We are certainly all aware of the classic cautionary tales of substance abuse, whether that message came from our parents, teachers, religion, or even peers. They painted a picture of pure misery—that we would end up in a gutter or homeless; that we would lie and steal and pawn TVs for our next fix; or, that our drinking will become the only thing we care about in this world.
Though many of us can relate to part or all of those messages, the reality is that many of us can also relate to the story related to CNN by an anonymous addict as he describes his first interaction with opioids:
“The 11 years since have been a dance with opioid addiction, even as he graduated from college and embarked on a successful career in corporate management. Now 26, he has gone stretches where he’s been sober, but the pull is strong and keeps yanking him back.”1
That pull that “keeps yanking” is a sign that this is a person who is not “doing fine” but rather, is an extremely high functioning addict. This is not to take away from their accomplishments, but those in and of themselves will become diminishing returns if action isn’t taken to reframe the addiction as a non-negotiable state of being for living fully. In other words, being a high functioning addict can exacerbate denial and prevent you from seeking help.
The National Institutes of Health published data suggesting that the number of self-reporting men with an Alcohol Use Disorder “classifies 32% [of those reported] as being a functional or highly functional alcoholic.2”
Which one am I?
For those on a journey to sobriety, temptations can arise constantly—not only in the form of readily available addictive activities with which to engage (alcohol, gambling, etc.) but also in the guise of those who swear they “have it all together” and “have rules” to prevent things from getting out of control.
This is a pipe dream. When considering if you, the sober-curious or sober-committed person, can maintain your addiction via self-control or willpower, ask yourself these questions:
1) Do I want to be a functional human being with possibilities or a high-functioning addict with endless routines to enable my substance use?
2) Disregard your attendance record at your job and your professional acumen. Other than that, are you functioning highly in your work and life?
3) Your work associates will never be able to assess the person you are without the substance. No one knows you THAT well at work. Therefore, they never ask the hard questions addicts need to get to the truth of their condition.
But I’ve never had a problem!
Chances are good that if you are looking at this page, you have a feeling that you (or a loved one) have a substance use problem. You also likely want a better life for yourself or someone you care about. High functioning substance abuse can be extremely tricky to navigate, especially if an addict is starting to lose their grip on what it means to be healthy. Our culture places a premium on working longer hours at a faster pace—that’s a recipe for disaster for anyone with an active addiction problem.
In Jane Brody’s New York Times piece on the subject, she found “A further problem in identifying and getting help for high-functioning alcoholics is that they often do not meet the criteria for alcohol abuse described in the psychiatric diagnostic manual. They have good jobs, perform the expected tasks of daily life and avoid legal problems.3”
Put another way, just because you haven’t sunk to the gutter or pleaded your case in front of a judge, consequences for drug and alcohol abuse remain. Eventually, the habit catches up with everyone, whether you have: overconfidence in your own abilities (functionality at work doesn’t necessarily equate to quality work); a drop-off in social and family interactions due to uncontrolled use; failed relationships; and, health problems directly related to substance abuse.
If you are reading these words and find truth ringing out to you, remember that you can hold that feeling and nourish it. Find out if something’s there, whether it’s a genuine concern or a fleeting worry. The best solution you can provide for yourself is to be humble yet courageous enough to find true recovery for yourself and those you love. This is what True Recovery is all about—assessing who you really are and showing how to recognize that person inside—one who is happy, healthy, and mindful, and looking toward a brighter future. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.