Is There Really Such a Thing as a “High-Functioning Addict?”

Is There Really Such a Thing as a “High-Functioning Addict?”

There is no single picture of what someone with addiction “looks like.” The false ideas and stereotypes about addiction contribute to the harmful stigma that keeps people from seeking the help they often desperately need. Substance use disorder can affect people from all walks of life, from someone holding an executive-level position at a corporation to someone experiencing homelessness. So what is addictive behavior, and what does it consist of?
Some people believe that a person who has a successful career, supports their family, or lives a productive life cannot struggle with addiction. However, millions of people with a house, two cars in the garage, and a high-paying job still have substance use disorder, despite what they may “look like” on the outside. These so-called “high-functioning addicts” hide in plain sight, yet they suffer just the same.

Can Someone Be a “High-Functioning Addict”?

Man sits at his computer looking frustrated with his head in his hands.
Addictive behavior has little to do with how a person presents themselves to the outside world. In fact, many people who live with substance use disorder go to great lengths to keep everything put together externally. They use the general public’s false beliefs and ideas about addiction to their advantage so they can continue drinking or using drugs without raising any suspicions.
Someone who appears well off from the outside but lives with substance use disorder is often referred to as a “high-functioning addict.” While the language is outdated, the concept still stands. Many people manage to hold things together just enough to keep their friends, family, and colleagues from catching onto their behavior. Since addictive behavior is not necessarily externally obvious, what does addictive behavior look like?

What is Addictive Behavior? Signs of Substance Use Disorder

The best way to answer the question, “What is addictive behavior?” is with the definition of substance use disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.1 The criteria for substance use disorder include:
  • Using more substances or using substances for longer than intended
  • Trying and failing to cut back or quit using substances
  • Spending lots of time thinking about, acquiring, or using substances
  • Experiencing cravings or intense desires or urges to use substances
  • Failing to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Continuing to use substances despite interpersonal or social repercussions
  • Giving up on hobbies or activities because of substance use
  • Ending up in dangerous situations because of substance use
  • Continuing to use substances despite knowing they were causing problems
  • Developing tolerance and needing to take more substances to achieve the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cut back or quit
If someone meets two or more of these criteria, they may be struggling with substance use disorder, even if they seem like a “high-functioning addict.”

Seeking Help for Substance Abuse

If you believe someone you love is dealing with a substance abuse problem, help is available. You may feel scared or nervous to express your concerns, especially if they are high-functioning, but you should trust your instincts. If you’re wondering what you can do for them, reach out to us here at Silver Pines Treatment Center and we can walk you through developing a plan and finding the right treatment program for them. Call us at 267.209.7313.

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