What is a High Functioning Addict?

high functioning addict

Not all drug or alcohol addicts actually look addicted.

Some people who struggle with drug addiction keep up with their normal schedules. These people are known as high functioning addicts.

But what is a high functioning addict?

Keep reading this guide to learn more about high functioning addicts and how you can recognize the signs of addiction in a loved one.

What Is a High Functioning Addict?

High functioning addicts don’t look like other addicts. In fact, high functioning addicts don’t look like addicts at all. Even close friends and family members might have a hard time spotting a high functioning addict.


Because high functioning addicts live what seems to be a normal and successful life. They own nice houses. They have a stable career. They volunteer at their children’s school. They blend in with the rest of society.

This kind of addict hides their substance abuse while still maintaining an active social life. Some of them hide their addiction so well no one spots the problem until it’s gotten out of hand.

The important thing to remember is a high functioning addict is no less of an addict than anyone else who abuses drugs and alcohol. They just hide it better.

What Kind of People Are High Functioning Addicts?

Many high function addicts tell themselves they don’t have a problem. After all, they can hold down a job, have a family, and keep a social life. So their addiction must not be that bad.

Functioning addicts tend to fit into a basic framework. For example, they are often middle-aged adults with a supportive family. They have a high level of education, and they have a successful career.

What Makes a High Functioning Addict Different from Other Addict?

So what makes function addicts so different from other addicts? A high functioning addict could start their addiction in similar circumstances as other addicts, but they still end up on contrasting paths.

There are several factors that differentiate a functioning addict from other types of addicts. This list includes things like denial, employment, family support, and a lack of legal problems.


Because functioning addicts don’t believe they have a problem, they think their drug or alcohol consumption is manageable. In their minds, they aren’t doing anything wrong.

This denial of addiction will force them to come up with excuses for their behavior. They might tell themselves things that include the following:

  • I only drink/use drugs a few days out of the week
  • I work hard every day, so I deserve to enjoy myself
  • The alcohol/drugs haven’t made anything bad happen
  • I’m only drinking alcohol. I would never use drugs (or vice versa)

A function addict doesn’t take responsibility for their actions. When things start to go wrong, they blame this on the friends and family around them instead.


Having a steady job does a few things for a functioning addict. Again, it lets them believe their substance abuse isn’t a big deal. If it was, they wouldn’t be able to stay at work.

A job also gives them the means to support their addiction. They have the money to spend on drugs or alcohol, and they have a structured day that lets them find a normal time to use it.

Of course, these things can start to change as the addiction gets worse over time. A functioning addict might spend more money on drugs or alcohol and wind up in debt. Their job performance also might suffer over time.

Lack of Legal Problems

Avoiding any trouble with the law is another thing that helps functioning addicts convince themselves they aren’t doing anything wrong. They haven’t got pulled over while high or drunk or caught with any drugs, so they have no reason to stop.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t doing these things. If their addiction continues, many high functioning addicts are caught eventually.

Family Support

For functioning addicts, family support leads to enabling. Many family members don’t even realize they’re enabling their loved one. But as soon as a family member takes on more responsibility for the loved one, they are enabling a loved one’s addiction based behavior.

This allows the addict to continue using drugs or drinking alcohol without experiencing any of the consequences. Should something negative happen, the functioning addict can blame it on their family members and get away with their actions.

Many family members are trying to help their loved one with short-term tasks. However, this can cause a bigger problem in the long run.

Characteristics of a High Functioning Addict

It can be hard to spot a high functioning addict if you don’t know what to look for. People who hide their addiction to drugs or alcohol still display telling behaviors.

Here’s a quick list of what to look out for if you think your loved one is a high functioning addict.

They Make Excuses

Functioning addicts will blame any changes in behavior on things like stress from their job. They’ll have an excuse prepared for everything, and they’ll be able to convince friends and family that they’re fine.

They Aren’t Interested in Their Normal Hobbies

Because alcohol or drugs have taken up their free time, they might not show any interest in the things they used to enjoy. People who liked to draw, workout, or play music, etc., won’t do those things anymore.

They Look Sick in the Morning

This sick appearance is often a hangover or symptoms of withdrawals. The addict will say they aren’t morning people or just aren’t feeling well that day.

They’re Friends Are Addicts Too

If you look at your loved one’s friends, you might find that many of them are addicted to drugs or alcohol as well. Seeing your loved one drinking or using drugs with their friends may mean there’s a bigger problem you don’t know about yet.

Are High Functioning Addicts Safer Than Other Addicts?

Functioning addicts are any safer than other people struggle with addiction.

Remember, a high functioning addict isn’t addicted to their substance of choice any less than other addicts. This means they’re able to hide their addiction for a long time. By the time family and friends discover it, the addict might already be in serious danger.

A functioning addict can’t ever keep up their normal life forever. With enough time, their social life, job, family, etc. will start to fall apart.

Do you think your loved one might be a high functioning addict? Reach out for help at (877) 322-2450. Or take a look at this guide to learn how you can find free drug rehab near you.

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

Leave a Comment


  • This is the perfect description of one of my in-laws. They don’t even suffer from withdrawals, have a good career, and stay out of trouble. But the addiction is still there, and it took a while for some of us to realize.They do a good job of hiding their dependency, but I know their health will eventually take a turn.

  • This article really opened my eyes and hit so close to home. Being in college, I’m surrounded by a variety of addicts and getting high-functioning addicts to realize their issues is almost impossible. Do you have any tips for starting this discussion with a high functioning addict that doesn’t let them dismiss what you are saying?

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