Unfortunately, there’s a pervasive mistruth in society that addicted people look a certain way or come from a particular background or social class. This makes it easier for ordinary people with substance use disorders to hide in plain sight. Most functioning drug addicts and alcoholics have jobs, families and friends, and on the surface, everything may appear fine. However, their lives are underpinned by an unsustainable compulsion for drug or alcohol abuse.
High functioning addicts can only continue for so long until their habit derails them. It might be years for some people, or even decades, but physical and mental health problems are inevitable. Individuals with this condition are usually extraordinarily good manipulators, so getting them into a treatment program can be a challenge.
At Recovery Works, our Victoria, BC rehab can help you explore the treatment options for an addicted loved one and offer advice about getting them into alcohol or drug rehab.
What Is Addiction?
To get an idea of how functioning alcoholics and drug addicts differ, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of how substance abuse disorders affect people. The DSM-5 lists the following 11 symptoms:
- No longer taking part in activities that used to bring joy
- Using substances more often or in greater quantities
- Endangering themselves or others as a result of drug use
- Neglecting work, school or social responsibilities
- Interpersonal problems arising because of alcohol or drug abuse
- Building a high tolerance
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon cessation
- Failure to quit after repeated attempts
- Excessive amount of time spent procuring, using and recovering from substance abuse
- Mental or physical health problems related to use
- Intense cravings for the substance of choice
Only three symptoms need to be present to diagnose a mild substance use disorder. Up to five denotes a moderate substance use disorder, and six or more means the addiction is severe. No matter how severe the problem is, the sufferer should seek help at an addiction treatment center. It’s a chronic disease that requires love, support and professional help to overcome.
High functioning addicts can usually hold down a job and maintain their responsibilities but still display multiple other signs of addiction. There are further functioning addict symptoms to look out for when trying to determine if someone is in this category.
Signs of a High Functioning Addict
While a functional alcoholic or drug addict usually displays at least five criteria from the DSM-5, some are specific to high functioning addiction.
One of the stand-out characteristics of a high functioning individual with a substance use disorder is the ability to manipulate. While denial is a defining feature of any addiction, a functional drug addict or alcoholic is highly adept at convincing people that their behavior is harmless. Often, they’re the sort of people who suggest that they simply work hard and play hard as a matter of course.
However, no matter how hard you work, psychoactive substances will affect the chemistry in your brain and take a toll on the body. Your immune system needs to work hard to process these chemicals, which directly affect your central nervous system. Functional addicts often mistakenly believe they’re invincible and can convince other people this is the case.
Lack of Self-Care
One of the most noticeable ways you might be able to identify a high functioning addict is by paying close attention to their physical appearance. In many cases, people with this type of addiction burn the candle at both ends — working hard during the day and using substances to either boost their energy or unwind after a hard shift. As such, sleep problems are likely to arise and the person is more prone to looking tired and unhealthy.
Substance abuse uses a significant amount of energy, so if someone regularly shows up to work looking disheveled and they display other symptoms, there could be addiction issues at play.
People who struggle with addiction have a strong tendency to surround themselves with others who abuse substances. Not only do they make a great source for drugs, but they normalize the behavior and reinforce the addicted person’s behavior.
Another type of enabling that high functioning addicts are particularly adept at comes from friends and family members. Even the most strait-laced and well-intentioned loved ones end up finding themselves downplaying or justifying unhealthy substance use.
One of the easiest ways to spot a serious problem with addiction is an increasing move towards isolation. If someone who used to be a social butterfly appears to be drinking too much or using illegal drugs, the chances are they’re losing interest in anything that doesn’t get them high. While this usually only happens during later stage addiction, it’s a sure-fire sign that a person no longer has their priorities in order.
Sweating, nausea, anxiety, fatigue, headaches and bloodshot eyes are signs that someone is experiencing withdrawal. The individual might tell others they’re not feeling well or they’re just not a morning person — but certain patterns of behavior are definitive signs of high functioning addiction.
While some people have no problem performing their duties at work, you might notice a different kind of memory problem. If someone mentions that they experience frequent blackouts from drinking, this is a clear sign that their alcohol use has reached harmful levels.
Drugs can also take a toll on the memory, so a dip in performance that seems to be getting worse and worse is another signal that something is amiss.
Once drugs and alcohol take a hold on someone’s life, they become the priority above everything else. If a formerly focused individual gradually starts shirking their responsibilities and neglecting duties at home, it could be a sign that functional addiction is getting worse.
Lots of people with functional substance use disorders start off with the ability to juggle dependency with daily life. It’s not sustainable long term because substances cause significant damage to the body and the mind. This will only get worse over time unless the individual seeks professional treatment at a rehab center.
Some workplaces pose a particularly high risk for substance abuse. This is due to a number of reasons, such as high stress, long hours, easy access to substances and weight of responsibility.
- Emergency Health Care Professionals: Doctors, nurses and emergency responders are at an increased risk of issues with drug abuse. They work in intense environments and have easy access to high-strength substances.
- Law Enforcement: Police officers and other law enforcement officials have enhanced access to illicit substances and work in high-stress, challenging environments. They see and hear about incredibly traumatic events as a matter of course, which makes it harder to regulate emotions.
- Construction: Construction workers often work exceptionally long hours under extreme physical stress. They might get into a habit of using stimulants to help them get through the hard day and then require depressants to wind down at night.
- Hospitality: Hospitality workers tend to have very easy access to alcohol and work long hours with the stress of serving people. Drug use is also rife within the industry, where there’s a culture of excess.
- Law: Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem for lawyers because they work in stressful conditions and there’s huge pressure to perform. Long hours drive them to use stimulants to maintain focus and then necessitate using downers to unwind at the end of the day.
It’s not just people who do high-paid jobs who are susceptible to high functioning addiction. Anyone working in close quarters with substances is at a significantly higher risk of substance abuse. Long working hours, physically demanding roles and emotional or mental stress occur in a wide variety of jobs and put people at a higher risk of developing addiction.
Some people take pride in their ability to work hard and play hard, but if they’re not in control of how much they use, it’s a serious problem. Addiction hijacks the brain and makes it incredibly difficult to make the right choices, even though the sufferer might think they’re fully in control. The main problem with a functional alcoholic or drug addict is helping them understand they have a disease that they need to seek help for.
Help for Functional Addicts Is Available
Waiting for someone with a substance use disorder to hit rock bottom is like waiting for a ticking time bomb to go off to see if it’ll explode. Addiction inevitably leads to health issues, and it holds people back from living a healthy life.
The Recovery Works residential drug treatment program helps adult men from any background overcome their struggle with substances to gain full control over their lives. Call us today at 778-430-1212 to find out more.