What is a high functioning drug addict?
The term “high functioning drug addict” is really a misnomer. Someone suffering with an addiction is not really functioning at all – they just seem to be functioning on the outside; but really, on the inside, they are falling apart.
I feel like I have the authority to speak about this topic because I consider myself to have been a high functioning drug addict before getting clean.
Just a year ago, I was in the tight grip of full-blown addiction. I was an IV user and I would shoot anything I could get my hands on. My first drug of choice was heroin but I also liked to speedball: shooting cocaine or crack and heroin. By the end of my run, I was taking suboxone to keep the heroin withdrawals at bay but, like a true blue addict, I was shooting or smoking copious amounts of crack and abusing sleeping pills, Xanax, and barbiturates. Right now, you are probably picturing the ‘typical’ image of a junkie: strung-out, half-naked, greasy hair, track-marked girl with dark circles under her eyes and passed out next to a dumpster or something. But that wasn’t the case. I was a high functioning drug addict.
Let me explain…
I was a college graduate with two degrees living in a nice neighborhood. I had my own car and a steady job with one of the top-five banking institutions in the country. Despite my tattoos and rapid weight loss, physically I didn’t ‘look like a junkie.’ In fact, friends and acquaintances with which I shared that I used to shoot drugs (I was still using, I was just in so much denial that I would talk about my use in the past tense) would all respond in the same way: “you don’t look like a junkie.” To a sick girl like me, that was the ultimate compliment. And the green light to keep going, head-first into the turmoil of addiction.
Being a high functioning drug addict means living two lives: one that you reveal to others – your “perfect life” with the job, the house, the car, the family; and your secret life – the drugs, the stealing, the desperation. It is as if I was living a secret dual-life. One of productivity marked with high-achievement like job promotions, while my other life was one of escape through drugs. I was able to succeed in my life well enough to where the effects of my addiction had not impacted the life I projected to others.
Like me, other high functioning drug addicts may have been able to avoid serious trouble professionally or personally so far but it is only a matter of time before their addiction will lead to severe problems and consequences. Many of us in recovery call this “the big yet.” For example, I was lucky enough to avoid catching any legal charges, such as possession, in my addiction but, I am clear that, if I had continued to use, that I would eventually get into trouble with the law. I mean, come on, I worked at a major bank and was in charge of large sums of money on a daily basis. I was also feeding a very expensive drug habit. I never stole money from my job…yet. I’m clear that it would have happened eventually and that would mean a felony charge. I decided to get clean because I was not willing to let it get that bad.
I think, in some ways, being a high functioning drug addict is trickier than being the typical down-and-out junkie. A huge part of addiction is denial; it affects everyone who abuses drugs and is the major road-block to getting clean. It’s like this, if you don’t think you have a problem, then why get help? And if you’re a high functioning drug addict, it’s quite easy to fool yourself that things are fine and that what you are doing is normal. You have all the evidence you need to convince yourself of this.