What Is a Functioning Addict?

One of the more prevalent terms you may hear in the world of substance abuse tropes, be it on TV or in books, is the term “functioning addict.” The term is usually reserved for a person who is perceived as being in the throes of addiction but manages to live their day-to-day lives with little to no interruption. You may consider yourself a functioning addict or know someone who uses the term to describe themselves. However, what does being a functioning addict actually mean?

The Functioning Addict in Media

A common trope you may see in movies, and TV is the glamorization of the mixture of professional life and substance abuse. Maybe a busy corporate go-getter makes deadlines by abusing stimulants, or a college student studying late at night and overdrinking. There are many examples of the “functioning addict” that you may see, but the romanticization of these characters is a part of the story.

Substance use disorder does not occur in a 90-minute window and is not always a part of a grander story. In fiction books, movies, and television, the life of the functioning addict may be presented as a part of the overall story. It would not always make sense to delve into the litany of ways that “functioning addicts” are not functioning at all. Over the years, as you watch these shows or movies and read these books, you may find yourself identifying with the trope of the functioning addict.

Defining the Functioning Addict

When you think of a functioning addict, what characteristics come to mind? Maybe they have gainful employment, a place to live, a network of family and friends they regularly associate with, etc. The problem with this definition lies in the implications of the term “functioning” and whether or not a person can maintain a level of function as an addiction wears on and takes its toll.

Identifying a Functioning Addict

The consequences of substance abuse in functioning addicts may not always be evident to others — at least for a while. While the negative impact of substance abuse may be subtle in the functioning addict, there are a few signs that may identify a substance use disorder, including:

  • A high volume of consumption: When drinking socially, one drink often leads to several drinks every time or enough times that drinking seems to become “out of control.”
  • Using substances as a reward: A functioning addict may defend their use of substances by claiming they “earned it” for working so hard.
  • Using substances to cope: The functioning addict may use substances to cope with the challenges of work or family life. However, avoidance of the stress and obligations leads to further pressures and substance abuse to cope and escape.
  • Socializing always involves substances: An individual suffering from addiction is more likely to socialize only with others who use substances, attending social events that typically focus on substance use.
  • Rough mornings: The functioning addict may begin to show up for work most mornings with a headache or might be grumpy or ill. They may use excuses to hide the cause.

How Long Can You Function?

Looking at both the fictionalized versions of functioning addicts and the clinical definitions and studies of functioning addicts, on the surface, they might not seem that different. However, the issue lies within adverse health effects and the likelihood of a person struggling with substance use disorder sliding into the “nonfunctioning category.”

Gainful employment and adequate housing are essential for overall stability and crucial to mental and emotional wellbeing. However, the toll that drugs and alcohol take on the body over time can lead to many issues that are not conducive to maintaining a good job, housing, and a network of family and friends.

From Functioning to Non-Functioning

High-functioning addicts are usually distinguished by their ability to maintain a “normal” life while addicted to substances. At first, substance use disorder may share many similarities with other debilitating diseases; you can mostly maintain a level of normalcy and function despite your illness. However, as the disease progresses, life becomes much harder, and maintaining that level of normalcy becomes near impossible.

Even in high-functioning addicts who seem to have little to no interference in their day-to-day lives, substance use disorder causes various problems in practically every aspect of human life. Struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders, while popular tropes in TV and books, is a very complicated and stressful set of circumstances.

The burdens of addiction can weigh on you in various ways. It may be the case that you can maintain your work-life balance and pay your rent. However, substance use disorder can inevitably lead to a variety of issues that can manifest over time. As time goes on, your priorities may become more centered around the substance, and thus your level of functionality is diminished.

Many people who struggle with addiction fit into the category of the “functioning addict.” Despite substance abuse, they maintain a sense of normalcy in their everyday life; they can keep a job, have a home, and have a family. However, substance use disorder can weigh heavily on every aspect of life, from personal relationships to professional lives. Whether you fit into the category of the functioning addict or not, substance use disorder can eventually take a toll on your mental and emotional health. At Achieve Concierge, we strive to offer our members quality service and care. Our team of medical professionals and experts is here to provide you with the tools and help you need to overcome addiction. Substance use disorders and mental health disorders are manageable. Our members have access to same-day mental health services, telemedicine services, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and more. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use disorder, call Achieve Concierge at (619) 393-5871.

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