High-functioning Addiction: What It Is and How to Spot It

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Substance abuse problems, alcoholism, and other serious addiction issues are so prevalent in our society, and we never know who might be struggling. A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center found that almost half of Americans have someone close to them who has experience with drug addiction. And while the evidence is limited, there is enough to suggest that Americans increased their alcohol intake during the pandemic.

Moreover, there is such a thing as high-functioning addiction. Just by the name itself, we can already infer what high-functioning addicts are like: They can function normally in society, even as they battle addiction issues and compulsive behaviors that harm them physically, mentally, and emotionally. They might not have the more telltale signs like an overdose or be in a completely drunken state because they might still be able to “hold it together”—that’s the nature of being high-functioning.

But even if they may appear “normal” or “alright” on the surface, they will still need intervention and medical help, which is why the idea of going to a rehab facility for alcoholics or addicts still needs to be gently suggested to them.

People may be addicted to alcohol or substances and might not even know about them. If you suspect that someone you love might be struggling, here are some things to know about high-functioning addiction.

A high volume of consumption

Subtly observe your loved one’s consumption. Whenever you’re out for drinks or even having a dinner party at home, notice how much they drink or how much recreational drugs they consume. Don’t wait for them to go “out of control” because the thing with high-functioning addicts or alcoholics is that they most likely have a higher tolerance than most people.

This means they might not appear as drunk or high as others even after many glasses or hits. Notice how much they take and how frequent these sessions are. Observe when they do it as well—do they tend to hide when they go on a drinking binge?

Using drinks or drugs as a reward or a means to cope

If we’re honest, almost all of us default to less healthy substances when we’re having a hard time. When we’re having a rough day, we’re more likely to reach for ice cream than salad. This is normal behavior—and one that we should condemn ourselves and others for.

But if your loved one treats alcohol and drugs as a way to reward themselves every single time they achieve something good, or if it’s their primary way to cope with difficult emotions or problems, then there might be a problem there.

Lots of rough mornings

Another sign is that they always show up to work with a bad headache, a little worse for the wear, or grumpier than others. This can indicate a dependence on alcohol or substance use to have a better morning.

They can’t seem to socialize and have fun without drugs and alcohol

An individual suffering from addiction issues might be more likely to spend time with others and socialize only if alcohol or drugs are present. This means they might be more likely to show up if it’s a cocktail party, happy hour, or a celebration at a bar. And even if the gathering isn’t taking place where booze is commonly served, they might be carrying their own to get through the party.

Not showing up to non-alcoholic events

If the person tends to flake or cancel appointments where drugs or alcohol may not be present, this might be a sign that they might have an addiction problem. If they start neglecting responsibilities like work and school because they’re constantly hungover or high, organized intervention might be needed.

Loss of interest in good things they were passionate about

People struggling with addiction or alcoholism might be more inclined to abandon their hobbies, relationships, and other worthwhile activities. They may no longer find the same pleasure they used to have in these wonderful things and instead look towards harmful substances to fill the void.

Remember that some alcoholics or addicts tend to have their lives spiral out of control. Meanwhile, some have the emotional and mental capacity to keep their struggles well-hidden for a long time. This makes them less likely to seek treatment, which can worsen the issues and effects.

If there are people in your life who you suspect might be secretly battling these demons, don’t hesitate to ask hard questions and express compassion and support. You should also provide helpful resources without pressuring them. You might be the final lifeline they have.

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