How to Recognize a High-Functioning Addict

High-Functioning Addict

Written By: Lighthouse Editorial Team

Our editorial team includes content experts that contribute to Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s blog. Editors and medical experts review our blogs for accuracy and relevance. We consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA and NIDA to provide you with the most comprehensive addiction-related content.
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Lighthouse Editorial Team. "How to Recognize a High-Functioning Addict." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Last updated Nov 12, 2020 at 12:16PM | Published on Nov 12, 2020, https://lighthouserecoveryinstitute.com/how-to-recognize-a-high-functioning-addict/.

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Last updated Nov 12, 2020 at 12:16PM | Published on Nov 12, 2020 | Drug Addiction

When most people think of a drug addict, they picture someone that can barely function, and their lives are destroyed. No one thinks a drug addict can have a stable family and a successful job life. However, high-functioning addicts are becoming more common. About 19.5% of alcoholics in the United States were considered “functioning alcoholics.” The problem is, a high-functioning addict is becoming more and more challenging to recognize. Here are some ways to figure out if someone you love and know is hiding an addiction. 

What is a High-Functioning Addict?

Individuals with a substance use disorder that can function well in their lives are known as high-functioning addicts. Although they somehow need substances to keep going, they can maintain relationships, physical health, and other responsibilities such as school or work.

Most functioning addicts move away from the stereotypes that they have somehow lost control of life. In fact, almost all of them are steadily employed and might hold executive positions. Usually, they believe they can control their habits and keep going without facing the consequences of their addiction. 

Are They In Denial?

In a nutshell, yes. High-functioning addicts don’t see their substance abuse as problematic. Mostly, they don’t face any relationships, health, or job issues due to their substance use. Even on the occasion that their substance abuse leads them to some sort of trouble, they’ll still deny their problem and blame it on something else. 

Or, Is It High Tolerance?

Everyone’s tolerance is different, and sometimes high-functioning addicts have a higher tolerance to the drug they abuse. Since these individuals are usually long-term users, they’ve likely found the dose that works for them without overdoing it. However, tolerance is quite dangerous. Because most addictive substances alter how the brain works, users will need more substances to get the same effects. Thus, increasing their risks of overdose.

How to Recognize a High-Functioning Addict

How to Recognize a High-Functioning Addict

It can be quite challenging to recognize a high-functioning addict, mainly because nothing about them fits a drug addict’s stereotype. So, it’s essential to pay close attention to the smallest details that might hint they have a substance abuse problem:

  • Constant Excuses: They’re always making up an excuse for their drug and alcohol use. They might say things like “everyone at school or work does it too.” Or, they can say, “if I don’t take this, I’m not going to be productive enough, and I’ll lose my job or fail a test.” These are common excuses they tell others and themselves to keep using.
  • Poor Control: Because they don’t hide that they use substances, a high-functioning addict is likely to agree to a drink or to use drugs just once. However, once they start drinking or using, it’s clear that they don’t have control over the substance and end up using more than intended. 
  • Addict Friends: It’s not uncommon for high-functioning addicts to surround themselves with friends that also have addiction issues. Many of them will change their usual social circle and start spending more time with those who have an alcohol or drug problem. 
  • Always Getting Sick: Although they don’t attribute their sickness to drugs, they’re usually struggling with headaches, lethargy, and other symptoms. Of course, they’ll attribute this to the flu, not being a morning person, or catching a cold.
  • Loss of Interest: Most of the time, high-functioning addicts will lose interest in their favorite activities and hobbies. What used to bring them joy feels now mundane compared to the thrill of using drugs. 
Drug Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Do High-Functioning Addicts Experience Withdrawal?

Of course, everyone thinks high-functioning addicts don’t struggle with withdrawal symptoms. However, most addictive substances come with withdrawal symptoms when someone stops using them. Even high-functioning alcoholics experience withdrawal symptoms, mostly if they have built up a tolerance. Symptoms of withdrawal can start as soon as the day after they stop using, sometimes even hours after:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

The Dangers of Addiction

Of course, withdrawal symptoms are the least of their worries. Long-term drug abuse, even for high-functioning addicts, can bring tremendous damage to their physical and mental health. When they’re under the influence, their inhibitions are low, which places them at risk of putting themselves or others in danger while drinking and driving, engaging in risky sexual encounters, or blacking out.

In the long run, addiction can lead to organ disease, some forms of cancer, memory loss, brain damage, and high blood pressure. Not to mention, they can also experience a fatal overdose. 

Am I a High-Functioning Addict?

Interestingly enough, some functioning addicts don’t realize they have a problem. Most of the time, they won’t seek treatment until something rather serious happens. Often, it is friends and family members that intervene and recommend getting help. Sometimes family members will stage an intervention as a definitive way of offering help. 

Here are some signs that your drug use might have turned into addiction:

  • Changes in attitude
  • Loss of focus
  • Cognitive decline
  • Shakiness
  • Withdrawal symptoms between use
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Drug cravings
  • Inability to function without using drugs
  • Feeling the need for drugs to function at a certain level

If some of these signs seem familiar to you, it might be time to speak with an addiction specialist. A medical professional can help you understand your addiction and help you find the best course of treatment. No matter what, don’t attempt to cut drugs cold-turkey. When this happens, people are very likely to experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that can lead to seizures, hallucinations, and other symptoms. This is why seeking medical help is vital to start managing your addiction. 

Finding Treatment Near Me

If you or someone you know is a highly-functioning addict, please don’t hesitate to find treatment. You might believe you have everything under control because alcohol hasn’t affected you negatively — yet. However, drug dependence eventually catches up with you, and you could face legal, personal, and work-related issues in the future. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we offer a custom-based approach to drug addiction treatment. Our therapies and treatment programs are targeted to address your unique needs. By personalizing your treatment, we can provide you with a greater chance of recovery and set you up for long-term sobriety.

Written By: Lighthouse Editorial Team

Our editorial team includes content experts that contribute to Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s blog. Editors and medical experts review our blogs for accuracy and relevance. We consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA and NIDA to provide you with the most comprehensive addiction-related content.

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