There is no such thing as a high functioning drug addict. I know this because there was a time when I thought I was one. My addiction to pills, powder, needles and alcohol had me convinced that my mind and body needed to be chemically altered in order for me to function. I considered myself high functioning, but that was just an illusion created by my warped mind.
I wasn’t high functioning, I was just high and barely functioning. Sure, I showed up to work, kept commitments and maintained friendships, but unbeknownst to me, I was drowning in a sea of my own bullshit. Lies perpetuated my addiction and my addiction perpetuated the lies. “No one knows,” I told myself. “I hide it so well.”
I put on a good show for a while; I thought I did anyways. It’s funny how the addict always seems to be the last one in the know. Everyone else saw the devastation of my disease long before I did, while in my mind, I was still “highly functional”.
When I got clean, I learned why there’s no such thing as a highly functional drug addict. When an addict uses whatever substance they are addicted to, their brain chemistry is altered. As the substance enters their body, it hijacks their brain so they can’t access logical or rational thought. The only thought that is accessible is an incessant need to find ways to get more of their drug of choice. Even survival skills are taken over by this uncontrollable craving to get and use more. This means it is physiologically impossible to function at maximum capacity.
An example I use to illustrate this idea is this: Imagine you are stranded in a desert. It’s been a while since you’ve had any food or water and you are growing weak and weary. Suddenly, a giant snake (let’s say a Cobra) comes up out of nowhere. You jump back before you notice that it has a bottle of pills or pint of vodka wrapped tightly in its tail. If you are not an addict, your survival skill of fight or flight kicks in and you run. If you are an addict, however, your survival instant wouldn’t be to run, it would be to wrestle the bottle away from the snake’s tail. In a non-addict, rational thought would set in and you’d know that risking your life to battle a snake for a mere moment of relief would not be worth it. An addict, however, wouldn’t be able to access the same logic a non addict would and therefore would chose to risk their life to get the drugs or drink because their brain is telling them that the drink/drug is how they are going to survive.
To a non addict, this illustration might sound a little extreme but to an addict, it makes perfect sense. Any addict I’ve ever told this story to replied, without hesitation, that they’d fight the snake to get the drink or the drug. Does this type of mentality sound like a high functioning person to you?
In most addicts, myself included, the functional phase of addiction doesn’t last long. We may be able to hold jobs for a while, but a common thread among all addiction is that it’s a progressive and fatal disease. As the addict’s tolerance increases, it takes more of whatever drug they are addicted to to keep them at a baseline level of functioning. After a while, when the tolerance is so high, the drug stops working and “functionality” declines. The body starts to shut down and death closes in quickly.
If you are think you are a high functioning drug addict, this article will probably piss you off. You might still be thinking you are the exception to the rule; that your addiction won’t ever progress like other addicts. You might maintain that you still have control, when the stark reality is that you probably never had control to begin with. Someone who needs to be chemically altered to function has, in every sense of the word, lost control.
There’s no such thing as a high functioning drug addict. They are just addicts who are high, and desperately clinging to the idea that they are still functioning.