Alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive problem, leading to the addiction worsening over time. While someone might believe they’re capable of managing their substance addiction, there is a significant risk for more destructive forms of addiction. Functional addiction often begins when someone is attempting to mask deeper-rooted issues with their emotional or psychological health. With a prominent focus on maintaining the appearance of normalcy in their day-to-day lives, this often prevents them from addressing underlying mental health issues, exacerbating both their psychological health and addictive behaviors.
Identifying the Signs of a Functional Addict
While a functioning drug addict or alcoholic is usually capable of controlling their substance use in public, they might overdo it in private or other designated times. Identifying someone with a functional addiction can be tricky, which is why it’s essential to understand and be able to recognize the signs when you think a loved one is struggling. Some of the most common signs of a high-functioning alcoholic or drug addict include:
- Controlled drug or alcohol use
- Maintaining responsibilities
- Secretive behavior
- Denial and rationalization
- High levels of stress
- Mental health issues
- Fear of shame
- Gradual escalation of their addiction and functionality
The Dangers of High-Functioning Addiction
When someone has a functional addiction, they are often in denial about the consequences and potential health risks associated with their substance abuse. While seeming to maintain their daily responsibilities and continuing their addiction, high-functioning addicts prolong getting treatment for their drug or alcohol addiction. Delayed treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD) leads to escalating addictive behaviors, exacerbated health complications, strained relationships and social life, and repercussions in the workplace.
Increased Risk of Health Complications
Continuous drug or alcohol abuse, even at a degree that allows for functional day-to-day living, can lead to serious long-term health complications. Engaging in addictive behaviors can cause physical health consequences like liver or heart disease and mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
Emotional and Psychological Strain
High-functioning addicts often experience significant internal stress, anxiety, and emotional trouble that leads them to drink or use drugs. This internal struggle is frequently masked by their outward success, which often leads to a misconception of their need for treatment and psychological support. Many individuals with a functional addiction use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for underlying psychological or emotional problems. Without addressing the root cause of addictive behaviors, addiction can exacerbate these internal problems.
Impact on Personal Relationships
Despite maintaining their outward appearance, addiction can strain personal relationships and social life. The need to hide the addiction can generate issues with trust and communication with loved ones. Over time, concealing the alcohol or drug abuse and addictive behaviors can lead to social isolation, further intensifying feelings of loneliness and depression.
Even if someone with a high-functioning addiction is performing well at work, their addiction can still lead to subtle decreases in productivity, errors, or coordination. When addiction causes problems in the workplace, this can pose several safety risks, especially in jobs that require high levels of concentration or physical coordination.
Risk of Escalation
There is always a risk that the addiction will escalate when struggling with drug or alcohol use. A functional alcoholic or drug addict might gradually increase their substance use or partake in more risky behaviors, leading to a point where they can no longer manage their day-to-day routine or responsibilities.
Denial and Lack of Support
As a result of their capability to function in many areas of their life, high-functioning alcoholics or drug addicts and their loved ones may be in denial about the dangers of the addiction. This ignorance can make it challenging to seek or receive appropriate treatment and support for substance abuse. Additionally, the impact addiction has on personal relationships causes many to be distanced from family members and friends, leading to a lack of social support.
Treatment Approaches for Functional Addictions
With the common misconception of functional addictions, they often require a comprehensive and tailored approach to treatment, incorporating a balance of addiction treatment and professional counseling. Evidence-based therapies and addiction treatment programs can effectively address the root of the addiction and the underlying issues contributing to it. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a beneficial therapy that helps individuals identify and resolve destructive thought patterns and behaviors. When someone is struggling with substance abuse and a mental health disorder, this is known as a co-occurring disorder, which is effectively treated with a dual diagnosis treatment program. Treating a co-occurring disorder ensures that both the addiction and the underlying mental health issues are addressed simultaneously in drug and alcohol rehab.
Seeking peer support and attending recovery support meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) helps individuals with functional drug or alcohol addictions receive encouragement and support for long-term recovery. Healthy lifestyle changes like regular exercise, a good sleep schedule, and a nutritional diet can significantly facilitate addiction recovery. While the path to recovery from a functional addiction is unique, treatment centers tailor treatment plans to suit the specific needs and circumstances of each patient.
You don’t have to continue managing a functional addiction on your own; we are here for you. Reach out to Coastal Detox today for the treatment and support you deserve.
- National Library of Medicine, 2014. “High-functioning addicts”: intervening before trouble hits.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders.
- Alcoholics Anonymous. AA.
- Narcotics Anonymous. NA.