Award-winning actor Robert Downey, Jr. once said, “I don’t drink these days. I’m allergic to alcohol and narcotics; I break out in handcuffs.”
Downey, Jr. is well-known for his battles with drug and alcohol addiction and has never shied away from sharing his story publicly. He is one of the highest paid actors in the United States, despite his battles with addiction. Today, he is drug-free, though an example of how someone can hide their addiction behind a mask of wealth and fame. Though he maintains he has not used in several years, Downey, Jr. is an example of a functional addicted person.
A 2007 study revealed that nearly 20 percent of alcoholics reported they were high functioning, keeping up with work and other responsibilities despite their addiction. Those who abuse drugs while maintaining some semblance of normal in their lives or career, face a unique battle. Denial among this subgroup is rampant, and can even cause close family and friends to be unaware of the problem, if not aware of the warning signs accompanying addiction.
Warning Signs Of The Functioning Drug-Addicted Person
As mentioned earlier, denial is a common theme for the functional drug-addicted person. If they feel like they are maintaining their lifestyle or still succeeding in their career, it is not as likely they will admit to having a problem with drugs or alcohol. Family or friends, unaware of the drug use, may perpetuate use with their own denial of the problem.
One addicted to drugs, yet functional, cannot relate to media portrayals of addiction, which may differ greatly than the lifestyle of a successful person who is discretely managing an addiction. Further, someone in a position of power, or someone who is well-respected within their community may worry about the risk associated with admitting they have a problem.
Changes in behavior are another warning sign that someone is a functional drug-addicted person. They might make errors or mistakes more often, miss meetings or other events, get to work later, or behave differently toward loved ones. You might notice mood changes that aren’t in line with the individual’s personality. Often they distance themselves from those closest to them to maintain a kind of double life that balances work or social standing and drug use.
When that person begins showing up late for work, forgetting important details or events, and distancing themselves from others, they are likely to have a long line of excuses available to make up for these detectable changes in behavior. They may even excuse drug abuse, pointing to their success as justification for use.
During this process of attempting to balance career and social standing with their addiction, they create a double life, protecting themselves and others from awareness of the problem. They may look and behave in much the way they did before the addiction, but with subtle differences. Someone who functionally uses may work all day and begin drinking at 4 PM. They might engage in social drinking and go home to drink or use more. In those circumstances, determining whether someone has a problem relies on the awareness of the four primary warning signs.
Warning Signs Of Functional Dependency Include:
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Double life
What Kind Of Person Is A Functioning Addicted Individual?
There is no one kind of person who will become a high functioning addicted individual. However, those with money, power, or fame, are sometimes able to mask the associated issues relating to addiction better than others. For some, it’s the social status that guides their behavior, for others this status perpetuates a state of denial. After all, how can a person who is in control of a company be so far out of control in other ways? This mindset makes helping a person who is addicted to drugs, but who appears functional, challenging.
Someone who is a functioning addicted individual suffers in silence and usually faces a downward spiral with disastrous consequences. Their addiction may not come to light until after they have suffered physically, or lost a home, a career, or worse, loved ones who can no longer tolerate the changes in personality or behavior.
Adverse Health Effects For The Functioning Addicted Person
Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, but otherwise appear to be functioning normally, are at higher risk of more substantial issues arising from the abuse. Once the warning signs of addiction become obvious, the drug has likely had an opportunity to do significant damage.
Apart from the damage to family, career, and social standing, the physical toll alcohol or other drugs have on the body can be significant. Drugs affect parts of the brain associated with the nucleus accumbens, or reward center. When someone continues taking drugs for an extended period of time, their brain chemistry begins changing to adapt. Sometimes these changes can lead to irreversible nerve cell damage.
Physically, those who abuse drugs or alcohol have lower immunity and may be sick more often. Changes to diet and sleep cycles can affect diet and weight. Liver damage and cardiovascular issues are common, and more than 110 people die in the United States from drug overdoses each day.
A person who is impaired by long-term drug use may make poor decisions, behave aggressively, act impulsively, and get into legal trouble as a result of drug use. Substance abuse is also linked to an increased risk of suicide.
How To Help The Functional Addicted Person?
Help may involve a professional intervention in which family, friends, and co-workers gather together with the addicted individual to highlight some of the concerns they have. A professional interventionist can prepare the intervention team for an onslaught of denial and excuses that may ensue, as well as help the person come to terms with the problem to get them the help they need and deserve.
Someone who is afraid of the stigma associated with drug abuse may benefit from reassurance about the anonymity of treatment. Support from family and friends, as with anyone seeking recovery is critical. A non-judgmental attitude and follow through on promises will build a solid foundation beneath the feet of someone seeking help for their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Equally as important is that family and friends do not facilitate or make excuses for behaviors relating to the addiction, but offer support where it is appropriate.
Get Help For Your Addiction Today
Rich or poor, Iron Man or just a man, addiction knows no boundaries. If you or someone you know is attempting to manage an addiction while balancing career and home life, get help before it’s too late. DrugRehab.org can connect you with the resources and treatment options that will help you get clean from drugs and back on track for the rest of your life. Contact us and speak with someone in confidence today to begin your journey into recovery.
For More Information, Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From DrugRehab.org:
- Co-Occuring Disorders: Alcoholism and Narcissistic Personality
- Learn How People Use Heroin
- How Do I Get My Adult Child Into Rehab?
- Breaking the Cycle of Addiction through Family Intervention
- How Do I Get My Loved One Into Rehab?