There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding addiction. Someone who is addicted to drugs, alcohol and even food is seen as someone unable to cope with their environment. There’s a stigma that home life mustn’t be particularly fulfilling or happy if an addiction is involved. There’s also an assumption that someone suffering through an addiction must be on a low income, unsuccessful in their career and possibly have children that they do not see.
Understanding addiction is difficult for anyone who does not know what it is like to rely on an outside substance to get through the day. The thing is, addiction is not one size fits all. Not every addict is violent, drowsy or slurring their words. Not every addict is living off the government and wearing dirty clothes.
Addicts can also be found in the very people you work with on a regular basis. A lot of people who suffer with some kind of addiction are highly intelligent, academically minded and successful.
You see, addiction provides an escape. Regardless of your background, skin colour, wealth or career status, the pressures in life are there and the drugs, alcohol, food and other substances that provide a relief and escape walk right alongside those pressures.
Some addicts are obvious in their endeavours, but a high-functioning addict is someone who on the surface appears to be functioning well at life. In reality, they rely on something to get them through each day, regardless of the loving family and friends and support network that they have around them.
The reason a person who is suffering addiction but maintaining a front is called ‘high-functioning’, is because they are able to get through each day being skilled at hiding their struggles. They can navigate everyday situations in life without much difficulty and without allowing their addiction to interfere negatively with their job or relationships.
Most high-functioning addicts are also in denial about their addiction, so would never see the real benefits in attending recovery centers or other support systems to help break them out of their cycle. There has to be an identified and recognised problem before help is sought, and a high-functioning addict doesn’t believe there is a problem. They are maintaining their job and their success.
They are maintaining their marriage and not slacking on family commitments. The bills are paid, and their addiction doesn’t seem to consume every penny that they earn. The trouble is, with all this denial comes the fact that they are still putting themselves at risk every day.
Their psychological wellbeing as well as their physical wellbeing are at great risk, even if that isn’t apparent right now. While it isn’t always easy to spot, a high-functioning addict still gives off telltale signs that they are in trouble.
If you ever suspect a loved one or a member of your family is relying on a substance to get through the day, you need to ascertain the damage as fast as possible so that you can get them the help they so desperately need.
Addiction isn’t something that miraculously appears overnight. For some people, it becomes about control. Those with eating disorders find their comfort in control and restriction, but this stems from low self-esteem and a belief that they are undeserving of pleasures in life – including food.
Those with a dependency on drugs sometimes begin innocently, with a prescription for strong painkillers for an injury. The trouble there is that the prescription painkillers that a doctor has recommended become a crutch to be relied on daily.
Even those with an addiction to alcohol don’t notice how gradual that it can creep up. the glass of wine that once accompanied dinner has turned into a whole bottle before bedtime, and the increase in amount was so slow that you barely notice the change.
This slow build-up to addiction is why it’s scary; there’s no hard and fast rule of one day you’re a functioning human being and the next, selling your worldly belongings to get a hit of the right drug.
It is something that happens in six stages: initial use, experimentation, everyday use, dependency, addiction and finally, recovery. Initial use is the slow stage we’ve just talked about; the eating disorder that started with an innocent diet and spiralled out of control.
The drug addiction that started with an innocent prescription after an injury and became dependency. The alcohol addiction that escalated from one glass to one bottle a night. Experimentation is the next stage.
Those who become an addict that is highly functioning experiment with their addiction. Swapping a glass of red wine for a vodka on the rocks. Swapping prescription painkillers for a line of cocaine a day. Swapping restricting food to throwing it up. There is danger in this experimentation, as it becomes a crutch to rely on that helps them to wind down after a long day.
Once that is established, it’s a very difficult routine to get out of. The behaviour displayed is typical when it comes to developing a tolerance to the addiction, and that tolerance triggers a need for something stronger, which then leads to dependency. A high-functioning addict will make subtle changes to their life so that they can continue with their self-destructive behaviour but maintain a feeling of normality around them. It is the ultimate fool’s game.
It can be very difficult to spot someone in your life that is high-functioning as an addict. It’s important to understand that addiction is a disease of the brain and can lead to a spiral of illness, destruction and even death if it is not effectively treated.
Have you ever looked at your own life and wondered about the behavior of someone very close to you? Have you ever wondered whether you yourself are at risk of falling victim to addiction? Well, there are some things you can look out for to spot the signs and we’ve listed them for you below:
Inability To Limit Yourself
You’re enjoying a steak dinner and you’re trying to convince yourself you only want one glass of red wine. Three bottles later and you’re promising yourself you won’t do it again tomorrow, after all, three bottles is far too much. But then tomorrow you have another bottle. And gradually that need for a glass of wine is a mid-morning treat for cleaning the house.
It’s your accompaniment to lunch time. You may not class it as an addiction, but you could be high-functioning if you are experiencing regular blackouts or memory loss.
“My ankle still hurts from the injury six months ago.” “If I restrict another 100 calories a day, I’ll lose this weight in no time.” “I deserve this glass of wine for the hard day I’ve had.”
An addict is a master at making excuses for their behaviour. If you are finding yourself giving your own brain these excuses and talking yourself into why your addiction is okay, you could be high-functioning. Business professionals often use functions in their companies as a reason to consume alcohol; it’s part of the excuses to make their addiction okay.
Some drugs can make people aggressive, tired, sluggish or excessively hungry. Validating their new behaviour is something that a high-functioning addict is adept at. The opioids that cause sluggishness are excused as just being exhausted from work. The drugs that cause aggression and upset feelings are brushed off as a bad day. High-functioning addicts are adept at telling lies easily because they believe the lies themselves.
It’s A Reward
Treating to a bottle of wine, popping painkillers before a workout and rewarding with cake that will not be kept down later are all some of the ways an addict can justify their crutch. Frequent use of a particular substance as a reward is a big indicator of a high-functioning addict.
Refusal For Help
The largest indicator for a high-functioning addict is denial. Addiction carries a stigma of someone who is out of control and cannot cope which means that admitting the addiction opens them up for the stigma. Addiction is as harmful to someone who is high-functioning as it is anyone else, and professional help is a necessity.
The treatment options vary, but the biggest help an addict can give for themselves is admitting the problem and allowing the help in the first place. High-functioning addicts are especially proud, and pride doesn’t always allow someone to believe that there is a fault in their behaviour.
The danger here is that without seeing that there is a problem, the downward spiral is far more difficult to break. After all, how can you help someone break a downward spiral if they don’t believe that there is one? Addiction is not a simple topic, nor is it something that is easy to cure. Sometimes management is far more effective than any cure can ever be, but without asking for help, the problem cannot be managed.
If you believe someone close to you is suffering, approach with caution only after you have gathered enough evidence to believe that there is a problem.