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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.

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4 Responses

  • August 23, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I appreciate your article and work in recovery. Perhaps you might be interested in sharing an article on my blog 12 Steps Addiction Blog A high functioning addict does have more responsibility, but addiction is addiction and getting an addict to acknowledge the severity of their lifestyle is still the beginning to receiving treatment. For young people in recovery, you may want to check out and and outreach to New Life House Sober Living. best and thanks for sharing!

  • Jim
    May 10, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I am Jim. I am a high functioning alcoholic and drug addict. I have been at my job for 8 yrs and I have grown and received many raises and promotions. I am currently taking 100mg of methadone (1.5 -2 decades), ritalin, oxazapam, clonazapam, and two anti depressants. I drink 10 – 18 beers daily. I am in good shape job wise. I do have HCV, but non symptomatic. I need a minor out patient surgery on my foot, and the doc sent me to a pain specialist. He told me I was screwed. My pain receptors were saturated. I asked about an “ultra rapid detox” for opiates, but he promised only misery for at least a year.

    Any thoughts.

  • boni
    June 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    Hello. I don’t live in the Chicago area. I live in San Francisco.
    Can you recommend someone in my area for therapy or help? I am the partner of a “high functioning” addict. I’m feeling very depressed and hopeless about the situation. Like you say, if there are no “big” or serious consequences, then the addict can pretty much carry on his functioning addiction for years, fooling himself (but not ME) that everything is just fine.

    Thank you for any help or info you can give me!

  • June 21, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing and inquiring about how to seek help for a high functioning addict. We will contact you privately..

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