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What is High Functioning Addicts?

Addiction can have many faces, from the homeless meth addict to the executive who quietly downs several drinks a night. It may be easy to see that drug abuse is damaging someone’s life when they continue to get into legal trouble and have dropped out of school.

The National Institute of Health estimates that about 1 in 5 people struggling with addiction fall into the “functional subtype.” High-functioning addicts can be hard to spot and may be able to sustain an apparently “normal” life for years. They can maintain their grades and work hard at their jobs.

High-functioning addicts (HFA’s) are often highly driven and competent individuals. Even if their addiction is affecting them negatively, others don’t notice because they are still doing well enough not to get fired or fail a class. They are often unaware or in denial about their addiction.

They reason that they don’t have a problem if they can still get their work done.

People don’t like to change if they don’t have to and since HFA’s can sustain their addiction without “hitting rock bottom” for such a long time, they usually don’t seek out help.

This can be fueled by their driven nature, where admitting that they are struggling with addiction could be damaging to their careers and reputations.

Many HFA’s don’t receive help until they are deep into addiction. Often the families of high-functioning addicts place so much value in achievements that they turn a blind eye to any signs of addiction as long as the user continues to be “successful.”

It can be hard for parents to accept that their beloved child may have a serious issue. Addressing that issue may strain relationships in the family, but if the problem is not resolved, it will continue to get worse.

Signs that someone is a High-Functioning Addict

High Functioning Addicts can hide their habitual drug and alcohol use so well that it’s hard to notice how much they are using. For college students and young professionals, the drinking culture is so prevalent that it can be hard to distinguish between a phase and a long-term issue.

Many people regularly drink in college and then go on to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol. Others slowly become more and more dependent on drinking to the point of severe addiction. Look for the following signs that someone you love may be an HFA.

They Look Rough in the Morning:

Often, HFA’s will complain of headaches in the morning. They may also be grumpy and show up late or cancel engagements earlier in the day. They often say they are not a morning person, when in fact they are hungover or experiencing the symptoms of drug withdrawal.

They always have an excuse

Every time you notice their excessive use, they have an excuse or justification for why they did what they did. When they use Adderall, they say it’s just to focus on some homework. When they get drunk, they blame it on their friends drinking culture.

When you say it’s a bit early for a beer they tell you not to be such a square, it’s just one beer.

They Can’t Control Themselves

One drink somehow turns into 5 drinks. Every social situation involves alcohol for them, and they often miss the ones that don’t. If their life and social group revolves around drinking or drug use, even if they seem to be doing fine otherwise, they may well be addicted.

They can often “hold their liquor,” so it can be hard to tell how much they have consumed, but a high tolerance is a telltale sign of substance abuse.

Behavior Inconsistent with their Sober Selves

Spotting this requires you to know someone well, such as a family member or longtime close friend. You may start to see physical changes, or notice their performance drop in school or at work.

Often they will continue to do well professionally, but start missing family engagements or share less about their personal lives. It is common for the first signs of emotional distress to be directed at loved ones.

This means that an HFA who is very charismatic in public may become short-tempered or moody around their family.

While none of these behaviors are conclusive, they may be signs. Often, family and friends say later that they saw the signs of addiction, but didn’t think it was that bad, so didn’t intervene.

Tips for Helping a High-Functioning Addict

If you are noticing some of the signs of addiction mentioned above, you may need to intervene. HFA’s are usually in such denial that they won’t be ready to acknowledge their problem at first. The ideal time to talk to them is when they are feeling remorseful.

After they miss a deadline or forget something that they are usually good about remembering, let them know how it affects you. Point out any patterns that you have observed in a compassionate, yet firm manner.

People can only change when they are ready, so don’t expect to be able to force them to change. Just let know you are ready to support them whenever they are ready. Holding firm boundaries to protect yourself may be necessary as well.

Examples of boundaries that may be appropriate include not allowing any drinking or drug use in your home or cutting off financial support until they are willing to accept treatment for their addiction.

Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health Struggles

High-functioning addicts can redirect the same drive that kept them going through their addiction towards their recovery process. Once an HFA can commit to their recovery process, they do very well in treatment.

Sandstone Care offers a continuum of care that is designed for people who are ready to make lasting changes in their life. We provide support for the whole family as well as vocational training.

We design our programming to accompany school and job schedules so that our clients can build treatment into their life. Call (888) 850-1890 today to start your journey.

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