Adult and Adolescent Mental Health Blog

The team at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry aims to help both adults and adolescents with substance abuse and mental health issues.

High-Functioning Addiction Is A Serious Problem

High-Functioning Addiction Is A Serious Problem

A high-functioning addict is a person who has managed to keep their life together despite their addiction. This situation will likely not last forever, but for a time they can hold onto their job and keep their finances relatively in order. Their physical health has only begun to deteriorate. This is an ideal time for them to start treatment, although regrettably, it can also be the time when they are hardest to convince.

The Signs Of The High-Functioning Addict

Though every person who struggles with addiction is unique in their own way, there are certain commonalities that often show up in their conduct. If you see the following behaviors, you may be dealing with high-functioning addicts.

  • Excuses. The excuses might sound plausible, at least at first. They may claim to take their drug of choice to relieve stress. Because the rest of their life seems to be more or less in order, these excuses can be quite convincing.
  • Curious financial issues. Despite a well-paying job, a high-functioning addict may have unexplained money issues. They may always be asking for a little extra help. This may be an indicator that too much of their money is going towards their addiction.
  • Party-loving friends. High-functioning addicts will often surround themselves with friends, many of whom use more than they do. This may give them the excuse that they use less than their friends, while actually increasing their risk of increased usage.
  • They look sick in the morning. Withdrawal symptoms, especially in the morning, can leave a high-functioning addict looking sick and sluggish. When this condition is consistent over time, it will eventually lead to deteriorating health.
  • They can’t stop their use. Though they may often promise they are not controlled by their need to use, high-functioning addicts still use frequently. They may be able to skip a day, especially if close family members need convincing, but the addiction is still a prime focus in their lives.
  • They lose interest in hobbies they once loved. If a high-functioning addict stops playing instruments, no longer go on jogs, or doesn’t seem interested in baseball anymore, he or she may be experiencing a decline in health because of the substance abuse habit.

If you see these signs in an individual, there is a good chance you are dealing with a person struggling with addiction, but whose addiction has not caused his or her life to collapse yet. They will deny their need for help or treatment, however this is the best time to get help, before things get worse.

It Is Hard To Convince A High-Functioning Addict To Get Help

When people struggle with addiction, they have a number of excuses to tell to avoid facing the reality of their situation. With high-functioning addicts, these excuses sound more plausible because their lives have not fully deteriorated. It can be harder to convince high-functioning addicts that they need help for a numbers of reasons.

  • They are successful. He has a well-paying job. She just got a promotion. Why should the high-functioning addict be concerned when things generally seem to be going right in his or her life? If there are no obvious deficiencies in the life of the high-functioning addict, it is harder to get him or her to see the reality underneath.
  • They haven’t hit rock bottom. When you can sink no lower, there are no excuses left to give. A high-functioning addict has by definition not sunk that low or very low at all. There is simply little external motivation due to life circumstances to get him or her in rehab.
  • They feel less pressure. A high-functioning addict is often able to hide the extent of his or her use from friends, family and colleagues. When it goes unnoticed, the people in the life of a high-functioning addict do not provide any encouragement to seek help.
  • They are too busy for treatment. High-functioning addicts still have jobs they wish to keep. Going to rehab could disrupt a career that seems to be going fine for the moment.
  • They may not meet all the criteria. Before addiction grows into an enormous problem, it may not affect every facet of the life of a high-functioning addict. This means that he or she may not check off every box on the list of criteria. This doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a problem, but it might serve as a false assurance.

It is unfortunate that the very time when intervention would be best, before their lives start to truly fall apart, can also be the time when high-functioning addicts are hardest to convince that they need help.

How To Help A High-Functioning Addict

You can’t make their decisions for them, but you can make sure you are not enabling them in their addiction. By enabling them, you are prolonging the period before they sink low enough to realize they need help. Don’t make excuses, don’t cover for them, and enforce your boundaries.

When you decide to confront a high-functioning addict, you need to know all the facts about addiction. Read the literature and speak with experts. There are support groups to help you deal with your own emotional needs and offer advice on ways to help your loved one.

What Happens If A High-Functioning Addict Doesn’t Get Help?

The seeming stability of the life of a high-functioning addict is not permanent. It will, sooner or later, come crashing down and his or her life will start to fall apart. You will notice the following:

  • Degrading physical health. The health complaints will increase, stemming from short-term and mild, to serious and prolonged ailments.
  • Worsening mental health. Depression and anxiety may appear or grow worse than before. A high-functioning addict may even have psychotic symptoms as they sink into non-functioning addiction.
  • Losing social relationships. The high-functioning addict will have increasing amounts of conflict in his or her life as the situation declines. A person struggling with non-functioning addiction can wind up isolated.
  • Threatened job. When work performance and attendance declines, a high-functioning addict may lose employment. This can be the turning point into non-functioning addiction.
  • Financial difficulties. As the addiction worsens, bills and savings become less important than the drug.
  • Legal issues. This can happen sooner or later, depending on the drug, but as addiction worsens it usually comes with legal issues.

Before he or she reaches this point, it is important try to help your loved one. You can prevent a lot of damage with early treatment.

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