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7 Signs of High Functioning Addiction

A particular population of people who are experiencing a drug or alcohol use disorder may continue to function, and perform daily responsibilities. However, they can also hide their addiction while remaining at a functional level. Those with high functioning addiction continue to work and interact with friends and family while denying the problem. 

This population is typically a professional, responsible for many people, and in most cases, in a high-stress occupation. First responders, flight attendants, and those in the medical profession working with traumatizing situations may be experiencing a substance use disorder. Additionally, they could have a mental health condition without showing any signs or symptoms. 

What is High Functioning Addiction?

When describing high functioning substance abusers, appearances are deceiving. First, they seem to be functioning normally and performing successfully, but there is an intense struggle inside. These driven individuals somehow make it through the day, some using substances behind closed doors throughout the day.

The addiction may begin by using alcohol or a substance to cope with issues they are unable to resolve. This secretive negative coping mechanism can quickly develop into an addiction. High functioning abusers have many similar qualities and habits. Co-workers, family, and friends may be oblivious to the addiction.

A stressful and dangerous internal struggle butts up against a wall of denial from within continually plays over and over in their thoughts. These people are typically respected within their community, family, and occupation.

The following components of high functioning addiction are red flags to look for. 


In general, those with a substance use disorder suffer from a sense of denial. High functioning users will deny any problems and make sensible excuses for their behaviors quickly and without much thought. They do not look like the stereotypical addict. When questions occur, these individuals justify with rational thoughts; they work hard and are professionals.

There are stressful and difficult days that allow for more excuses to be made to justify drinking or drug use, and denial is a stumbling block to seeking help to detox from drugs. Many high functioning abusers attend events and social interactions where drinking is acceptable, allowing for more excuses. 

#2. Can’t Stop Drinking or Using Substance

Those with a substance use disorder develop a tolerance and then dependence on their substance and find it challenging to reach the desired effect. High-functioning abusers are in a constant struggle to control and limit their habits for appearance’s sake.

Driven professionals set limits for themselves but cannot successfully restrict themselves because of denial. Blackouts and memory loss are disturbing but are still not a reason to stop drinking or using their substance. 

#3. Issues at Work or School Due to Addiction

High functioning addiction can appear when negative issues at work or school begin to become noticeable. Uncharacteristic behaviors start at school or work, with a disheveled morning appearance or an inability to show usual energy.

Rough communications with coworkers, flying off the handle, or being easily aggravated are typical measures of losing control. Lying about shortcomings and making excuses for a lack of fulfilling standards is a sign something is amiss. The National Institute on Health claims that 20% of alcoholics are high functioning, well-educated professionals. 

#4. Getting Angry or Defensive When Confronted About Addiction

There is a stigma associated with addiction, so when someone insinuates that the high functioning abuser may have a problem, anger arises. Internally, these individuals do not believe they need help because they have not hit rock bottom, and they are not the typical addicts.

High functioning substance abusers are embarrassed and feel a combination of emotions and feelings they express through unexpected and uncontrollable angry outbursts. This uncharacteristic anger is a defense against more uncomfortable confrontations. 

#5. Spending Time with Friends who Drink or Use Drugs

High functioning abusers tend to rely on the company of other people in the same situation. They hold each other up with their sense of denial and deceptive thoughts.

In addition, they help each other believe there is no problem with their behavior. Spending time with friends who drink or use drugs also gives the abuser an opportunity to get more of their substance. 

#6.May Experience Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are challenging to cope with for those with high functioning addictions. These individuals need to look good, feel well, and function as if they are mentally and physically stable.

In times when it is difficult to maintain the levels of alcohol or substance needed, withdrawal symptoms may appear. The pressure is on the high functioning professional to find an opportunity to get a drink or use their drug. 

Withdrawal symptoms to watch for can include:

  • Sweating and runny nose
  • Nausea and headache
  • Agitation and aggression
  • Insomnia

#7. Loved Ones May Enable Them

Many high functioning abusers have family, friends, or supervisors who enable their habit. Many times, loved ones unknowingly carry out dysfunctional relationships, unaware that their behavior is allowing the abuse to continue.

Without realizing the extent of the problem, enablers will offer a drink to relax or the opportunity to go out with friends to leave the worries behind for a while. The high functioning addiction is difficult to pinpoint for people who depend on their loved ones for basic wants and needs. 

Treatment and Therapy for High Functioning Addictions

There are many options for high functioning addiction treatment. Many treatment centers recognize the high percentage of professionals experiencing this trend. Specialty therapies are available for this specific need. Detox for women only is one option for female professionals who feel uncomfortable being in treatment with men. Likewise, detox for men is an option. 

After detox, inpatient drug or alcohol rehab is an ideal treatment option. For some, outpatient programs are more successful and acceptable. Finding a program with evidence-based therapies is imperative for a successful recovery. Behavioral therapies allow learning new coping mechanisms and better options for dealing with occupational, educational, and familial problems. 

Find Treatment for High Functioning Addiction in Georgia

First responders, medical professionals, businessmen, and women belong to a large percentage of those who experience high functioning addiction. The Retreat of Atlanta in Georgia offers the opportunity for gender-specific detox. Evidence-based therapies are available to make behavior changes and learn new coping mechanisms.

Contact the center today to take the first step in recovery. 


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