What is a functioning addict?
Of the nearly 17 million U.S. adults struggling with alcoholism, a shocking 19.5 percent – almost 4 million people – fall into the category “functional.” What does this mean? How can someone with an alcohol or drug abuse problem also be classified as functional?
A functional addict is an individual who is addicted to drugs or alcohol but is able to maintain a normal, successful life outside of their addiction. According to Dr. Mark Willenbring, a nationally recognized expert on alcohol abuse and recovery research, “People can be dependent and not have abuse problems at all. They’re successful students. They’re good parents, good workers. They watch their weight. They go to the gym. Then they go home and have four martinis or two bottles of wine. Are they alcoholics? You bet.” In fact, the typical “functional addict” is middle-aged, has a family and holds a steady job.
The danger for functional addicts, because they are able to manage their addictions so well, lies in this appearance of normalcy. These people can maintain successful lives, jobs, and relationships, so they rarely face the same consequences of their addiction that a less-functional addict would. Because they do not fit the stereotype of an addict, it is easier for them to deny they have a problem. Additionally, since they do not experience the same life-disrupting problems that other addicts encounter, they are unlikely to change their habits unless they receive a real wake-up call.
Signs of a Functioning Addict:
- Dramatic changes in behavior before/after drug or alcohol use
- Defensiveness when questioned about their use of drugs or alcohol
- Acting secretive or lying about whereabouts
- Mood swings
- “Pre-gaming” before events
- Rationalizing behavior while under the influence
- Rationalizing their drug or alcohol use (hard day at work, it’s a party, etc)
How You Can Help
While many addicts are in denial over their condition, this is especially true of high-functioning addicts. Because they are able to hold down a job, take care of a family, and handle other day-to-day responsibilities, they do not view their drug or alcohol use as a serious problem. Functional addicts are less likely to seek treatment, and some feel entering treatment would be even more disruptive to their lives than their addiction is.
Tips for Helping a Functioning Addict?
- Choose an appropriate time to talk to your loved one about their addiction.
- Leave information on addiction and recovery where the addict could find it. They may be more open to treatment if they come to the conclusion on their own.
- Stop enabling behaviors, ignoring the signs of a problem, or making excuses for their behavior while under the influence.
- Consider an intervention where you and other loved ones can voice concerns in a constructive manner.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, please don’t hesitate to get the help needed. At A New Start, Inc., we provide intensive outpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. For more information about our IOP in West Palm Beach, please call us today at 1.844.TALK.ANS.