The stereotypical image of an addict is somebody who is struggling in life. The reality is that there are many individuals who have a well maintained addiction. Such people may have all the outward trappings of success, yet still be inwardly struggling with an alcohol or drug problem. These individuals may end up suffering more than an addict who loses everything in a rapid decline.
Successful people may be less likely to seek help for their addiction because of a higher level of denial. They can use their success to justify their excesses – it may be even viewed as just a part of the culture surrounding their profession. They might also fear that they have too much to lose by admitting that they have an alcohol or drug problem.
A functioning addict is somebody who is able to hide the excesses of their alcohol or drug use. They may be doing well in their careers and have a nice home and car. Friends and family may be convinced that that this individual is functioning well. If there are concerns about their excessive use of alcohol or drugs it may be explained away as just blowing off steam. So long as they continue to perform their expected roles well in society there may be little outward pressure for them to change.
Denial is the addict’s friend. This is a coping mechanism that allows the individual to escape the consequences of their behavior by refusing to face them. The individual does not want to consider giving up on their favorite drug so they look for excuses to justify their behavior.
Those who have a well maintained addiction can excel particularly well at denial. After all, they are making a success of their life so how could they be an addict? They can use their functioning in society as evidence that they do not have a real problem. They can compare themselves to the ‘down and out’ addict and conclude that their own problems are minor.
Highly functioning addicts will tend to surround themselves with people who engage in the same behavior. Members of this group will view their own substance abuse as just part of the life for high rollers.
There are many professions where heavy drinking is considered the norm. This creates a culture where it is easy for the functioning addict to hide their problems. In such circles drinking heavily will not be considered deviant unless the individual allows it to noticeably interfere with their career. There may even be admiration for those who can drink a lot of alcohol yet still manage to go to work the next day and do their job. Within this type of social network admitting to having a drinking problem can be viewed as a real sign of weakness.
The highly functioning addict can argue that if their life isn’t a mess there is nothing to worry about. This type of thinking is dangerous because:
* A functioning addict is unlikely to be able to stop their addiction from impacting their outward life forever. By the time the cracks begin to show they may already be about to lose everything. Addicts can lose their possessions, career, family, and friends slowly over time or their life can unravel in the matter of a few weeks.
* Most addicts will be limited by their finances in how much they can abuse substances. The functioning addict may have plenty of money to spend on alcohol or drugs. This means that they can consume a lot more.
* One of the ways that addicts realize they are in trouble is when they run out of supplies. When the substance becomes too low in their blood stream they will begin to experience withdrawals. A well maintained addiction will usually mean that the individual will always have their substance available. This means that they won’t know the full extent of their addiction until they try to stop.
* The functioning addict will have fewer reasons to stop so consequently they may be addicted for longer. This means that they will suffer more physical and mental damage than if they had been able to stop sooner.
* Just because the high functioning addict appears to be doing well in many areas of their life does not mean that all is well. Many of these people will be abusing their family either physically or mentally. They might also be involved in illegal or unethical behavior.
The usual reason for why an addict will seek help is that they have hit rock bottom. They have lost so much in life that they are not willing to lose anymore. Those who have a well maintained addiction may have less evidence of the destruction of their addiction. This means that they will carry on drinking or using drugs and risk a lot of damage to their mental and physical well-being. This can mean that they die from addiction before reaching a point where they are ready to get help.
Another factor that can stop the functioning alcoholic from getting help is that they may fear that they have a lot to lose by admitting their problem. It may damage their social standing in the community and could possibly harm their career. Such worries can keep people trapped in addiction.
The functioning addict will tend to display symptoms that are a sign that they have a problem including:
* Spending a lot of time with other heavy drinkers or drug users
* Cravings for alcohol or drugs
* Perceived inability to cope without these substances
* Appears to live a double life
* Personality changes when they drink or use drugs
* The will look upon alcohol or drugs as a reward for a job well done
* Drinkers will regularly go way above the recommended levels for safe alcohol intake
* Failed attempts to control their alcohol or drug use
* Risky sexual encounters while under the influence
* Unable to remember things from the night before – blackouts
* Drinks heavily prior to social engagements
* Does not like to go anywhere socially unless there is going to be alcohol or drugs involved
* They seem unable to walk away from an unfinished alcoholic beverage