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  • When you hear the term “drug addict,” you probably imagine someone hitting rock bottom. Indeed, for many people, untreated addiction leads to divorce, job loss, and other devastating life events. 

    However, some people with addiction have seemingly normal lives with successful relationships and careers. These individuals are often called “high-functioning drug addicts.” Here’s how to identify them.

    1. Denial

    Typically, high-functioning addicts will deny that they have an addiction. For instance, they might use an excessive amount of drugs and then claim the amount is normal. They may also insist that their accomplishments prove they don’t have a drug problem. 

    In addition, many high-functioning addicts have co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. In that case, they might blame any unusual behavior on their mental illness, even when it stems from their drug abuse.

    Many high-functioning addicts will not admit they have a problem until their loved ones stage an intervention. 

    An intervention is an organized discussion in which you confront your loved one about their addiction and urge them to seek treatment. It usually involves multiple people who have been affected by the person’s drug use. 

    2. Change In Friends

    Most high-functioning addicts spend most of their time with other people who abuse drugs. This helps them avoid judgment and confrontation so they can continue to deny their addiction. 

    If you think your loved one might be a high-functioning alcoholic, keep an eye on their social life. If they mainly associate with people who drink heavily or use illegal drugs, or if they suddenly stop spending time with sober people, they may have a secret substance abuse problem.

    3. Loss Of Interest In Activities 

    While high-functioning addicts succeed at work, school, and other responsibilities, they often neglect their hobbies. That’s because drugs flood your brain with dopamine. 

    Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. Your brain naturally produces it when you engage in healthy, pleasurable activities like exercising, spending time with loved ones, or making art.

    Repeated drug use overloads your brain with dopamine. As a result, your brain will start producing less dopamine naturally. You will then find it difficult to feel pleasure from activities that don’t involve drugs.

    4. Avoidance Of Friends & Family Members

    A high-functioning addict may withdraw from their loved ones for a variety of reasons. Often, they withdraw so they can hide any signs of addiction and stay in denial. Also, as mentioned above, many high-functioning addicts associate only with other people who abuse drugs. 

    They also tend to lose interest in drug-free activities. Thus, if you avoid drug abuse, your addicted loved one may stop spending time with you. 

    5. Strange Symptoms In The Morning

    One of the most common signs of addiction is physical dependence. When you’re physically dependent on a drug, your body starts relying on it to function. If you stop using it, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. 

    The specific symptoms will depend on the drug and your body. However, the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

    • shaking
    • sweating
    • anxiety
    • irritability
    • headache

    Many high-functioning addicts experience withdrawal symptoms in the mornings, before they start using drugs. 

    Similarly, many high-functioning alcoholics experience frequent morning hangovers. The most common hangover symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. 

    6. Unexplained Health Problems

    Many drugs of abuse can cause short-term and long-term health problems. For example, alcohol abuse has been linked to conditions such as:

    • high blood pressure
    • heart disease
    • stroke
    • liver disease
    • depression
    • anxiety
    • poor memory

    Also, alcohol and certain other drugs (including morphine and fentanyl) can weaken your immune system. This makes you more likely to contract a variety of illnesses, ranging from the common cold to pneumonia. 

    In addition, stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can cause insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep), loss of appetite, and heart problems. 

    If your loved one suddenly develops these or other health problems with no explanation, they may be a high-functioning addict. 

    7. Requests For Enabling

    High-functioning addicts will often ask their friends and family to enable them. Enabling means protecting someone from the consequences of their addiction. 

    For example, a person with alcohol addiction (also called alcohol use disorder) may drink too much at a social gathering and become aggressive. An enabler may excuse this behavior by explaining that the person has been under severe stress. This allows the person to keep denying their drug abuse. 

    If your loved one starts asking you to make excuses for their poor behavior, they may be hiding an addiction. 

    If you or a loved one struggles with drug abuse, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our addiction treatment centers offer medical detox, mental health counseling, support groups, and a variety of other personalized, evidence-based treatment options.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Alcohol Use and Your Health
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drugs and the Brain
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Know the Risks of Meth

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on November 14, 2022
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