The term ‘drug addict’ typically conjures up less-than-pleasant thoughts and ideas. It might bring to mind homelessness, physical illness, criminal proclivities, violence, and poverty. It might make someone think of jail, or being robbed or stolen from. These associations are influenced by the age-old stereotype society has assigned to drug use and its consequences, which has kept the stigma going, and has made it more difficult for people to get help and more inclined to suffer in silence. Furthermore, even if these assumptions are rooted in some truth, we have learned that being a drug addict does not look the same on every person—it is a disease that bears many faces.
While drug addiction can often lead to homelessness, some manage to keep their day jobs and are quite successful in their professional lives. They are often driven overachievers, balancing fervent work ethic with an active and normal-looking social life, all while their drug addiction lurks underground, hidden from public view. They will appear to have it all together, and may for quite some time. Perhaps even most of their adult lives. But as addiction sinks its teeth into a person, it inevitably does damage, and will demand more and more from the host, until they finally begin to crack.
What is a Functioning Drug Addict?
A functioning drug addict will not have the telltale trappings we are accustomed to identifying. They appear to have control of their lives, can pay the bills, make it to their children’s sports games, and frequent the gym. Their outward appearance does not have any implication of a problem, and only those close to them (or an addict themselves) might be able to notice the early warning signs.
Though not as noticeable as debilitating hangovers, being evicted or fired, or extreme weight loss, there are some signs that are enough to raise eyebrows. A few of them might include:
- Justifying their drug habits: This is a common one for those in very high-powered jobs who explain their ‘indulgences’ as a way to relieve/cope with stress.
- Secrecy: When asked about how they spend their time, they may become uncomfortable and very guarded, not wanting to open up or share any details.
- Double life: The person might lead an altogether double life to hide their drug-seeking behaviors. They may suddenly stop engaging in social events or family get-togethers. If they do attend, they will disappear for long amounts of time and often return in an altered state (overly energetic, irritable, fatigued).
- Decline in physical health: At first, a person may be able to keep up with the charade that they have everything under control, but eventually the drugs will affect their health and cause them to miss out on sports events, hobbies, or time at the gym. Their appearance may worsen at work, or they may experience memory issues.
- Problems at home: Relationships eventually become strained when a person is using drugs, and the person using may start to neglect responsibilities, become irritable, and lash out at loved ones.
- Confinement or isolation: A set routine is another one of the signs of a functioning drug addict. They try to remain close to their drug source to avoid a frantic search for the substance or withdrawal symptoms. As the addiction worsens, they spend less time with family or friends—their only objective is getting their next dose.
It is not always easy to determine if a person is experiencing addiction problems. A functioning drug addict lives their life based on the appearance that nothing is wrong, therefore contradicting the long held belief that people hooked on drugs are obvious. In truth, no one can truly know the extent of the problem except the substance user themselves. Drug addiction does not discriminate, as is well known; it can happen to anyone regardless of wealth or social status. This includes lawyers, doctors, teachers, policemen, politicians, and others with stressful careers, and it can be difficult to comb out if one doesn’t know what to look for.
Getting Help for a Functioning Addict
While it may be difficult to sense if a person’s drug use has gotten out of hand, it is important to try to make an educated guess before taking the next step. If you have a good relationship with the person, a candid conversation might lead to an honest discussion and them opening up if they do have a problem. However, more often than not, the person will likely become defensive and unwilling to share what’s going on.
To reiterate, drug addicts have been living with their addiction and functioning for so long that they may be resistant to help if their life still appears normal to the outside world. They have likely denied their addiction successfully to maintain stability and keep up the status quo, and might not see their substance use as a problem, but rather a necessary means to an end. An example is a person who abuses prescription drugs legally prescribed to them; they can justify the habit by believing the medication helps them to cope with conditions such as pain or anxiety.
Though a functioning drug addict may think they can handle everything on their own, at some point they will eventually lose control over their lives if they don’t get treatment in time. If you or a loved one is experiencing drug addiction, help is possible, and there is a better way to live. The relief a functioning drug addict will feel upon realizing they don’t have to live in that cycle any longer is immeasurable.
Granite Recovery Centers has multiple treatment facilities throughout New Hampshire, with a continuum of care that extends from medical detox all the way to sober living. We can provide a safe haven as one starts their journey to recovery. If you have questions regarding your own drug use or that of a loved one, please feel free to reach out to us today. Our Admissions Specialists are available 24/7 at 855.712.7784. We can help.