What is a High-Functioning Addict?

What is a High-Functioning Addict?

Last Updated: Nov 24th 2021

Reviewed by Laura Riley

A high-functioning addict is an individual who appears able to function normally, or maybe even at a greater level than average while continuing with an active addiction. Hollywood portrays high-functioning addict common traits as a person living in a dark hole with one gloomy couch and a lamp without a shade on it. The perception of what is a high-functioning addict has been misconstrued.

Several high-functioning addicts work and make reasonable money for a living. Many of them maintain a social circle and consistently make their mortgage and car payments. They pick up their children from school or soccer practice and are as composed as an individual in a magazine. These individuals reflect society’s definition of high-functioning addicts. The term “functioning addict” has been circling for decades, and started with alcoholics who could upkeep an occupation and perform the day-to-day tasks that are necessary for life over a prolonged period. 

How Can One Identify Signs Of High-Functioning Addiction?

The majority of alcoholics candidly cannot maintain their normal life, let alone their addiction that can mask the appearance of the actual issue. However, the process presents itself much differently for a high-functioning addict. The high-functioning addict common traits differ greatly. 

A high-functioning addict has discovered a new way to effectively live a double life that appears quite normal from the outside looking in. However, a high-functioning addict is still able to maintain their addiction. Many high-functioning addicts manage to maintain a nice amount of control over their substance use problem. But, just because an individual is a high-functioning addict and might appear to be a responsible and sober person, that does not necessarily mean that they are. 

high-functioning addicts have been attempting to perfect this facade for a long time. Therefore, it is safe to say that high-functioning addicts have most likely been engaging in drug and alcohol use long enough to be able to differentiate their professional and addict lives. Many high-functioning addicts are educated, successful, and intelligent in their careers. These individuals might be executives and well-paid employees who work incredibly hard.

Individuals who classify as “high-functioning addicts” may regularly abuse the following substances:

There isn’t a particular set of criteria or formula for an individual who acquires high-functioning addict common traits. However, different circumstances are surrounding each one. There is one key characteristic of the majority of high-functioning addicts. These individuals might be able to remain underneath the radar for a while but, as time goes on, they will need assistance to continue functioning. 

The Dangers of Enabling

If an individual has an enabler in their family, the longer they will be able to function. Enablers can be the following:

  • Family members
  • Coworkers
  • Friends
  • Doctors
  • Clients
  • Bosses

Almost anyone can preserve or maintain a good part of an addict’s life. 

How Do Enablers Help an Addict to Be High-Functioning?

The main difference between a high-functioning addict and a regular addict is the enablers who can facilitate their capability to continue being a high-functioning addict. A high-functioning addict requires enablers who are in a position to assist them in their life. If this process doesn’t continue, the high-functioning common traits will not persist. 

Family Enablers

A high-functioning addict family including parents, children, and spouses all can enable a high-functioning addict to maintain his or her life by engaging in patterns such as making excuses for the high-functioning addict’s absences and behaviors. Family enablers will also engage in:

  • Covering up crimes committed by the addict
  • Paying or providing lawyers when there is legal trouble
  • Providing financial assistance to pay for alcohol, drugs, or the overall needs of the addicted individual (i.e. rent, car payments, food, clothing, etc.)

Client and Employer Enablers

Corporate employer enablers aren’t as common in high-functioning addict lives. But small business owners and individuals who have freelancer and consultant contractors are among the most popular clients or employers to enable an addict. This occurs especially when the high-functioning addict excels at their occupation and makes money for the business. In these particular situations, a high-functioning addict might relapse.

If the quality of the actual work the high-functioning addict is supplying is profitable for the business, many individuals will look past the actual issue of addiction, and bring the high-functioning addict right back to work. 

In other situations, an enabling client or employer of a high-functioning addict might be attempting to continue providing employment, despite the possibility of many relapses. This level of enabling is the most popular form among talented, famous, and wealthy populations. There are many celebrities including musicians, artists, or actors have been on the receiving end of enabling from:

  • Family members
  • Managers
  • Doctors
  • Friends

Individuals who are in recognizable positions of money and power are more likely to have enablers who facilitate their capability to become highly functioning addicts. The greatest disadvantage is that many high-functioning addicts become consumed by the enabling process so much so that have a difficult time taking their actual recovery seriously. Therefore, they continue with their high-functioning addict common traits until they completely perish from their addiction. 

Is Recovery More Difficult For High-Functioning Addicts?

Recovery is a possible concept for a struggling addict whether that is drugs, alcohol, or substance abuse. It’s important to understand that for high-functioning addicts, recovery is also attainable. The challenge for high-functioning addicts lies in the part that these individuals are indeed high-functioning and that alone seems to contradict the need for specialized treatment. An addict can’t continue to function without assistance because addiction does not improve nor does it vanish on its own. 

Individuals might be able to resume the facade lifestyle only for so long until the inescapable addiction evolution demands its rightful place at the front seat of your life. You can only act as normal and present a perfect life until it catches up to you. As time goes on, fundamental elements of your life will begin to spiral out of control, and that’s usually when the window of opportunity for a fresh start will present itself. 

It’s not unlikely for a high-functioning addict to not accept that they need help in the first place. Eventually, it starts to get more challenging for the individual to maintain their double life. When the people have enablers despite the past in rehab, it might make it more challenging accepting help. This is because the individual had to go through rehab, relapse, and acquire the same enablement and support to continue the functioning process. 

Challenges of Encouraging Someone to Enter Rehab

Any high-functioning addict will have a trial of excuses on why he or she does not need to attend rehab or why they cannot attend rehab. Though the below excuses are extremely persuasive, they are still merely excuses.

  • “I can’t go to rehab. I make all the money, and if I’m gone even for 30 days, bills won’t get paid and we’ll be in financial ruin.”
  • “If I go to rehab, my clients will find out, then I’ll be ruined in business and I won’t have a career after.”
  • “All I need is detox, and I’ll be fine. I don’t have time for rehab.”
  • “I don’t need to go anywhere. I’ve been to every rehab there is. I know what I need to do, and I’ll do it on my own.”
  • “I don’t need rehab just because you found a few pills. What about you? If I need rehab, so do you. Then who will take care of things?”

How to Get an Unenthusiastic High-Functioning Addict Into Rehab

Enablers might assist addicts because they are codependent or it could be because they are receiving some type of benefit from the high-functioning addict to function on his or her terms. Regardless of if enablers have assisted addicts or not in continuing to function, they still are required to set and hold firm boundaries if they want the addict to get help. 

The enabler doesn’t necessarily have to begin cutting ties with the high-functioning addict because there are numerous ways enablers can encourage treatment and support their overall sober functioning. The examples are listed below:

If you would like to help encourage an addict in your life, you’ll need to establish boundaries. Be sure to do the following:

  • Refuse any legal representation or financial assistance if the addict gets into legal trouble
  • Avoid covering or lying for the high-functioning addict 
  • Refuse access to the home in case the addict relapses again 

High-functioning addicts might feel a sense of invincibility and believe that they acquire some form of super-human tolerance to alcohol or drugs, or they might believe that they are too superior in life to surrender to their addiction. The hard pressing reality is that not a single person is immune to addiction and the drastic effects it can have over a person’s life. 

It might take a longer time for high-functioning addicts to reach rock bottom; the sad reality is for most high-functioning addicts, rock bottom is death. 

Recovery Awaits At North Jersey Recovery Center

High-functioning addicts might very well attempt everything to continue with the facade that is presented to the public. If a true change is really to transpire, it begins with the enablers in the addict’s life. It’s important to note that addiction is a progressive disease, and will worsen over time without treatment. Contact us today to skyrocket on the path to recovery.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.

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