Content reviewed by Nicholas G. Glines

Addiction is often stereotyped as a condition that results from a defective character or moral weakness. Many people associate the disease of addiction with individuals who are homeless or reckless as a result of this stereotype. However, addiction is a condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, socioeconomic status or occupation. Anyone can be at risk of developing an addiction.

Because of the stereotypes surrounding addiction, many people fail to recognize addictive behaviors in themselves or others, especially those who seem to function fairly well in their daily lives. Recreational substance use can quickly develop into an addiction, regardless of whether it is obvious or not. High-functioning addiction is the result of an individual negotiating their life around their substance use without obvious warning signs.

What Is High-Functioning Addiction?

Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors despite the adverse consequences it may cause oneself or others. It is defined as a chronic and relapsing condition that interferes with the way the brain communicates with itself and the body, leading to significant impairments in an individual’s ability to function normally in daily life.

High-functioning addiction can be difficult to grasp, as the definition of addiction contradicts the connotations of high-functioning. However, a handful of individuals experience moderate to severe substance use disorder (SUD) and may be unable to control certain aspects of their lives yet are adept at shielding their dysfunctional behavior. This group of individuals can be characterized as having relatively high-functioning addiction.

Who Is at Risk for High-Functioning Addiction?

To better understand who may be at risk of experiencing high-functioning addiction, consider individuals who engage in compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behavior but also:

  • Have a steady job with a reliable income
  • Are college-educated
  • Are in seemingly stable relationships, such as long-term partnerships or marriages
  • Believe they can restrict their substance use, contributing to the illusion that they can control their addiction
  • Regularly engage with friends and family members who may or may not keep their substance use or associated consequences a secret for them
  • Have friends and family members who rationalize their substance-using behaviors and assume such behavior is “normal” for them
  • Experience co-occurring conditions, such as depression or anxiety, and use substances to self-medicate

Concerns About High-Functioning Addiction

The most obvious concern for individuals that experience high-functioning addiction is that they believe they have control over their substance use and other potentially addictive behaviors. This misconception often causes individuals to avoid the realization that they have a problem that requires treatment. Similarly, because they neglect to view it as a problem, they may believe that they can keep their substance use a secret from loved ones. This ultimately perpetuates the cycle of substance use and addiction.

Individuals who fit the category of high-functioning addiction do not admit that they have an issue, and as a result, will rationalize their substance use as a necessary behavior that helps them to function normally in their daily life. However, anyone who struggles with substance abuse and associated SUD will likely experience significant consequences that otherwise would not exist if they stopped their substance use.

Regular substance use of any kind is damaging to the body, mind and spirit. It is often only a matter of time before high-functioning addiction becomes low-functioning, and an individual encounters worsening mental and physical health consequences. Once an addiction develops, high-functioning or otherwise, substance use is no longer controlled by oneself. Treatment is essential for recovery.

Treatment Options for High-Functioning Addiction

While a loved one struggling with high-functioning addiction may not view their substance use as a problem that requires treatment, there are still many treatment options available to help shed light on their problematic behaviors.

First, one can initiate open and honest conversations about substance use with loved ones. Even if one does not suspect that a friend or family member has a dependence or full-blown addiction, it is important to discuss the consequences that could result from regular engagement with substances. Similarly, having conversations about the varying effects of drugs can help prevent substance use in the future.

Loved ones can encourage attendance in group therapy sessions in their community that specialize in preventing or abstaining from substance use. This can open discussion and bring attention to problematic life consequences that can result from substance use. It can also be a valuable networking opportunity to build sober connections with other individuals who may be struggling with high-functioning addiction.

When someone recognizes that their substance use could become a problem, several interventions can prove beneficial to their future recovery process. Treatment modalities such as motivational interviewing (MI) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can help individuals understand how their behaviors affect their emotions and vice versa. These modalities can also motivate individuals to overcome their ambivalence surrounding treatment and recovery.

Although they may seem fine on the outside, individuals who struggle with high-functioning addiction are vulnerable to a downward spiral. These individuals must seek treatment as soon as possible to avoid worsening mental and physical health consequences.

New Hope Ranch is a men’s-only treatment center that understands that addiction affects lives in varying ways. We’ve created an intimate and supportive treatment experience that encourages men to choose sobriety and recovery time and time again. Rather than letting substance use control you, gain back control over your life through treatment. Call us today at (737) 600-8565.