Tell-tale Signs of a Functional Addict

Posted in: Addiction

April 25, 2014

A man drinking beer

Many people struggle with secret addictions each year. Some of them realize they have a problem that they cannot solve on their own, and so they seek professional help to begin the recovery process. But many others either think they do not have a problem, or they understand they have one but can handle the addiction without help.

People who refuse to get professional help for their addiction yet are very functional in life are commonly called functional addicts. It means that a person’s addiction is not always obvious to outside observers but is still very much present in their lives and is likely starting to affect their life negatively overall.

Traits of Functional Addicts

People may think that addictions prevent people from functioning in everyday life, but many addicts maintain careers, community activities and relationships with friends and family.

This means it can be difficult to tell if someone is dealing with an addiction or not, but David Sack says that you can recognize functional addiction by the following key traits:

  • Denial – Since functional addicts have avoided many of the negative consequences related to addiction, and since they can maintain some of the normalcy in their everyday life, they commonly deny that they have a problem. Additionally, their family and friends may deny the problem as well, either because they do not recognize it, or because they do not realize the severity of the situation.
  • Uncharacteristic behavior – All addictions have consequences, whether to health, careers or relationships. Noticing these slips in normal behavior can be a tell-tale sign of addiction.
  • Excuses – To continue the addiction, the functional addict must figure out how to hide his problem, which often means making excuses for unusual behavior
  • False appearance of normalcy – From the outside, most functional addicts look completely normal and healthy, but they have actually developed a complex double life that enables them to function in society while feeding their addictions

In other words, you can recognize functional addicts if you know what to look for.

Definition of Addiction

Addictions occur when a person engages in a behavior frequently enough that his brain becomes used to it, and eventually needs it to function normally. Addiction can occur in many situations: drug addictions are the most well-known addictions, but people can also be addicted to behaviors, such as gambling or online shopping. As Psychology Today explains, the key to addiction is that continuing to use the substance or engage in the activity develops into a compulsive behavior that “interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships or health.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Survey’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that, in 2012, around 22.2 million people aged 12 and over were classified with either a substance dependence or abuse problem. Most of these people had a problem related to alcohol, but more than seven million of them had a problem with illegal drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. And millions more people each year struggle with process addictions.

How to Help a Functional Addict

Addicts often deny that they have a problem, so close friends and family members who believe a loved one is an addict must confront them in a loving way. This intervention, which should be done with the assistance of a professional, is sometimes the only way a functional addict can get the help he needs. If you know someone who struggles with a functional addiction, call us at 615-490-9376.

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