Society paints the picture of a functional drug addict, similar to the role of Dr. Gregory House on House. We see smart people, with plenty of talent that are portrayed with drug problems. They’re labeled as functional drug addicts to give a sort of odd contrast against what we stereotype as the “bad” addict: the ones that can’t hold employment, that can’t keep their promises, that can’t take care of families.
The truth couldn’t be more different. The “bad” addicts are simply the ones most visible to us because they’re struggling. We need to think carefully on the so-called functional addict, because they are living a very dangerous myth. The idea that everything is okay because you’re able to pay your bills and provide some sort of care for children is ridiculous. The reality is this: addiction matters no matter how your life appears to the untrained eye.
A high functioning addict is still ruled by their addiction. Don’t believe us? Just try to take away their substance of choice and see how they react. They’re not going to necessarily be happy about it, and we shouldn’t assume that they don’t need help simply because they’ve been able to hide so many signs.
Another reason to not discount the high functioning addict is simple: their bodies are still facing the damage caused by a drug addiction. It’s important to still reach out to family members that are struggling, even if they look “fine”. People have gotten very good at hiding their issues, and acting as if they don’t need to seek out help. The high functioning addict may also feel that we don’t take them as seriously because their lives haven’t completely fallen apart. If that’s the case with you, then you need to look at things in a different way.
We must start talking about what’s hiding in plain sight, and that’s the high functioning substance abuser that feels that as long as everything looks “fine” then they are fine. But addiction isn’t linear at all: it’s exponential. That means that it may start out small but it can spiral outward very quickly.
What are the classic signs of someone that’s “functional” but struggling with addiction?
One of the top signs would have to be bouts of really bizarre behavior. If you see someone that suddenly has a personality shift, they could be dealing with a substance abuse problem and you would never guess it. Or people that are withdrawn because they can’t get to their drug source.
Excuses are a classic tool of the high functioning, because they will talk about how they’re not “really” addicted. They will mention to you about their nice home or their well behaved children, not thinking that these issues are really separate from the true heart of the matter: themselves. Their own health and well being is on the line, and they need to be aware of what they stand to lose.
These seemingly normal addicts are still hiding addiction and running from the real problem. They are justifying to themselves why they can keep abusing alcohol or illegal drugs, as long as they meet society’s goals. This isn’t a healthy life nor a safe one for themselves or their families. If you are dealing with someone that seems to have it together but is struggling with addiction, it’s time to be a firm but supportive person in their life. Make it clear to them that functional abuse is still abuse, but you’re here to help them move past this ugly chapter in their lives.