Functional Addiction: Are You Living a Double Life?
From all outward appearances, Joe has a great life.
As CEO of a medium-sized company, he enjoys his work and finds it fulfilling. He maintains balance in his life by going to the gym each morning, participating in a humanitarian service organization, and setting aside time each day and on weekends to spend with his family and friends.
But Joe has a secret.
Living a Double Life
While his family and friends know that Joe likes to unwind with a few beers after work and maybe a shared bottle of wine with dinner, they do not recognize the extent of Joe’s drinking, which has steadily progressed over the past couple of years.
Recently Joe thought about cutting down, but he found that he missed the relaxed feeling that he got from drinking, so he quickly gave up on the idea.-Rita MiliosJoe now often drinks a couple of beers or glasses of wine at lunch, when he entertains vendors who visit his company. Once a month, Joe goes fishing all day with his buddies, and his beer consumption during these expeditions has crept up to approximately 10-12 beers per day. Still, Joe and his friends are not concerned because Joe seems to be functioning as well as he always has.
However, Joe, himself, is secretly becoming a bit concerned. He sometimes finds himself sneaking an extra beer or glass of wine and drinking it alone while in the garage. When he does this, he wonders, am I drinking too much? Recently Joe thought about cutting down, but he found that he missed the relaxed feeling that he got from drinking, so he quickly gave up on the idea. After all, he told himself, he is easily able to manage all the responsibilities associated with his work and family, so his drinking must not really be a problem.
But it is.
Joe is showing signs of being a functional alcoholic. Functional alcoholics and those with other drug-related functional addictions (to marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs, for example) are everywhere:
- A 2007 study by the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism (NIAAA) categorized approximately 19.5% of all alcoholics as the “functional” sub-type.
- According to the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment (U.S. Dept. of Justice), 8% of full-time and 10.2 % of part-time workers use illicit drugs.
- Workplace drug testing reveals that post-accident drug tests are four times more likely to find narcotics than pre-employment drug tests.
So Joe appears to have plenty of company in his functional addiction lifestyle.
Signs of Functional Addiction
While Joe appears to lead a “normal” life, there are signs present, if family and friends take a closer look. Functional addicts may display:
- Behavior changes when drinking or using– for example, talking more loudly or become more easily agitated
- Becoming defensive if questioned about their drinking or substance use
- Making excuses for increased use (“I have to entertain clients” etc.)
- Spending more time with friends who are heavy drinkers
- Finishing the drinks of others (“Don’t want it to go to waste”)
- Hiding or sneaking use of alcohol or drugs
Facing the Consequences
Joe may not realize it, but his outward respectability and ability to maintain a “normal” life, despite his increased drinking, may be coming to an end.
Sooner or later, functional addicts have to face the consequences of their addictions. Having managed to avoid detection for so long, it is often more difficult for functional addicts to seek help, and they may not seek assistance until real problems, like withdrawal symptoms, emotional or mental issues (ex: blackouts, memory loss), family problems or legal issues (DUIs) come into play. And when the cracks do start to show, the downward spiral for functional addicts can be much more rapid, because they have been able to let things go so far.
Having managed to avoid detection for so long, it is often more difficult for functional addicts to seek help, and they may not seek assistance until real problems, like withdrawal symptoms, emotional or mental issues (ex: blackouts, memory loss), family problems or legal issues (DUIs) come into play.-Rita Milios
Unfortunately, if money, prestige and social standing have made it more likely for a functional addict to be given a “pass” for bad behavior, and if a higher a income made it possible for them to afford to use their drug of choice in greater quantities, the functional addict may actually have to get closer to the point of dying from their addiction than other addicts do, before they are willing to reach out for help. They may feel greater concern about loss of prestige, career or social status. They may believe they have too many responsibilities to take time off to attend rehab. They may be resistant to asking for help because they view it as a sign of failure, and they are accustomed to always being successful–in their own eyes, and in the eyes of others.
Could You Be Functional Addict?
Do you see yourself in Joe’s story? Are you leading a “double life”? You can turn things around and return to a truly high-functioning lifestyle, not one that is based on illusion and deception.
You must first admit to yourself that you have gone off-track. Then, just like with any other problem you face at work or in your family life, begin to investigate where things went wrong and what needs to be done to get back on track. Enlist the help of trusted family members and friends. Ask (and allow) them to be totally honest with you about what they have observed. Ask them if they have they observed:
- Signs of deception: Have family or friends noticed discrepancies in stories or excuses you have made for your behavior?
- A need to make accommodations for you: Have family members, friends or employees given you a “pass” for bad behavior (short temper, inconsistency in keeping promises, embarrassing them)?
- They have become “enablers”: Have they supported your use of your drug of choice by purchasing it for you, using with you, or not speaking up when they notice that you may have overdone your consumption? Have they felt afraid to not enable you?
Seeking Real Success, Real Power
It is hard for anyone to admit that they have become addicted, and often even more so for successful, powerful people. But if you are fortunate enough to have the trappings of success, don’t you want to have real success, real power? These come not from what or how much you have, but from who you are, instead.
Should you have identified yourself in Joe’s story, do yourself a favor. Don’t continue to deny or make excuses. Don’t wait until you have lost everything. Begin to seek out help and find solutions that work for you and your lifestyle. Today, there are many avenues to rehabilitation from drug or alcohol abuse. For example, “executive” rehab programs understand and cater to the unique needs of high-functioning addicts, their schedules and their need for privacy.
You probably achieved the success you did because you were able to make good decisions. Make one more…to heal from your addiction.
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