How to Help a Functioning Addict Who’s in Denial

How to Help a Functioning Addict Who’s in Denial

A functioning addict, also known as a high-functioning addict or HFA, is someone who’s addicted to drugs but is somehow able to function normally as a human being, thus it’s more difficult for him to accept that he’s an addict in the first place. They work on the “as long as it doesn’t cause harm to me, my family, or others then it’s not addiction” line of reasoning. Most addicts admittedly only seek help after they’ve felt the consequences of their actions and their disease. However, for those who don’t, their addiction will only get worse and worse until they do face the stereotypical issues of addiction, lose control, or overdose from their drug of choice.

While at first it’s encouraging to not have the most debilitating symptoms of a disease, the disease is still there and not being treated. By the time an HFA suffers from the worst of the symptoms it might already be too late for him. You don’t need to be bitten by a snake in order to know it’s dangerous so an HFA doesn’t need to become a non-functional addict before realizing the importance of rehab.

High-Functioning Addiction Is a Quiet Epidemic

It’s hard to confront an addict who’s high-functioning because he has plausible deniability and can point at the lack of problems or consequences as proof that he doesn’t have a drinking problem or drug addiction issues. However, once they do accept it, that’s the first step to recovery. They need to accept it in order to get better before things can get worse. Having functioning addiction is like suffering from a disease that’s asymptomatic.

  • At the Unlikeliest of Places: Maybe you’re having dinner at a friend’s house. After the dishes has been cleared, someone suddenly comes up with a small bag of cocaine that he cuts into lines on the glass part of your table for an extra good time. This surprises you because this person is your coworker or even boss. He might even be your idol because he’s so well put together as a lawyer or a doctor. He might even influence you into taking a little cocaine since he’s offering or perhaps some MDMA for good measure. You’re cajoled into drinking 3-4 glasses of red wine and smoke some weed. It’s a good time, but this person defies expectations somewhat.
  • Not All Addicts Fit the Stereotype: One of your peers who’s supplying you drugs or offering some weed might not look like your typical addict at all. He makes using drugs look cool, the same way older kids in your high school might’ve made smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol the coolest thing possible when you were a kid. They don’t look like those crackheads, methheads, or cocaine users you see on anti-drug public service announcements or PSAs. They don’t appear like their life is on a downward spiral. Quite the opposite, if they can afford coke, they’re probably highly successful in their field and have a lot of money.
  • High-Functioning Addicts Normalize Drug Use: As a loved one, your family member or friend who’s a functioning addict should be made aware that he has an addiction while at the same time you, the loved one or family member, should avoid being his enabler. However, it might be tough for you to stage an intervention for him because he’s able to function while addicted to drugs. You might be the one in danger of being addicted yourself because he shows how one is able to handle taking drugs recreationally by actions and behavior. He takes drugs like he takes coffee or soft drinks. He uses it at parties with loads of dancing, games like charades, or more drug usage until 9:00AM the next morning.
  • You Could Be Influenced by a Functioning Addict Yourself: Instead of helping your functioning addict loved one to lay off the drugs, you might instead find yourself matching up with his usage, which is dangerous because you might be more predisposed to becoming a non-functioning addict compared to him since not all people are created equal. As you go back to work with triple-shot Americanos, pretending that your weekend was a quiet one instead of a drug-addled one, you might need to watch out. The person you’re trying to help might influence you into heading toward the same downward spiral as he is.
  • A Hidden But Familiar Story of Drug Use: No working man or functioning addict will proudly proclaim their drug use. They have the common sense to know that they could get fired for it. However, the temptation of drug use remains alluring for them because unlike other obvious addicts who can’t handle their liquor or get obsessed with coke, they know how to have a work-life balance that includes recreational drug usage. This scenario is likelier than you think, with at least one National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIAAA study claiming that about 20 percent of alcoholics belong to the functional subtype or non-stereotypical alcoholics who can still function.

All About Functional Addicts or HFAs


If you have a family member who is a functioning addict or think they are one, you need to know how to help them without enabling their addiction. Addiction is the type of disease that will eventually catch up to an addict sooner or later in multiple ways, after all. What’s more, you should help them because even though they’re functioning and keeping their jobs or responsibilities in order, they’re certainly not functioning to their full capacity.

  • What’s a Functional Addict Anyway? A functional addict or alcoholic is a drug user who’s able to manage his use or consumption of his substance of choice in a way that limits consequences to their personal lives or work. Being a functional or high-functioning addict is dangerous because consequences or going rock bottom is usually what’s needed for an addict to realize he needs help. If nothing’s going wrong with his life and he’s able to defend his usage by pointing out he’s not hurting anyone, he remains a good parent, and he hasn’t been fired from his job, then his addiction will only get worse and worse.
  • What High Functioning Means: An alcoholic that’s high functioning has the ability to keep their use of substances separate from their everyday life, like their family or work life. This is what makes them minimize the devastating effects of being an addict. However, this also makes it easier for them to deny that there’s a problem with their addiction because the main things that would normally compel an alcoholic or drug addict to rehab aren’t happening. However, the addiction is still there like a ticking time bomb. An addict that’s successful at work despite of or maybe even because of addiction will delude himself into thinking he doesn’t have an addiction.
  • What People Imagine Addicts Look Like: HFAs are the opposite of the stereotypical addict who has a bleeding nose, bags under his eyes, pale complexion, and some nervous tics. They’re not bankrupt, homeless, or begging you money in order to buy more meth or coke. Instead, these people tend to be successful executives with stable marriages and a family who’s not broken. They’re overachievers who use drugs in order to help feed their need to succeed, like taking meth or biker’s coffee in order to stay awake or painkillers in order to dull the pain if they’re millionaire MMA fighters or boxers.
  • HFAs Don’t Consider Themselves as Addicts: Due in part to the scare tactics employed by the government to get kids off of drugs as well as the horror stories associated with using crack or heroin, high-functioning addicts don’t consider themselves as addicts but merely drug users because they’re able to juggle their work and personal lives with their drug usage, not realizing that the more they abuse the drug the harder it is for them to remain as HFAs down the line since the human body can only take so much before an addiction takes them over. The presence o a big house, a loving wife, a good job, and so forth keeps alcoholics or druggies from considering themselves as addicted.
  • Addiction Isn’t Just About Consequences: Addiction isn’t just about the immediate negative repercussions or bad consequences of being addicted like irresponsible behavior, bankruptcy, or the drug taking over your life. It can also be a feedback loop of sorts where you use the drug in order to for you to function and perform better at your work, like using stimulants to keep you awake, depressants to dull your emotions, and painkillers to numb your pain as you go to new heights of achievement but at the cost of your sobriety. The danger of HFA is that usually they seek treatment when it’s too late.

How to Support Yourself or a Loved One in Overcoming Denial

Man's hand reaching to glass of whiskey or alcohol drink with ice cubes and car key on rustic wooden table. Drink and drive and alcoholism concept. Safe and responsible driving concept.

When it comes to overcoming an HFA’s denial over being an HFA, it’s all about communication and avoiding being an enabler. Families should intervene and take a loved one to task if they believe he has a problem because that’s what families do. They watch out for each other. As for friends, the really close ones will stick with the addict but others who aren’t as close or are more like acquaintances might cut ties with the HFA for fear of becoming addicts themselves.

  • The Functionality Is Only Temporary: It’s important to realize that a functional addict tends to rationalize their denial or excuse their addiction by referring back to how functional they are or how functional they appear to be. However, sooner or later, even the most high-functioning of addicts will hit a wall that will lead them to rock bottom, like burnout from overachieving at work while addicted to drugs or job loss. You can strain your family life as well because the more you get addicted the less control you’ll get. You can’t become HFA forever.
  • Make Them Realize the Problem Sooner: It’s better for a loved one to make an HFA friend or family member realize he has a problem sooner rather than later. You can’t wait this one out. It’s all about tough love. You might have to let the other shoe drop and let the functional addict hit rock bottom in order for him to realize there are consequences from his addictive actions. Most people are reactive instead of proactive when it comes to problems. The issue with that is it’s harder to treat a full-blown addiction versus a burgeoning one where the HFA hasn’t passed the point of no return.
  • A Blessing and a Curse: Hitting the wall is what makes an HFA realize that they’re addicts and their situation is a serious one with terrible consequences. Nevertheless, the fact that this hidden addict is able to function normally in society as though he’s still sober means that he has a modicum of control left to do the right thing. After you’ve made him aware that he’s an addict, he might have a better time overcoming his addiction before it takes over his mind and “soul’ such that he becomes a compulsive creature with no conscious control of himself. He can use his functionality to complete rehab and avoid relapse with his condition that’s both a blessing and a curse.
  • A High-Functioning Addict Is Still an Addict: An HFA isn’t someone who has his or her addiction in control. They just know how to hide it or multitask so that it doesn’t affect their lives in the short term. Like any other drug addict or alcoholic, they can’t stop abusing their substance of choice once they’ve begun taking it. They might set limits like two drinks or one joint, but their addiction will find a way to overcome them. They can’t stick to their limits or will find it difficult to do so. Even if they think they’re different from other addicts, they’re really not deep down inside. They’re delaying the inevitable.
  • An HFA Is Still Impaired with Their Function: An HFA might seem like they have their addiction under control, but the reality is that they’re already impaired and their functionality is the last vestiges of their control over their addiction. Maybe they’re used to high-pressure situations and can handle multitasking between using drugs and doing their work without neglecting either. However, their control is temporary. The work they finish, the time they spend with friends and family, and their personal time for themselves will vanish as their addiction grows bigger and more normalized. You need to talk to them.
  • Talk to Your HFA Loved One Today with an Intervention: Your intervention with the HFA doesn’t need to be dramatic or done with his friends and family involved. Start small and work your way up if needed. A good talk and open communication can go a long way to waking your HFA loved one up in regards to what’s going on with him. He might have a hard time imagining hangouts or outings with friends that don’t involve alcohol and drugs, so calling attention his addiction might also be the best time for him to cut off links to the enablers in his life and start rehab ASAP.
  • Point Out to Them What Changed and Put Your Foot Down: Because an HFA is usually in denial of being an addict due to the lack of consequences with his actions, it’s important to convince him that he has changed and he is doing things that will lead to various health problems down the line. Point out to them the things they’d do that they wouldn’t normally do when they’re sober. Remind them that even though right now there are no immediate negative events happening due to their “harmless drug use”, something’s got to give. You
  • It’s Time for Them to Get Some Tough Love: You might need to have some realizations of your own in regards to how you’re handling the growing addiction of your functional addict loved one. Sure, an HFA is still an addict despite not looking like a stereotypical one. However, the fact that he’s functional means there’s a chance for him to turn his ship around faster than someone who has lost all control of himself. Bring up the repeating patterns that your functional addict is going through. Even without the obvious consequences, the fact that they’re losing control of themselves through this pernicious addiction should jolt them into action in the form of a trip to the rehab center at least.

The Final Word

Depressed Teenage Girl Sitting In Bedroom With Pills

Despite stereotypes and propaganda against drugs to scare youths straight, a good number of people suffering from substance addictions lead functional-enough lives to discard their condition as a mere annoyance, like asthma you need to get medicine for or the occasional allergies you come across when it’s spring. They’re also capable of hiding their addictions behind stable family lives and high-paying jobs that might even have links to their addictions in the first place. For example, businessmen usually socialize by sharing drinks with one another.

Also, some people usually unwind with the assistance of marijuana (a gateway drug to stronger drugs) or cocaine as well as cheaper alternatives like meth or heroin. These workaholics can depend on meth or speedball as well in order to get stimulated enough to get the job done as well, using them the same way others would use coffee or energy drinks. Insomniacs can also use depressants to sleep better yet still function well enough to keep on working for most of the day even as they become more and more dependent on the prescription drugs they’re taking.

Lanna Rehab Will Help You Deal with Your HFA Loved One

As a loved one of an HFA, it’s easier said than done to intervene on behalf of the functional addict because they seem to not be hurting anybody or even themselves with their meth or alcohol consumption. Unlike other cocaine users, they use coke for fun yet still keep up with their deadlines, so what’s there to intervene? You shouldn’t wait until your non-stereotypical addict becomes a stereotypical one though. There has to be other ways to for an HFA to achieve their success without drugs or to unwind from all the stress of their work without becoming alcoholics.

Call Lanna Rehab right this minute in order to get reservations and much-needed help for your functional addict husband, wife, child, or friend before it’s too late and they cross the path of heartache and self-destruction. Instead of juggling their time between drug use and a constructive life, they should maximize their potential and live life in sobriety with the assistance of psychotherapy and detoxification.

Martin Peters

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.

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