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High Functioning Addiction


Different Types of Substance Abuser

When people think of the word substance abuser they will usually form a picture in their mind. This will be a stereotype of how this person views a substance abuser. The reality is that substance abusers are not all alike. Some people who fall into addiction can actually appear quite normal or even be considered high functioning.

The Danger of Stereotypes

Stereotypes may be useful in certain situations. It can allow us to quickly make decisions in emergency situations and take action. The problem with stereotypes though, is that they do not provide a clear picture of reality. In the case of negative stereotypes they can even be used as a means to unfairly stigmatise a whole group of people. This is why it is vital that we don’t put too much trust into stereotypes because they can give us a distorted view of reality.

Stereotype of the Substance Abuser

The stereotype of the substance abuser will include things like:

  • A person who breaks the law in order to feed their habit.
  • They live in a poor part of town.
  • They are estranged from their family.
  • They have poor personal hygiene and their clothes appear shabby.
  • They are not well respected in their community.
  • They drink or take drugs soon after they wake up in the morning.
  • They have a poor employment record or may even be unemployable.
  • They buy drugs in back alleys from criminals.
  • They look ill.
  • They have serious financial problems.

The reality is that most people who fall into addiction do not fit in with this stereotype. In fact some individuals may even be the exact opposite of this.

High Functioning Substance Abuser

Unlike the usual stereotype of an addict the high functioning substance abuser can be:

  • Well thought of in their community – they may even be considered by many to be a role model.
  • People who have never broken the law.
  • They might live in an expensive house in the nice part of town.
  • Well loved by their family and seen as a good husband, wife, mother, father, son, or daughter.
  • They might wear expensive clothing and have high personal hygiene standards.
  • They might never use alcohol or drugs in the morning.
  • They could be considered successful in their career and steadily climbing higher and higher in their profession.
  • They might buy their drugs from a respectable looking person in a suit who brings it to them in their office.
  • They might look to be healthy.
  • They might be rich.

Dangers of High Functioning Substance Abuse

At first glance, the high functioning substance abuser can appear to be in a much better position than the stereotypical addict. The reality is that they may be in a much worse situation because they will be less likely to get help for their addiction problems. The dangers of high functioning addiction would include:

  • The individual may feel that they have more to lose by admitting to their addiction problem. They will be worried that it might harm their reputation or even their career prospects.
  • This person will be able to convince themselves that they do not have a problem because they do not fit the usual stereotype of an addict. This may mean that their denial is particularly strong and difficult to overcome.
  • The high functioning substance abuser will usually not have the same pressure on them to give up the behaviour. Family and friends may just view this behaviour as letting off steam.
  • The individual will try to justify their behaviour with the old adage – work hard, play hard.
  • This type of substance abusers will often have a sense of entitlement in regards to alcohol or drugs. They view it as their reward for their good work in life.
  • This person will often not have the same financial constraints as other substance abusers. This means that their excesses will not be curtailed due to lack of money. They will be able to fully indulge in their self destructive habits and therefore end up suffering from increased physical and mental damage.
  • This individual may belong to a profession where hard drinking or drug taking is considered normal. They may even be expected to engage in this behaviour as part o their job – for example, entertaining clients.
  • The high functioning substance abuser is particularly skilled at hiding their problem, and this means that their addiction will be harder to detect.

High Functioning Addiction and Problems with Stereotypes

The fact that the reality of addiction can be so different from the stereotype can be dangerous for a number of reasons including:

  • Those who do not fit the stereotype can use this as evidence that they do not have a problem. This will just reinforce their denial so that they remain addicted for longer and end up suffering more as a result.
  • These stereotypes mean that those people with serious alcohol or drug problems can go undetected by family and friends. The fact that these individuals are not putting pressure on their loved one to get help may mean that the person remains addicted for longer.
  • Many of the assessment tools have been created for detecting addiction have been designed based on addiction stereotypes. This may mean that they are not very effective at detecting certain types of addictive behaviour.
  • The stigma of the addiction stereotype may prevent people from admitting that they have a problem. They are afraid that it will damage their reputation or harm their career. The problem is that when people hear the words “alcohol addiction” or “drug addiction” they will make all types of assumptions about that person based on the common stereotype.

Help for High Functioning Addiction

High functioning addicts need to get help for their problems as soon as possible. If they fail to do so they risk losing everything of value in their life.

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