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About the High-Functioning Addict

As you’re reading through stories of addiction, you might find it hard to see yourself in the descriptions. Even though you use drugs or abuse alcohol, you might not be homeless or incarcerated or in poor physical health. In fact, you might feel as though you have everything under complete control. Does this mean you’re not an addict? Not necessarily. Instead, this might mean that you’re a high-functioning addict. While your addiction is very real, and very dangerous, you might be able to keep that addiction hidden from view, at least for a little while.

It Can Happen to Anyone

In 2011, Whoopi Goldberg made a confession on her television show, The View: “I was a functioning drug addict, I showed up for work because I knew a lot of people would be out of work and I wouldn’t get a check that I needed to buy my drugs.” This is a fairly sobering statement. She was able to keep working, yet she was working in part to keep her addiction alive.

A Quick Definition

To most experts, an addiction has little to do with your ability to keep your life together. An addiction also has little to do with whether or not other people think you have a problem. An addiction is, instead, a chronic brain disease caused by substance use and abuse. The substances cause persistent changes in the brain that make it difficult for people to control their impulses, and thereby control their substance use.

So-called high-functioning addicts may have a compulsive need to use and abuse their substances of choice. However, they may also be able to stay in relationships, maintain friendships and even hold down good jobs. For many people, addictions can coexist with what seems to be a perfectly normal lifestyle. According to a Swedish study in the Journal of Occupational Medicine, 11.1 percent of workers were alcoholics, and 13.7 percent were even small-scale entrepreneurs. These people definitely had an addiction issue, yet their lives seemed perfectly under control on the outside.

Could It Be Me?

Look at these questions and answer them honestly. If you find that your common response is “yes,” it might be time to schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about addiction:

  1. When you start drinking or using, do you find it hard to stop?
  2. Do you often think about using drugs or drinking?
  3. Do you schedule your time around drinking or using drugs?
  4. Have you tried to stop before, but found that you were unable to?
  5. Does it upset you when people bring up your drinking/drug use?
  6. Do you drink or use drugs at work?
  7. Do you drink or use drugs first thing in the morning?
  8. Do you hide your abuse from others?
  9. Have you done something risky, like driven drunk?
  10. Are you worried about your abuse?

What Happens Next

If you’re a high-functioning addict, you may be worried about entering an addiction treatment program, as you fear it might cost you your job, your family or both. There are some addiction facilities that may provide you with valuable reassurance. These facilities provide services to other professionals with addiction issues. In these so-called “executive rehab programs,” you might be able to continue working while you recover from your addiction. You might even be able to get treatment on an outpatient basis, while you continue to live at home and keep a somewhat-normal schedule.