One of the biggest misconceptions about addiction is that if you can manage to keep a job, a house, a car, and not go to jail, that these things define whether or not you’re addicted. But the truth is you don’t have to hit rock bottom in the traditional sense, in order to get sober.
Addiction is a spectrum and there are people who fit into every category. At the extreme end of addiction there are the people that do lose everything, who become homeless, jobless, and are holding on to life by thread. These are the people we often hear about on the news, and in society, and they fit the stereotype of what the average person believes to be an addict.
What many people don’t understand is that there are people on the other end of the addiction spectrum and in between. There are people who binge drink two or three times a week, there are those who black out twice a month, and others who drink wine at home by themselves every night, but have never faced dire consequences. Addiction isn’t black and white and even if you have a functioning life, that doesn’t mean your life isn’t unmanageable.
What is a high-functioning addict?
Although high-functioning addict isn’t a scientific term, you can assume it means someone on the addiction spectrum who has not lost all. They might not have experienced many outwardly negative effects of their drinking and using habits, but that doesn’t mean their addiction hasn’t impacted their life. The following characteristics are often true of high-functioning addicts:
- They micromanage their life. They often feel as if they’re holding everything together, but juggling many things at once.
- They have not experienced devastating consequences due to their alcohol and drug use. They may have experienced some negative effects, but they were able to overcome them.
- Denial is strong. This is due to the fact that they don’t believe their using is an issue because there are no devastating consequences.
- No hangovers. High-functioning addicts might not experience hangovers because they are used to having to take care of their everyday responsibilities while using. On the other hand, they might experience hangovers, but they are used to going to work and completing tasks while hungover.
- Unaware of help. Many high-functioning addicts or alcoholics don’t know help is available for them or that anyone can recover, even people who don’t see the darkest depths of their addiction. They might not consider that sobriety and addiction treatment could be for them.
- Surround themselves with others who drink and use similarly. This is a tactic used by many who have a substance use disorder. We often gravitate towards those who drink and use like us. In the case of the high-functioning alcoholic, it’s easier for them to ignore their own habits if they are surrounded by others who they believe drink or use more frequently or a greater level.
How do you know if you’re an addict or an alcoholic?
Now that you know what a high-functioning addict or alcoholic is, how can you tell if you are one? How do you know if it’s time you need help? Do high-functioning addicts need help too?
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Take a real look at how your drinking and using is impacting your life. Comparison could help you stay in your addiction. If you’re just comparing yourself to others, you don’t get a real picture of how your addiction is affecting your life.
- Examine how you feel inside. I know for myself, on the outside I looked happy, successful, and content. But on the inside I was void of self-worth and riddled with guilt, shame, and sadness. I had to be honest with myself and when the pain became too great I knew I needed a change.
- Understand how and why you use alcohol and drugs. What do I mean by that? I mean you should examine why you use. Do you drink aged wines for the taste? One glass at a time? Or do you drink any type of alcohol you can get your hands on? Do you drink on bad days or good days? Do you turn to alcohol and drugs when you are emotional or can’t deal with life? These everyday habits will define whether your using is problematic or not. Even if you don’t drink or use every day, if you’re doing it to deal with emotions, that is problematic.
- Can you have fun without drugs and alcohol? If you are convinced that fun only happens with drugs and alcohol are present, you might want to further examine your using habits. I was one of those people who thought the world revolved around alcohol. If you weren’t drinking at a wedding, what was the point of being there? It took sobriety for me to see that this is a distorted view of reality.
- You’re stuck in the cycle. If you’ve been wanting to cut back or quit drinking, but find yourself making the decision to drink anyway, you might be stuck in the cycle of addiction. This cycle can be toxic and exhausting. I can’t tell you how many silent promises I made to myself that I would go for a week or month without drinking, only to find a reason to drink the following day. It can seem impossible to get out of the cycle, but the truth is you can. You don’t have to live that way forever.
Whether you’re on the low end, high end, or middle of the addiction spectrum, help is available and recovery is possible. I wish someone would have told me that when I was stuck in my cycle of drinking. I didn’t think sobriety was for me. I didn’t think I actually had a problem, but I did. I’m relieved that I gave sobriety a chance because it has provided me with gratitude, happiness, and a will to live a life better than I ever thought possible.