Not every addict is easily recognized, even by those they know. Many maintain their life with good jobs and positive relationships, resulting in a high-functioning addict that you’d never suspect of having a substance abuse problem. However, while these addictions might not be interfering with their external life, these people aren’t immune to its negative effects and still need treatment. Knowing more about how to identify a high-functioning addict could be the final piece of the puzzle in helping a loved one with a suspected addiction. 

Recognizing Functional Addicts

How To Identify a High-Functioning AddictFunctional addicts are difficult to identify, as they don’t display many of the common signs that people associate with an alcohol or drug addiction, such as unemployment, crippling financial situations, severe depression, and unhealthy relationships with others. Every addict handles their problem in their own way, but high-functioning addicts are generally motivated, capable individuals who appear to have their life completely in order upon inspection. If anyone around them is aware of their addiction, they’ll often downplay it and enable the abuser. 

The one trait nearly all functional addicts share? Denial. Many high-functioning addicts don’t abuse daily or might have certain “standards” for their addiction, such as only drinking fine vintages. Even if they’re subconsciously aware of their problem, they don’t consider treatment a priority or are waiting for some sign that their addiction has gone too far—this sign rarely ever comes. Instead, their health slowly deteriorates, often devolving until they become a more stereotypical depiction of an addict.

There are always telltale signs that a respected individual you know might have an internalized substance abuse issue, as no amount of denial and motivation can nullify the effects of addiction:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Uncharacteristically spending time alone, in private
  • Frequent excuses or decreased work output
  • Poor personal hygiene or lax presentation in general
  • Unexplained absences from work or social gatherings
  • Irritability, moodiness, and paranoia
  • Drowsiness and slurred speech
  • Convenient explanations for overindulgence or outbursts

Functional alcoholics can be especially difficult to identify, as the line between recreational drinking and addiction is fuzzy. Alcohol abusers rarely view their addiction as a problem, categorizing it as harmless while citing its lack of effect on their life. They might view a dose of cocaine as a tool to get a difficult job done or explain that they had no choice but to drink excessively at a work function as part of office culture—whatever the case, you should never accept these excuses as anything more a cry for help. Discovery Place’s alternative treatment center in Tennessee can be a great place to get that help.

How To Help High-Functioning Addicts

High-functioning addicts are more challenging to help than any other type of abusers, as they maintain the belief that a good life means they don’t have a serious problem. These individuals often have internal conflicts and might truthfully worry about their substance abuse problem, but will rationalize and compartmentalize it away, avoiding their issues altogether—getting them to admit they have a problem is the most difficult and vital part of the recovery process.

Our 12 Step Program in Burns, Tennessee can be a great tool for high-functioning addicts, as they oftentimes have the motivation and self-control to recover successfully without more intensive treatment plans. If you know someone who’s hiding a taxing addiction, contact us at 1-800-725-0922 at any time of day to start getting them the help they need.


  • Discovery Place was the answer for my son. He did the 90 day and then the step down program and sober living. We give this organization 10 stars. They met my son where he was …emotionally, mentally, physically. They helped him put his life back on track. Discovery Place employees care about their guests. If your son, brother, nephew, grandson or husband needs excellent supportive care THIS is indeed the facility.

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    Tommy Parker
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  • When I got to Discovery Place my whole life was in shambles, but I didn’t know it. I spent 6 months in their programs, participating in all three phases, and was met with kindness and love all along the way. It is unbelievable to me, where I am now relative to where I was when I arrived at DP.

    Lance Duke
  • I can never say enough good things about Discovery Place and the people who work there. Before checking in to DP, I was out of options and out of answers. Fortunately, Discovery Place has a solution. Taking suggestions from the staff at DP saved my life, and as a result, I’m now more content and hopeful about life. I’m grateful for Discovery Place showing me how to live a healthy life so that I can become a better man and help the next guy.”

    Tyler Buckingham

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