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What Does High-Functioning Addiction Look Like?

Stereotypical portrayals of people addicted to drugs and alcohol have left most of the world oblivious to the existence of people with functional addictions. They aren’t the people you find sleeping in until noon or who miss work regularly. They’re the people who function normally and even excel at their work or school obligations while maintaining their substance abuse.

For people with high-functioning addiction, realizing they have a problem and reaching out for help can be challenging. This is why understanding why and how high-functioning addiction starts is essential to getting help for your loved ones or you.

What Is High-Functioning Addiction?

Someone with high-functioning or functional addiction uses drugs or alcohol regularly but doesn’t exhibit the usual signs that would alert someone that something’s wrong. In most cases, individuals with functional addiction can keep up with work or school, stay organized, and engage socially while maintaining their substance use and abuse.

This makes it incredibly difficult for the individual’s loved ones to realize something is wrong, meaning very few people with high-functioning addiction seek out professional help. In most cases, these individuals deny their condition and are not receptive to suggestions to get help.

Common Substances Used by People with High-Functioning Addiction

Some of the substances most commonly used by people with functional addiction include:

  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Prescription medication, especially opioids and benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Meth
  • Stimulants
  • Sedatives
  • Marijuana

They may isolate using these substances until they’re home or away from their duties. However, this does not mean they aren’t addicted or reliant on drugs or alcohol to get through their day or week.

High-Functioning Addiction Is Just as Dangerous as Other Addictions

People often assume individuals with high-functioning addiction have their disorder under control or that they can stop whenever they want to. This is not the case.

A high-functioning addiction is just as dangerous, possibly more so, as normal addictions. People with functional addiction don’t think they need help. After all, they’re not acting like the stereotypical person addicted to drugs or alcohol. They get to work or school on time, don’t skip their obligations, and are socially active.

Yet, their addiction is just as real and often more serious than the person who skips work and stays home while high every day. The lack of self-awareness and the belief that they are in control of their substance use puts people with high-functioning addiction at an even greater risk.

In Which Professions Is High-Functioning Addiction Common?

Some professions and career paths produce workers at a greater risk of developing high-functioning alcoholism or addiction.

These professions are typically isolated to high-stress jobs and may include:

  • Restaurant and food industry workers: These individuals often face long hours and a stressful work environment that requires them to function normally despite their substance abuse.
  • Construction workers: Individuals in the construction industry may face physical and mental exertion for long hours every day. This could lead to addiction while forced to function at a high level, so they don’t lose their jobs.
  • Media and entertainment workers: People in the industry also face long hours and peer pressure to partake in drugs and alcohol, making it an easy outlet for their stress. Despite their addiction, most workers in the industry are expected to show up and do their job when required, leading to a large percentage of individuals with functional addiction.
  • Health care workers: These individuals don’t only have high-pressure jobs, but their access to drugs and their knowledge of how they work and how to hide their addiction can significantly increase their chances of being diagnosed with high-functioning addiction.

What Are the Signs Someone Has High-Functioning Addiction?

For people with functional addictions, it’s more important than ever to spot the signs early on and get them the help they need to realize they are addicted and encourage them to get treatment.

The most common signs of high-functioning addiction include:1

  1. Making excuses for their behavior, whether it’s trying to explain missed meetings or activities or explaining away drug or alcohol use related behavior.
  2. Drinking or using more drugs than planned, especially when in a relaxed or social setting where they may not feel the need to function at a high level.
  3. Having friends that also struggle with addiction and spending a significant amount of time with them compared to other, sober friends or family members.
  4. Feeling sick in the mornings, especially after a night out where they “indulged” in drugs or alcohol as a reward.
  5. Losing interest in optional hobbies or fun activities. Most people with high-functioning addiction won’t miss obligations. Still, when optional activities are brought up, they may opt out of attending to spend time at home drinking or using drugs.
  6. Using a lot of drugs or alcohol when they don’t have any obligations or responsibilities compared to restricting their use while they need to focus or be present for certain events.
  7. Using drugs or alcohol as a reward for good work performance or personal achievements.
  8. Using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress from a high-pressure work environment or relationship-related issues.
  9. Only attending social activities where alcohol or drugs will be present.
  10. Blacking out or not being able to remember what happened while they were drunk or high.
  11. Experiencing intense cravings whenever they restrict their use to focus on work, school, or other responsibilities.
  12. Denying they have a problem, as they aren’t exhibiting the behavior commonly shown by people addicted to drugs. This is especially common as people with high-functioning addiction often don’t experience a lapse in personal hygiene, do maintain a clean home and work environment, and don’t typically get drunk or high when they need to be alert and engage in social situations.
  13. Hiding their drug and alcohol use or lying about when and how much they used.

These signs may be difficult to notice, especially if the person struggling with addiction is a close friend or family member that you trust to be honest. If you are worried a loved one may be addicted to drugs or alcohol, your best option is to get professional advice and assistance to determine whether they need help.

Is Recovery More Challenging for People with High-Functioning Addiction?

For people with high-functioning addiction, recovery can be a far more complex process. Most of these individuals believe they have complete control over their substance use and fail to realize that they use drugs or alcohol compulsively. They tend to explain away their need to use drugs or alcohol at a given time and don’t realize they have a problem.

Instead, they believe they are stronger or more resistant to addiction and don’t need help. Finding ways to intervene or bring up the topic of rehab may be tricky, but it is just as important for people with high-functioning addiction as it is for those with regular addiction patterns.

Getting Help

If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from addiction, you should seek professional help immediately. A counselor or therapist may be able to help you get treatment for yourself or your loved one, as well as intervene when denial or lying makes the process of getting treatment more difficult.

Adelante Recovery Center offers free evaluations with a counselor, as well as access to detox, residential, and dual diagnosis treatment plans to help you on your journey to recovery. For more information about these programs and how to join, contact our team today at (949) 427-9099 to get the help you need.


  1. https://drugabuse.com/blog/5-telltale-signs-of-a-high-functioning-addict/

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