Is There Such a Thing as a “High-Functioning Addict” ?

We often see references to high-functioning drug addicts in the media, and this distinction bears further scrutiny. What is meant by this label and are there different types or levels of addiction? Do these distinctions affect the need for addiction treatment centers?

Addiction has a process and progression, just as drug treatment programs do. At early stages, with low levels of use and enabling allies, it may be possible to maintain a surface image of success while hiding the disabling influence of drugs.

What is the “High Functioning Addict” ?

There are medically recognized subtypes of alcoholism, for example, and the functional subtype represents about a fifth of the studied population.1 The characteristics of a “functional” addict include:

  • Having a high level of education.
  • Having a supportive or enabling family.
  • Still holding a stable job.
  • May have a family history of addiction.
  • May have a history of depression.

Functional Reality vs. the High-Functioning Myth

Celebrity interviews, sitcoms, and TV dramas may feature a character’s addiction as what keeps them going, or imply that career success can be achieved while addiction continues, without health, family, or legal consequences.

In fact, people working to hide their drug addictions and normalize them in the eyes of their friends and family are constantly maintaining a double life and manipulating their support systems to prop up the deception.

Without the ability to honestly face the issue at hand, these individuals experience the stress of maintaining a constant state of denial. Rather than seek alcohol recovery or drug addiction treatment, they continue to be:

  • In denial of the continuing downward spiral of addiction.
  • Isolated, anxious, and depressed.
  • Avoiding social activities or family commitments.
  • Stalled or immobile by the effort needed to maintain their illusion.
  • In constant fear of being exposed, called out, or arrested.

This tenuous state of existence is a far cry from the glamorized picture of addiction presented in the media.

Why Do Family and Loved Ones Enable Addiction?

When your loved one needs treatment for alcoholism or heroin addiction for example, it can be difficult to face this reality, even embarrassing to confront the truth head-on. Through a misplaced sense of loyalty and genuine caring, family, partners, or friends may help delay the inevitable consequences of addiction by:

  • Making excuses for or lying to cover up the addict’s behavior.
  • Accepting blame for the continued drug use or its consequences.
  • Silently enduring emotional distress, financial impacts, and dysfunctional living conditions.

However, in many cases, it is the intervention or encouragement of loved ones that will enable people struggling with addiction to enter a detox center and find their way to their true potential.

treatment for alcoholism or heroin addiction

Dispelling the Illusion

It is not only the stereotypical Skid Row addict who finds help in addiction treatment centers. There are individual types and levels of addiction; it is not necessary to hit rock bottom to seek timely help and guidance in overcoming addiction.

Whether you are ready to seek treatment for yourself or you find yourself in the role of enabler, looking for expert advice before more damage occurs is the healthy choice. In Florida or Pennsylvania, that will bring you to the Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers at Palm Beach County or our other location in Lancaster County.

Our admissions team is available 24/7, so help is standing by right now via phone or live chat. That 24/7 support continues throughout the Retreat and into planned aftercare, which supports a sober lifestyle into the future. Contact us today at (833) 260-3386 at our 24-hour helpline to get started on the track to lasting recovery.