What do you think of when you hear the term “drug addict?” Perhaps someone who looks sickly, someone who has neglected his or her health in pursuit of the next high? Maybe too thin from skipping too many meals? If you think of an alcoholic, do you picture a stumbling drunk? While these images are not necessarily wrong, they fail to capture the many people who struggle with addiction while maintaining the facade of a healthy, happy life: functioning drug addicts. A functioning addict might put on a shirt and tie every morning and head off to work, but his struggle with substance abuse is just as real as that of a junkie on the street. But exactly, “What is a functional addict?”
Functioning Drug Addicts
Functioning drug addicts are people who struggle with substance abuse but continue to “function” as healthy individuals. They continue to hold a job, pay their bills, participate in the family, and maintain a social life, while at the same time keeping up a drug or alcohol habit. In many ways, these addicts are leading a double life — the life of a responsible, healthy adult, and the life of an addict. Colleagues at work, friends, and family members typically are unaware of their struggle with addiction, or if they do know about it, fail to realize the extent of the substance abuse. How can you tell if someone you care about has a private substance abuse problem?
Functioning Addict Symptoms
Functioning drug or alcohol addicts work hard to keep their abuse a secret. When confronted, they will most likely deny that they have a problem, and they are probably in denial about it themselves as well. But there are some signs that a person is hiding an addiction:
- Rapid weight loss or gain
- Changes in appearance, such as bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, heavy eyelids, or glassy eyes
- Detectable odor of alcohol, strong mouthwash, or mints
- Secretive behavior
- Frequent absence or lateness
- Inappropriate or unusual clothing, such as long sleeves in summertime to hide track marks
- Changes in mood
- Erratic behavior
- Overreacting or acting overly emotional
- Making excuses for appearance, action, or attitude
Substance Abuse and Failure at Work
While functioning drug addicts can maintain a facade of a healthy, happy life for a time, eventually, that facade will break, and the substance abuse will come out. Addiction impacts the user’s health and behavior, and at some point will cause a problem that reveals the abuse. This reveal may come about at home, perhaps by missing too many family events or by dramatically inappropriate behavior such as fighting or being abusive. This may take place in the form of a work failure: chronic absenteeism, missed deadlines, or excessive lateness can lead to a work reprimand or firing. While upsetting or embarrassing at first, this failure may be just what the addict needs to confront his or her addiction. Such a striking failure reveals the extent of the problem to the user and his family, forcing him to admit he has a problem. It can also force the family to acknowledge the addiction; they may be willing to tolerate some level of substance abuse at home as long as it does not impact the user’s employment. Recognizing the substance abuse allows the user and those who care about him to take an honest look at his life, identify the cause of the failure, create a solution, and make out a plan of action.
Call Behavioral Rehabilitation Services
If you suspect that someone you love is secretly struggling with addiction, help is available. Call our substance abuse counselors today to find the right treatment approach.