Being Alert To Excuses and Behaviors Helps In Recognizing Highly Functioning Addicts
Recognizing Highly Functioning Addicts and Alcoholics who don’t display the usual telltale signs, and getting them help could potentially save a life.
Many people have a perception of addicts as being incapable of functioning on a day-to-day basis. This idea usually comes with visions of shallow faces, pale complexions, and shaky hands. The fact is that addiction settles in long before any of these types of signs emerge. In many cases, the early warning signs are so subtle that people who are at risk for addiction may not realize what is happening, simply because they are able to juggle work, home, and other activities with what seems to be ease.
Since addiction can happen to anyone, it helps to be aware of these early signs and how they gradually affect people who are essentially high functioning addicts. Doing so makes it easier to identify the problem early on and take the steps necessary to overcome the addiction before any permanent damage is done.
Occasional Use Becomes Daily Use
Addiction to anything from alcohol to prescription medication can begin innocently enough. A drink at the end of a rough day at work turns into a regular ritual, even on days when things went smoothly. Before long, that one drink turns into two drinks. Over time, those after-work drinks are joined with a cocktail during the lunch hour, usually as a means of fortifying the individual for whatever is to come that afternoon.
During this phase, it becomes easier to reach for a bottle or mix a drink, even when there seems to be no real reason to do so. Drinking socially moves on to drinking at home alone, as a means of enjoying the weekend a little more. The addict may begin to keep a bottle in a desk drawer, making it easy to have a quick nip just before going into a meeting. If left unchecked, it becomes harder to cope without having something to drink first.
The same general situation can occur with prescription medications. When used in accordance with the physician’s instructions, the potential for addiction is somewhat limited. The problem begins when the medication seems as though it’s not working quite as well anymore. At that point, it becomes necessary to take more in order to achieve the same effect.
For example, a patient who is diagnosed with anxiety may be prescribed a substance such as Alprazolam (Xanax) to help calm a racing mind, provide a sense of clarity, and make it easier to deal with stress. At first, the dosage works quite well and it is possible to function with ease. As the body begins to build up immunity to the medication, more is needed to achieve the same effect. First, it is one more pill a day, then two, and ultimately a self-prescribed dosage that is completely out of line with what the physician originally instructed.
These examples are sometimes known as creeping addiction. To others, the individual seems to be doing just fine. Inside, the desire for one more drink or pill moves past wanting to remain balanced to being a real need in order to keep up appearances.
People Do Begin to Notice
Another sign that someone is a highly functioning addict is when others begin to notice changes in that person. The changes will be subtle at first, but will eventually escalate. Perhaps the addict is normally well balanced in terms of temperament but has begun to experience an unusual amount of irritability that comes and goes. Interestingly enough, that irritable nature comes out of nowhere and then seems to disappear just as quickly as it came. Coworkers, friends, and spouses begin to notice that the sudden restoration of a good mood seems to always happen after the addict makes a quick trip to the bathroom or slips out for a quick walk.
What people don’t know but may come to suspect is that those brief withdrawals work their magic because the addict is using something to calm down that inner turmoil. A quick drink or another pill will only take a few minutes to begin working. Once they do, it’s easier to calm down, return to normal activities, and act as if nothing has happened.
Over a period of weeks or months, the pattern becomes set in stone. It may even begin to occur several times a day. Even though the addict is still showing up at work on time and getting everything done before the end of the day, it is obvious that something is not right.
Crashing After Work
The ability to get through the day will often come at a cost for an addict. Once he or she is back home, there is no longer the need for any type of pretense. Within this environment, it is easy to start drinking before eating any type of evening meal. If drugs are involved, they take priority over anything else, including family members. In some cases, the abuse may become so severe that for a few hours the functioning addict is no longer functional.
By morning, it is possible to get up, shower, dress, and get to work. From there, the pattern of sneaking a little something here and there during the day resumes. Those periods of blacking out after work become more common. From there, it won’t be long before the addict needs something before leaving the house in the morning, just to get through the commute and show up looking refreshed.
Help For the Functioning Addict
In order for any type of treatment to commence, it is necessary to admit there is a problem. While coworkers and loved ones can and should voice their concerns, it will take time for the addict to stop justifying the behavior. For many, it will take one or two episodes of missing a deadline, having a meltdown during a meeting, or realizing that Monday arrives and there is no recollection of what happened after getting home on Friday afternoon.
Once the addict admits that he or she needs help, it is much easier to get the ball rolling. Treatment is available in both inpatient and outpatient forms. All attempts to overcome the addiction and learn how to manage it responsibly must take place under the care of a physician. While this may be the hardest thing that the individual has ever done, admitting there is a problem and committing fully to the treatment process makes it possible to undo much of the damage and learn how to live without the need to abuse any type of substance.
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About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.