The High-Functioning Addict—Hiding in Plain Sight

By: Michael Plahn

The High-Functioning Addict is a term used to describe an individual who may appear to have a very productive, seemingly manageable, and in some cases an almost idyllic life…on the outside. However, it is as if he/she is living a secret dual-life. One of productivity, maybe even marked with high-achievement, while the other is a life of escape through alcohol, drugs, and/or other addictions (that the addict’s family may be oblivious). This person is able to succeed in their life well enough to where the effects of their addiction(s) has not impacted the life they project to others. This article is written about alcohol and other mind-altering drugs, but other addictions may apply.

According to an article by Kristen McGuiness: Are You a High-Functioning Addict? published on the Huffington Post website, The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported in a 2007 study, that claimed 19.5 percent of all alcoholics(nearly four million people) are of the “functional” subtype.

Every high-functioning addict whom I have ever met in Recovery admits to having excruciating dark times that other addicts also report. However, my experience, both personally and professionally, is that career success and wealth can delay or even prevent the initiation of the Recovery process. Career and personal successes, wealth, power and ego-inflation stemming from an impressive title or elite social circles can actually defer the emotional and spiritual pain that is typically involved with an addicted individual’s willingness to seek help. An addict’s type of career can even seemingly promote over-indulgence and make certain behavior (as long as it is not egregious) acceptable, if it is for the good of the firm.

Some high-functioning addicts have the means to take extraordinary measures to keep the pain away. This is exemplified by one Recovering addict, who asked to remain anonymous, who stated, “I knew an eight-figure guy who bought a new car every two months to get enough juice to keep the pain away; it actually worked for a while.”

Having a high-functioning person with elevated status (be it a celebrity or someone respected in a professional community) come forward about his/her struggles and subsequent Recovery is rare. Anonymity has been synonymous with most successful Recovery. Instead, we hear about the horror stories, PR nightmares, and tragedies of celebrities and professional athletes.

However, recently Chicagoans were privy to a very public admission of a struggle with addiction. A letter was posted on the WGN-TV website, written by evening news anchor Mark Suppelsa, where he admitted to having a problem with alcohol and was voluntarily entering Hazelden’s Center City, MN location for treatment. He returned a month later, as planned, and received overwhelming support from viewers, fans, colleagues, and management at WGN. The brief letter defined a very secretive high-functioning individual who was finally ready to seek help.

I am an Addiction Recovery Expert and someone who was once a high-functioning addict who understands that a high-achieving addict has tremendous responsibility. At LifeSkills Authorities, LLC. (“LSA”), I help families and self-referring individuals find appropriate help for addiction, depression, anxiety, and related issues. While it may be obvious to others and recommended by professionals to take an extended leave of absence, at LSA we look at each situation individually to find the most appropriate and realistic solution for the afflicted individual and those affected by their affliction to begin the Recovery process.

Without professional help and a well-designed and appropriate plan that is respected by the bright high-functioning person, the request to seek help usually stops abruptly. If you want a positive outcome and a plan that will help a high-functioning addict begin to recover, contact LSA now to learn about The LSA Pre-Treatment Solution and our other individualized approaches to solving our clients’ concerns.

LifeSkills Authorities, (LSA) helps individuals and families who suffer from the effects of addiction, depression, mood disorders, chronic pain and/or aging issues. LifeSkills Authorities is unmatched in its role as an objective advocate that creates a customized plan and blueprint for recovery.  This personalized solution ends the needless suffering and brings about healing and positive change for the afflicted individual, family, and loved ones.  LifeSkills Authorities is based in the Chicagoland area and serves clientele nationwide.


Hitting Bottom: A Deadly Myth About Addiction

By: Michael Plahn

Following is a flat-out myth that I have encountered with multiple clients and prospective clients in the past few weeks; it is a commonly accepted view held by many (even some in recovery, who are unaware of proven clinical methods) about the addicted or persons suffering from certain mental illness.

“I know they (addicted person) must “hit bottom” before they can get help. I know there is really nothing anyone can do until this happens and they become willing to change.”

Yes, an addicted person is likely unable to change without help.  One of the main reasons is that addiction affects the mind and prevents some of the brightest and even high-functioning individuals from seeing the same reality as seen by an outsider.  Addiction and/or untreated mental illness can create extreme levels of denial and self-deception.  For this reason, as you may have read in my previous postings, I attempt to keep logic out of the process when helping and afflicted person.  Why?  Because when it comes to discussing his or her own addiction or illness, I am not dealing with a rational or logical person.  So, I have found keeping logic out of the process to be very effective.

LSA’s Pre-Treatment Solution includes what is essentially an Intervention.  Yet, it is actually only about 20% of the entire LSA solution.  There are many other essential components to help a person embrace help willingly, as well as help the family as a whole.  LSA’s Family Meeting/Intervention is not the entire process; it is a piece of the solution.

The reason I refer to intervening on an individual, as a Family Meeting is to dispel fear caused by some coercive “sneak-attack” versions that may have been seen on TV.  At LSA, we use a transparent model with a compassionate loving approach for facilitating our Family Meetings / Interventions. Yes, we tell the addicted or afflicted person that we are going to have a meeting on a certain date…it actually establishes respect and eliminates secrets.  And, guess what?  The process is extraordinarily effective and the addicted person tends to be present at that first meeting.

Let’s get back to this question about “hitting bottom” as it is an important myth that must be dispelled (and, truthfully, its also the title of my post).  If you wait for your loved-one’s bottom, there is a high likelihood that this person will encounter tragedy and possibly die waiting for this bottom.  Addiction is a disease with endless bottoms.   If a highly trained, objective professional coordinates a compassionate approach (without negative emotion, or logic) there is a good chance the result can be different.  With this loving and compassionate approach, along with extremely detailed planning, it is absolutely possible to “Raise the afflicted person’s bottom so they can reach out and accept help.”

So, if someone you care about is in the throws of addiction and/or untreated mental illness, you can alter their path of destruction and misery.  However, I caution you as I have written before, that I still have not met anyone who has successfully facilitated this process (without objective professional help) for someone they love.  I strongly encourage you to hire a competent professional trained in a variety of Intervention formats (I recommend a compassionate and transparent format).  Contact LSA now to learn how we can help you and someone who may be in trouble.


Drug Rates Increase Among Youths (12 to 17) and Young Adults (18 to 25)

According to the recently published 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH),  among youths aged 12 to 17, the current illicit drug use rate increased from 2008 (9.3%) to 2009 (10%), despite a previous decline between 2002 and 2008, from 11.6 to 9.3%.

The rates amongst young adults aged 18 to 25 also increased from 19.6 in 2008 to 21.2% in 2009, driven largely by an increase in marijuana use (from 16.5 to 18.1%).

Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically.

  • Marijuana use among youths aged 12 to 17 increased to 7.3% in 2009 from 6.7% in 2007 and 2008.
  • Prescription Drugs for nonmedical use among youths aged 12 to 17 had declined from 4% in 2002 to 2.9% in 2008, then held steady at 3.1% in 2009.   Increases also occurred among young adults aged 18 to 25 from 5.5 to 6.3%, driven primarily by an increase in pain reliever misuse (from 4.1 to 4.8%).
  • Ecstasy use among youths aged 12 to 17 declined from 0.5% in 2002 to 0.3% in 2004, remained at that level through 2007, then increased to 0.5% in 2009.
  • There were decreases in the use of cocaine (from 2.0 to 1.4 percent) and methamphetamine (from 0.6 to 0.2 percent).

Where do the prescription drugs come from?

Among persons aged 12 or older in 2008-2009 who used pain relievers nonmedically in the past 12 months, 55.3% got the drug they most recently used from a friend or relative for free. Another 17.6% reported they got the drug from one doctor. Only 4.8% got pain relievers from a drug dealer or other stranger, and 0.4% bought them on the Internet. Among those who reported getting the pain reliever from a friend or relative for free, 80% reported in a follow-up question that the friend or relative had obtained the drugs from just one doctor.

The NSDUH is an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The survey is the primary source of information on the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States aged 12 years old or older.


Not My Kid: Dealing with drug use of your child’s friend

Post by Sarah Wilde

You pick up your child and a friend from a party and notice something is off.   Not with your child but with the friend who is sleeping over.  What do you do?   Shrug it off to teenage behavior?   Let them sleep it off and pray your son/daughter finds new friends?   You may think … “it’s not my child, who am I to say anything?”    Well, one thing is certain:  not being their parent may mean you have a bigger impact on this child than you estimated.   You have the power to be a positive influence in this child’s life, as well as the obligation as a parent to protect your own child.

Research shows that kids start using drugs because they think it will help them feel better – especially from stress or depression, fit in, or they just want to take risks.  Spending time with a friend who is using will increase the likelihood that your child will use too.  Statistics show that every day approximately 4,500 Americans under 18 try marijuana for the first time.   Treatment for marijuana is the primary reason children are admitted into treatment programs – more than for all other illicit drugs combined.

Scientific research tells us that addiction is not a matter of will and is actually a disease of the brain.  While not all teenage drug or alcohol use will lead to addiction, there is no certainty over when use may turn to abuse or dependence.   Regardless of full-blown addiction, many negative consequences may develop such as poor grades, loss of interest in athletics or extra-curriculars, problems at home or in relationships, even trouble with the law.

You can make a difference in the life of a child who is using.  Sometimes kids aren’t aware of the harmful and lasting effects that can occur with drug use and need an understanding person to talk to.   Many kids have parents with alcohol or drug problems of their own and alerting the parent isn’t going to help the matter.   As an adult and parent there are resources available to you that will help you learn more about how to help children of substance abusers.  The National Clearinghouse  for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) can help – call 1-800-788-2800 or visit www.health.org.

If you have an open ear with the understanding parent of the child in question, talk with them.   Explain everything you have used to educate yourself on the topic and explain what you know about the harms and consequences of even “recreational” use.   Stay involved and it could be a matter of changing the course of both that child’s life and your own.


Intervene Young to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse Later

A new study finds specific brain regions that may play a role in the development of childhood anxiety, that may later lead to the adult child self-medicating through alcohol and drugs.

The findings could lead to new methods of early detection and treatment to intervene on at-risk children, according to study leader Ned. H. Kalin, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Children with anxious temperaments suffer from extreme shyness, persistent worry and increased bodily responses to stress. It has long been known that these children are at increased risk of developing anxiety, depression and associated substance abuse disorders,” Kalin said in a university news release.

“We believe that young children who have higher activity in these brain regions are more likely to develop anxiety and depression as adolescents and adults, and are also more likely to develop drug and alcohol problems in an attempt to treat their distress,” he said.

The findings, published in the Aug. 12 issue of Nature, suggest it may be possible to prevent children from developing full-blown anxiety.

“My feeling is that the earlier we intervene with children, the more likely they will be able to lead a happy life in which they aren’t as controlled by anxiety and depression. We think we can train vulnerable kids to settle their brains down,” Kalin said.


Teenage Drinking Has Lasting Detrimental Effects

Post by Sarah Wilde

Adolescent binge drinking is increasing and causes long-term effects on the brain.  While often considered a problem, it creates more damaging effects than just poor decisions, illegal behavior and regretful exchanges.    According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, yet another study shows that binge drinking interferes with normal brain activity, in a manner which has lasting effects.   Heavy alcohol consumption over 11 months “dramatically and persistently decreased” cell activity, including the division of a certain type of cells, and significantly altered certain cells, creating a lasting alcohol-induced reduction affecting development.  

The study concludes that the period of adolescence is highly vulnerable to alcohol and that alcohol decreases neural turnover by altering the ongoing process of neuronal development.  The lasting effect was still seen 2 months after discontinuation of alcohol.  This lasting effect, the study says, may underlie the deficits in cognitive tasks that are observed in alcoholics.

The next time your teenager tells you that their drinking is “no big deal,” remind them that it actually is.   Binge alcohol consumption in teenagers means that they are not only getting drunk in the moment but negatively impacting their ability to function in the future.   These kids are in fact reducing hippcampal neurogenesis, which is the process of creating new neurons, and is essential to the growing brain and activities such as learning and memory.    Drinking excessively after this weekend’s football game or for next weekend’s parties and events is setting up impaired memory and reasoning ability for years to come.   Parents do not always seem to understand the long-term ramifications of teenage drinking.   Some parents think it is the easier thing to cave into their teens desire to drink, and others choose not to know or ask too many questions.  

As a parent it is our job to keep our kids healthy and set them up for a successful future.   Just like sunblock is needed today to prevent cancer tomorrow, intervention on our teenagers drinking is necessary today to prevent dramatic effects to their growing brains tomorrow.   If you need help, LifeSkills Authorities provides consultation to families and schools on how to speak with your kids about alcohol and its consequences.  Contact us now so that we can help you educate your family and children before they’ve set unhealthy patterns that are more difficult to break.

Full study available here.    Have you discovered a helpful way to teach your children about the harmful effects of alcohol?   Share with our community – post your comments here.


Can your child “JUST SAY NO?”

Post by Michael Plahn

The idea of just saying “NO” to drugs or alcohol when I was going to school became a popular slogan.  The idea Nancy Reagan got behind was, in theory, a noble attempt at dealing with the alarming addiction rate and cocaine epidemic of the early 1980′s.  However, after much more study has taken place, it is a more complicated issue than just saying no to drugs and alcohol, or having strong willpower.  Especially if the addicted person is an adolescent or young adult.

reason is that an area of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex, which regulates judgement, impulse control, and self-monitoring, does not fully develop until the individual is approximately twenty-five years old.  Therefore,it is much different than just a willpower issue or solved by hanging out with a new crowd.  Your teenager or young adult may be virtually handcuffed by their addiction and lack the ability to “just say NO” because the part of their brain that could help them in that cpacity has not been fully developed, or even worse, likely damaged by the alcohol and drug use.

What can be done?  In my opinion, this is definitely a situation that requires professional help.  The addicted young person has likely shown signs of psychiatric issues and may be acting out in a manner that has the family feeling as though “this is not our son/daughter/sibling” … “they have changed.”  Well, they very well may have changed.  As the founder of  LifeSkills Authorities, and someone in recovery myself, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help immediately.  This is not an issue that is likely going to get better by getting them into college and living on their own.  That false hope often leads to more problems and tragedies during the first years of college.  I urge you to get a professional opinion and go into it with an open mind.  Successful treatment is likely going to be a long-term solution, goes beyond a simple intervention or 30-day treatment program, and can be costly.

I have personally sat with countless families who think things will get better and their child will somehow just change.  Don’t be the parents that take that chance with your child’s life.  Addiction is a progressive and terminal disease that requires professional help to treat, particularly when the addict in question is a young adult.  After a tragedy, hindsight may make it painfully obvious to see where the path was leading.    Perhaps it would have been the answer to use the college money you saved for education, and instead pay for the proper long-term professional addiction treatment for your son/daughter.

If you are reading this and can relate to this topic matter or have a personal story to share, please comment and let us hear from you.


Are Females More Susceptible to Addiction?

Post by Sarah Wilde

Teenage girls and young adult women are particularly at risk when they abuse drugs and alcohol.   Bad habits stemming from an early age lead to decisions that may impact them for the rest of their lives.  Female drug abuse is a problem in this country that often extends beyond the female user.   Moms abusing drugs affect their children and pregnant women affect the developing fetus.  

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., the Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse says that “research increasingly suggests that women may be more vulnerable than men to particular consequences of drug abuse, including addiction. This greater vulnerability may stem from gender-specific differences in motivations for drug use, differing sensitivities to drug effects, and a host of other biological and environmental factors. And while more research is needed, animal models and clinical studies alike suggest that females may be more vulnerable than males to the rewarding effects of drugs, which could increase their risk for dependence.”

The NIDA also tells us “among the youngest age group (12- to 17-year-olds), males and females had similar rates of current drug use for cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, and the nonmedical use of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in 2007. Moreover, young females surpassed males in current cigarette use in 2006 and in dependence on or abuse of alcohol in 2006 and 2007. This is particularly troubling given that the adolescent brain is still developing, and we are just beginning to understand how drug exposure could affect brain structure, connectivity, and function during this vulnerable time.”

Drug use during pregnancy (including the use of tobacco and alcohol) presents injurious effects on both the mother and fetus.  Females using during pregnancy set up a heightened drug abuse risk for the offspring in adolescence and young adulthood, according to Volkow.  It is scary and sad to learn that in 2006-2007, 5.2 percent of pregnant women aged 15-44 had used an illicit drug in the past month and 16.6 percent were current users of tobacco products.

If you or someone you know is abusing drugs or alcohol it is never too early or late to get someone help.  Both Mother’s Day and Women’s Health Week are approaching in May.   To honor this, tell the women in your life how important their good health is to you, and if they need help do your part to intervene.   If you feel you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, take the first step toward recovery and ask for help.


Teenage Drug Use by State

Post by Sarah Wilde

Teenage use of illegal drugs is indeed an issue, as more and more teenagers are becoming addicted across the country.   The below map shows the prevalence of illicit drug use in the past month among persons aged 12 to 17, in the U.S. by State.   Percentages and annual averages are based on the 2006 and 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (SAMHSA).   The majority of states show more than 1 in 10 teens using illicit drugs in the past month.  Do you know how your state is affected by teenage drug use?

 States listed here in alphabetical order within each group were divided into five groups based on the magnitude of their percentages. States in the highest group (10.76 to 12.92 percent) were Colorado, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. States in the next highest group (10.10 to 10.75 percent) were Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. States in the mid group (9.59 to 10.09 percent) were California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. States in the next lowest group (8.79 to 9.58 percent) were Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia. States in the lowest group (7.15 to 8.78 percent) were Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah.


Is my teenage daughter an alcoholic?

Post by Michael Plahn

We often receive inquiries and questions from concerned family members that want to know how they can help a loved one suffering from addiction.   We recently received the following:

“I have a teenage daughter who I know drinks with her friends every weekend.  How do I know if she is “just being a teenager and doing what teenagers do, or if she really has a drinking problem?   I get scared because her father is an alcoholic (we are divorced and my daughter lives with me) and I’m concerned she will follow in his footsteps.   Could it just be that she’s acting like a teenager or how do I know if my child is an alcoholic?”

Thank you for the question.   People of all ages may wonder if excessive drinking, or drinking at all, can be justified by their period in life, e.g. “being a teenager” or “being in college” or “being in their 20s.”   The fact is that an alcoholic may drink differently than others despite not “standing out” around their peers.  They may feel differently when they drink than how others are affected by the same quantity.    Drinking every weekend as a teenager is definitely a reason to be concerned.   You are also correct that there is also a genetic component to take into account here with alcoholism.  A parent who is an alcoholic has a higher probability of having a child who is also an alcoholic.   Additionally, there are different stages of alcoholism to consider and early intervention is key to preventing the potential destruction that can occur.

Alcoholism is a progressive disease.   In the early stages of alcoholism, drinking goes beyond just a social interaction to become an escape from feelings or emotions.   Eventually the need to drink becomes more powerful and a person may experience more pronounced effects of alcohol such as blackouts, and more severe hangovers.   As the alcoholic moves further into alcoholism the drinking starts to compound a loss of control in the individual.   The drink may replace other areas of life which used to be important such as family, friends, work, or even hygiene.   By the last stage of alcoholism the physical signs intensify further and may present with delirium tremens (DTs).  At this stage the alcoholic may require alcohol just to function.

According to Michael Plahn, from LifeSkills Authorities:  Let’s face it, your daughter is under the legal drinking age and therefore her drinking presents a problem.   Beyond that and without having conducted a formal history of your daughter’s drinking and behavior however I cannot be certain if her drinking is in line with alcoholic drinking.   If it is alcoholism, it is best to get help early to stop the progression.   An experienced Interventionist may be your first step in combating the disease.   Some questions to ask yourself:   Does her temperament change when she is drinking?   Have her priorities changed?   Is she no longer interested in things that used to bring her pleasure?   Does she seem to drink to escape or to deal with situations such as social functions?   Does she seek a “buzz”?

On the positive side, it is good to know that you are concerned, paying attention and working to stay involved in your child’s life.   If you feel like you need to get your daughter help, do not hesitate.   Again, a qualified interventionist and/or recovery coach can work with you to determine if your daughter needs treatment, and the steps to take to get her there.   You’ve already taken the first step in seeking information and for that I commend you.

Copyright © 2017 — LifeSkills Authorities Blog

Contents on LifeSkillsAuthorities.com including any images, text, external links, graphics or any other material posted on this website is intended solely for informational purposes. The information contained herein is written by non-medical professionals and not a substitute for professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis of any disease or disability. Please seek advice from a qualified medical professional with any questions that you may have regarding your physical or mental health condition(s). If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, or any other medical emergency, dial 911 or visit your local emergency room immediately. The thoughts and views expressed here are not necessarily those of LifeSkills Authorities, its owners, employees, or management.