The Functioning Addict

» Posted by on Dec 16, 2015 in Alpha Blog | 0 comments

The Functioning Addict

Most people feel like if someone in their life was an addict, they would know. There are major warning of someone who is addicted to alcohol or other substances that are commonly understood, and people often think that the majority of addicts fall into the category of having the obvious warning signs, such as the inability to perform basic life tasks due to their drinking.

In reality though, less than 10% of those with a drinking problem show those major warning signs according to a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Rather, the majority of addicts are functioning and are very good at disguising their dependence. There are some things that you can look for in someone who you believe may have a substance abuse problem, but can still function.

  • Making Excuses.  The functioning addict is a master at having prepared and logical explanations for why they have to continue using their substance of choice. They often minimize the amount of intake, and justify it to make it look like it is actually benefiting them and those around them. For example, a person addicted to methamphetamine may say something like “It gives me energy to get through my hectic work schedule and come home and take care of my kids.” Someone with a dependence on marijuana may say something like, “It relaxes me and helps with my headaches. Without it I am really mean and in a lot of pain.” Regardless of what substance they abuse, they will have a seemingly logical reason to justify continuing using.


  • Using Accomplishments as Denials. The functioning addict often can deny there is a problem by citing their accomplishments. They will bring up the fact that they have done many things that an addict could never do, such as having a career. Often times the functioning addict can have a substance abuse problem for decades before the full consequences play out in their lives. The damage can manifest over time and eventually cause a major life incident if continued and ignored. The addict also usually surrounds themselves with others who continually praise their accomplishments, because this allows the addict to face that they use illegal substances or abuse alcohol.


  • They Behave Differently When They Use. Even if the functioning addict is easier to deal with, or can seemingly perform better when using, they will eventually have a breaking point. If they have a definite shift in personality between when they are using and when they are not, they have a problem and are likely highly addicted. Usually the functioning addict will seem agitated or emotional if they haven’t used as regularly as they are used to. They even may vocalize this to those around them, saying “I really need a drink right now, or I am going to lose my mind.” People who smoke will often say things like this, and generally people agree that smokers are addicted, but with drinking or substance abuse they often don’t feel like the person is dependent but rather just enjoys using. Although the functioning addict may seem to have their use “under control” , if they are noticeably a different person when not using, they have a problem.

Although the functioning addict is harder to get help for, it is not impossible. The family and friends of the functioning addict may even enable them by agreeing that they aren’t hurting anyone else, and that they still can perform the necessary routines of life. But this justification can result in a major life crisis or event that could have been avoided.

For example, a father may claim that while he drinks consistently throughout his day, he still keeps a job and takes care of his family so there is no problem. This false sense of reality may come crashing down one day when he gets into a car accident with his family due to his drinking and not admitting that although he has a tolerance to alcohol, he does drink heavily.

There are always consequences for someone with a substance abuse problem. Although they may not be immediate or extremely noticeable, they will eventually impact the addict’s life. Whether it be their health, family, work ethic, or safety, the addict will  eventually have a crisis or major conflict due to their addiction.

If you feel that you or someone you know may have a substance abuse problem, we are here to help. We have therapists who specialize in substance abuse that are available to you now. Please contact us today for your consultation.

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