Uncovering High Functioning Substance Abusers


My niece was a beautiful thirty year old wife and mother to three children. She had long, blonde, wavy hair that framed her bright blue eyes. She almost always had a smile on her face and would go out of her way to do a favor for anyone that knew her. She was employed full time most of her adult life, as well as taking on the duties of maintaining a household. She loved her family very much and tried her best to provide her children with a good life. Despite all the positives about her, my niece was also addicted to drugs. It started innocently enough, to treat a blood clotting disease she inherited. From treating the disease that ailed her, a hidden addiction began that ultimately took her life. From prescription opiates to street drugs, the downward spiral came hard and swift. Loved ones were left wondering how this could have happened to a woman who seemed to be holding it all together. My niece had done a superb job at concealing her disease and there are many others like her in the world. They manage to sustain gainful employment, maintain families and social schedules, as well as hide a often powerful addiction to drugs or alcohol.
They are often referred to as “high functioning addicts”. People addicted to alcohol or drugs that mask the symptoms of their disease so well that those close to them might never know the truth they fight so hard to keep concealed. In the immediate family there are generally no secrets, just things not talked about. Many times a spouse, child, or a parent of a high functioning addict will know what is truly happening but walks on eggshells to keep the peace. Addicts are known for denying, blaming, minimizing the addiction, and many families avoid the problem until it is too late. This dysfunctional atmosphere affects everyone and could cause emotional troubles for future generations if left unresolved.
The high functioning alcoholic or drug addict leads a double life. On the outside they seem like any other person. They hold down employment, take care of their families, stay active with friends, and often have high achieving qualities. High function addicts detest those that wear their addiction on their sleeve and live in great denial that a problem exists. The familiar question from them is, “If I had a drug problem, would I be able to go to work everyday and take care of my family?” They will find the idea of a drug problem humorous as they go on about the successes they have in their lives. The ability these addicts have to go on for a great length of time without any noticeable problems does eventually come to an end. No one is able to hide an addiction forever. They may lose a spouse or get a DUI and then the problems continue to escalate.
If you suspect that someone you love may be masking an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal substances there are things you may consider doing to help them. If attempts to convince them through confrontation have failed, don't give up. You could speak with other family members and convince them that avoiding the problem is not going to make it go away. (My one regret in regards to my niece's death is not trying to discuss her addiction with her family.) Talk about staging an intervention. There are treatment centers in most areas that will aid the process or private counselors that specialize in intervention services. You could use your internet search engine to find one close to you. In closing, I just want to say that waiting for your loved one to hit “rock bottom” is not necessary in order for them to begin the path to recovery. The earlier the addiction is recognized, the better the chances of long term recovery.


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