Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is there such a thing as a functioning addict?

My husband has been having a hard time sleeping the last month, and in desperation he went to the doctor for some help. He came home with a few different things over the course of the month to try and help; not all of them did I approve of.

You see, I'm a recovering addict, and there are certain substances that I do not want in my house, for the safety of my sobriety. I'm now 19 months sober, and I want to see that number continue growing.

So, although my husband absolutely needed these medications, we absolutely needed a game plan on how to keep me safe.

We chatted about it back and forth for a couple of hours, and besides the game plan to keeping me safe, one of the things that came up was that I had been a functioning addict when I used. Functioning. Should there even be a label, 'functioning' addict?

What does one look like? How are they different than typical addicts? How do they act? What challenges do they face in regards to addiction? Are those challenges different than from someone 'non-functioning'?

How would one define functioning addict?

A functioning addict is a person who's drug or alcohol use hasn't caught up to them yet. It's a person who is able to hide the severity of their addiction to the people close to them, often at tragic cost.

Functioning addicts are able to perform their tasks on a daily manner, but there will be tell-tale signs. Some of these signs include making excuses for their behaviors, they may try and justify their drug use.Who they hang out with says a lot as well. If all their friends are using drugs or alcohol, or they don't want to attend events unless drugs or alcohol will be there, that's also a sign of a bigger issue. And if they suddenly lose interest in their hobbies, this means the addiction could be starting to take over their life.

Functioning addicts do tend to present much differently than someone who is not functioning. Some distinguishing characteristics of a functioning addict include: a high level of education, a stable job, supportive family, is commonly middle-aged, family history of addiction (about 30% of addicts), and history of major depression (about 20% of addicts).

The most challenging issue that faces functioning addicts and their loved ones comes from the fact that it's incredibly difficult to convince them that they're actually addicts. They'll often point  out that nothing bad has ever happened from their use, or that they're able to keep a job and provide for themselves and addicts can't do that. This is actually quite sad because their use will catch up to them, and often in tragic ways.

I know for a fact this is the case. I denied that I had a problem with my medications for years. I hid it as best I could, and justified it, and explained away crazy symptoms until my face was blue. Years before I was even close to admitting I was an addict, my religious leader suggested I look into rehab, and I was shocked and offended because, 'I wasn't an addict'. He obviously knew something that I was still too blind to see. And yes, blind, because I honestly didn't think I had a problem. I didn't doctor shop, I didn't try to get more meds than I was prescribed, I didn't lie about my pain or anxiety to get higher dosages. I didn't buy pills off the internet, or from dealers off the street. I thought I was doing quite well, in fact. My kids were generally well taken care, I worked and went to school. I participated in extracuriculars. Yet I was still an addict. I discovered it's possible to be an addict and not do any of those negative things, which was an incredibly painful, humbling time in my life.

So the answer is yes, it is possible to be a functioning addict, but from my experience, it's not worth it. You go just that much longer before getting treatment, you have just that much further to rock bottom, and you have just that much more to lose.

I hope sharing my story shows just how easy it is become addicted, and how much possibility there is after recovery, once you've admitted you need help. There's no shame in being an addict, it is a brain disease, not a character flaw.

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