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Signs of a High-Functioning Addict

picture of Joe Gilmore
Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

August 29, 2022 (Originally Published)

March 15, 2024 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

A person who can function while addicted to drugs presents a special and unique kind of risk because they often can mask their addiction. Friends and family might have little idea of the turmoil that their loved one faces. Recognizing the signs of a high functioning drug addict is essential to get them help and address the illness before it is too late.

Luckily, if you are able to recognize the signs that point to addiction, there are substance abuse programs and sober living homes in Orange County in place to help those achieve sobriety and stay on the straight and narrow.

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What is a Functioning Addict?

A functioning substance abuser is someone who falsely believes that they are able to function normally as they continue to abuse substances like drugs or alcohol. While they may be able to get through their day-to-day tasks, there is still a lot of internal struggle and unhealthy patterns being developed. Oftentimes, addiction starts with people who have other underlying problems that may be contributing to or causing their substance abuse. In these cases, the user takes drugs or drinks alcohol to cope rather than face the issue head-on. As you can probably guess, this only delays or exacerbates the underlying issue — making the situation worse in the long run.

Signs of a Functioning Addict

There are many signs that someone close to you may be a substance abuser. Take a look at some of the common problems that someone who is dealing with an addiction may exhibit.

Denial and Excuses

Like many addicts, high-functioning drug addicts will deny they have a problem and make excuses for signs that they have a drug problem. The difference between a high functioning drug addict and a non-high functioning addict is that their denials might seem plausible. Many addicts will chalk up their behavior to being typical in their line of work, or will justify their use, such as, “I deserve a break.” Breaking down these denials and excuses to get to the root of the behavior is essential in identifying the issue.

Using More Than Intended

One of the signs of a high-functioning drug addict is their inability to moderate behavior. They are addicted and will not ultimately be able to control their use of drugs. This will happen regularly and is a significant red flag that their drug use has become an addiction and is out of hand.

Friends and Associates Who Are Addicts

Addicts often spend their time with other addicts to enable behaviors and also gain access to drugs. The attitude can become, “Well, everyone else is doing it,” or, “These other people have a problem, not me.” This kind of comparison can be extremely detrimental, and a sign of a high functioning drug addict.

Loss of Passion for Interests

If someone begins to not care about things they once were passionate about, this is a concern. Perhaps they played an instrument, were involved in their community, or ran a fantasy football league. Whatever it was that they were passionate about, dropping that interest can be a sign that substance abuse is beginning to take over their lives. Friends who use become the priority, as does the use of drugs itself.

Money Problems

Drug addiction can be costly and not just in terms of its physical and emotional toll. If someone you love is encountering unexplained financial problems, this can be an indication of a problem. A drug habit is expensive, and an out-of-control addiction will cause even a high-functioning drug addict to spend more money than they can afford on drugs.

Appearing Unwell in the Mornings

High-functioning addicts often look physically bad first thing in the morning. Whether suffering from a traditional hangover or withdrawal symptoms, even when someone manages to combine active addiction with a regular schedule, they will often be unable to hide the physical backlash of drug abuse.

What Professions Carry The Highest Risk for Addiction?

According to SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association), the food preparation and restaurant industry carries the greatest risk for addiction.

In second place comes the construction industry, with the media/entertainment industry in third spot when it comes to the likelihood of workers developing an addiction.

Relatively high rates of addiction are also apparent in professions like law enforcement, due to the stress and cumulative trauma, as well as the work culture.

Perhaps surprisingly, many healthcare professionals can develop addictions – they are number 16 in SAMHSA’s breakdown of high-risk professions – and when they do so, they tend to be high-functioners.

Estimates suggest that anywhere from 10% to 15% of all healthcare professionals misuse either alcohol or drugs at some stage during their careers. The most common substance of abuse among this profession is alcohol, with prescription medications coming a close second.

Those healthcare professionals at highest risk of developing addiction include:

  • ER nurses
  • ER physicians
  • ER staff
  • Psychiatrists
  • Anesthesiologists

One of the primary risk factors for physicians and other health care providers is the ready access they have to drugs of abuse. Dentists and vets are also at heightened risk for this reason.

Pharmacists are also at high risk of developing addiction. NIDA data shows that up to 15% of pharmacists will experience problems with alcohol dependency or drug dependency at some point in their careers.

Beyond this, lawyers and finance professionals often struggle with functional addiction, due to a combination of burnout, stress, and a work-life imbalance.

Withdrawal Symptoms

From a psychological standpoint, a drug addict needs to use to feel “well.” Physically, an addict, even a high functioning one, will face withdrawal symptoms if they don’t use it. These symptoms include:

  •   Sweating
  •   Nausea
  •   Anxiety
  •   Headaches
  •   Agitation
  •   Runny nose
  •   Insomnia

The addict will have to find time to use, getting time away from you or, perhaps, calling a user friend. Withdrawal symptoms are an indication of a significant problem that is threatening their health. It’s imperative to get them help.

A Gradual Decline

Although a high-functioning drug addict is skilled at masking their addiction, eventually, things will begin to break down. They will lose their ability to function and focus, neglecting life responsibilities. With a high functioning drug addict, this decline will be reasonably noticeable because the behavior will be very much outside of their usual character.

Recognize the Signs of a High Functioning Drug Addict

Addiction doesn’t have to control your life, and you don’t have to face it alone. If you or a loved one is exhibiting signs of a high functioning drug addict, it’s not too late to get help.

The best addiction treatment programs geared toward a professional functioning drug addict will avoid any stigmatizing or shaming. One of the major fears experienced by professionals requiring addiction treatment is the impact on their careers. As such, functioning addict recovery provides a safe environment where professionals in recovery can be honest, both with themselves and with those around them.

The nature of high-functioning addiction is such that many people manage to hide their substance abuse or alcohol abuse for a long time. By the time high functioning addicts engage with treatment, emotional, behavioral, and physical issues are often fairly advanced. The most effective treatment programs for functioning addicts account for this by addressing physical and biological needs as well as any social risk factors and triggers for relapse. All the best rehabs offering programs for functioning addicts will offer a family therapy component, helping you to mend unraveled relationships with the help of a professional third-party.

Whether you are a functioning addict in need of treatment or you want to help a functioning addict in your life get the help they need, we can help here at Renaissance Recovery. Learn more by contacting us at 866.330.9449 and kickstart your journey to recovery.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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