What is High Functioning Addiction?

The media portrays substance abuse and addiction primarily as debilitating, significantly impairing daily functioning. Due to this portrayal, many people have the false conception that people who function at a high level cannot possibly be addicted. In fact, many high-achievers convince themselves that their compulsive reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms is not a problem because they still fulfill their responsibilities. Since high-functioning addictions are often mired in secrecy, they are exceptionally pernicious, persisting for many years – in some cases an entire lifetime.

The Truth About High-Functioning Addiction

The truth is grim: according to the National Institutes of Health, one-fifth of all people who are plagued by alcoholism are high-functioning. Characteristics of someone with a high-functioning addiction are:

  • Denial
  • Minimization of unhealthy behaviors
  • A hectic schedule with little time for self-care
  • Family commitments
  • Employment, usually high-paying, demanding jobs

Many busy executives use their addiction as fuel to keep going. To understand the extent of the problem, here are some astounding statistics from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

  • Almost half a million executives and business professionals abuse alcohol.
  • Over 12 percent of managers have used illicit drugs in the past month.
  • Only 11 percent of managers plagued by substance abuse have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder.
  • The number of busy professionals with high-functioning addictions is steadily rising, while the number being treated for these addictions is steadily declining.

Although these statistics focus primarily on substance-related addictions, other potential high-functioning addictions include pornography, the Internet, work, TV, video games, gambling, exercise, food, and even perfectionism. That’s right – some addictions might even appear to be “good” or “healthy” – like exercise – but when taken to the extreme become very unhealthy.

Even though people with these addictions can still be high-functioning, these addictions wreak havoc on lives, eventually destroying families, causing legal trouble, preventing personal growth, and averting individuals from achieving their true potential. Not to mention that some high-functioning addictions pollute the body with toxic substances, promoting widespread inflammation and chronic disease.

What Causes Addiction?

Addiction originates in the brain. Most often, people turn to unhealthy coping behaviors, such as smoking, to combat anxiety and negative emotions. Soon, the brain associates these unhealthy behaviors with more positive emotions and relaxation. All addictive behaviors, but especially those involving substances, trigger a flood of dopamine (a feel-good, pleasure-inducing chemical messenger) in the brain.

Since this dopamine flood is much greater than the dopamine released during a normal-life activity (like gardening), the brain becomes increasingly tolerant of dopamine – requiring more and more of a substance or behavior to achieve the same level of pleasure. As a result of this tolerance, every-day life becomes less pleasurable, in comparison. Therefore, many people begin to live life from one “high” to the next. Even if they are able to fulfill responsibilities during or in between these highs, it is a desperate, unhealthy way of life, and it requires the help of a mental health professional.

What Does High-Functioning Addiction Look Like?

Meet John. He is a 35-year-old successful, mid-level professional with a gorgeous home, a beautiful wife, and three sprightly children. From the outside, he appears to have carved out a successful, comfortable life. But over the past several years, his anxiety has exponentially increased. It was during this time that he became good friends with a coworker – Matt. Matt was sensitive to John’s anxiety because he too had struggled with anxiety – that is, until he discovered Ketamine. Matt shared that whenever he begins to feel anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed he turns to Ketamine. Now John is hooked as well.

Instead of using healthy coping skills, like identifying and expressing emotions, seeking mental help, confiding in a loved one, journaling, deep breathing, and meditation, John and Matt are stuck in the vicious cycle of relying on a substance for temporary relief of symptoms. Ketamine by no means addresses the heart of the problem – the root of their anxiety.

Seek Help for A High-Functioning Addiction At Helix

If you or a loved one are battling a high-functioning addiction, check out the Helix difference in addiction recovery.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual5 (DSM-5), the diagnostic bible for mental health professionals, does not recognize any of the above addictions – whether high- or low-functioning as “addictions.” Because of this, many mainstream therapists don’t appreciate the power of naming a compulsive, unhealthy behavior for what it is – an addiction.

At Helix, we identify addictions and provide a non-judgmental, welcoming, and caring environment that allows for a comprehensive, full-person approach to addiction. We combine the latest in neuropsychology research and integrative mindfulness – blending healing modalities from the East and West – to minimize the risk of relapse. In fact, our founders created Helix Healthcare Group after having successfully overcome their own addictions, and based our rehabilitation program around the most effective, cutting-edge therapies. Our program facilitates true, deep healing.

Helix recognizes that addiction is complex – originating in physiological imbalances, past trauma, negative self-talk, unhealthy relationships, abuse, stress, and anxiety. All of these factors beg for a comprehensive, whole-body approach, which is exactly what Helix provides.

You don’t have to suffer from high-functioning addiction any longer. Contact the Helix team today for immediate help and compassion!

Video: The Underlying Causes of Addiction


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