One of the biggest misconceptions about addiction is that substance use disorders only happen to people who aren’t successful. A substance use disorder is a chronic illness with complex biological and environmental triggers. It’s not a character flaw or a condition caused by a lack of willpower.
A Substance Use Disorder Can Happen to Anyone
While it’s true that some people struggling with addiction fall prey to bankruptcy, homelessness, incarceration, and other serious personal difficulties, many of them look just like anyone else on the surface. They’re teachers, journalists, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and managers. They have spouses and children. They may even be active community volunteers. Unless you’re looking closely, it’s easy to miss the signs of a serious problem.
Risk Factors for Addiction in Successful Individuals
There is no way to predict with 100% certainty who will develop a substance use disorder, but some factors can increase the risk of a successful person becoming a functional addict:
- Having a stressful job. High-pressure, high-stakes jobs can cause people to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with stress. For example, military personnel, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals are all known to struggle with addiction at higher rates than the general population.
- Struggling to talk about their feelings. People who feel as though nobody understands their problems are more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. A lack of social support is particularly problematic for men because gender stereotypes often discourage them from expressing their emotions openly and honestly.
- Being overly critical. Perfectionism often results in professional success, but people with unreasonably high standards tend to have a hard time accepting life’s inevitable setbacks. When things don’t go their way, they may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their frustration.
Having access to greater financial resources can also be a risk factor in itself. Money makes it easier to obtain a steady supply of drugs and alcohol, while also allowing a person access to the legal assistance they need to minimize the immediate consequences of addiction-related behaviors such as driving under the influence.
Understanding the Functional Addict
A functional addict is someone who is abusing drugs and alcohol regularly, yet still manages to protect an outward appearance of normalcy. They go to great lengths to hide their addiction out of fear, shame, and embarrassment. For example, a functional alcoholic may only drink when her children and spouse aren’t home and on days when she won’t need to drive anywhere. She’ll carefully hide the empty bottles, then gargle with mouthwash or drink a large amount of coffee so nobody suspects anything is amiss when they return.
To some extent, all people with untreated substance use disorders are in denial. However, functional addicts are the most deeply invested in maintaining their denial even when they start to have health, relationship, or financial problems related to their behavior. They view struggling with an addiction as a “failure”—and they’re not accustomed to “failing” at anything they do.
Convincing a Functional Addict to Seek Treatment
If you are worried about a loved one who is showing signs of being a functional addict, persistence is key. Be assertive, yet compassionate, in expressing your concerns. Do not let them make excuses for their behavior by claiming you “don’t understand” the pressure they are under or that their ability to maintain a relatively normal routine means that their substance abuse isn’t a big deal.
Some of the specific concerns your loved one might have about seeking treatment include:
- Taking time off work. Asking for time off work to attend rehab can be uncomfortable, but seeking addiction treatment is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). There may also be resources available for your loved one through an Employee Assistance Program.
- Need for privacy. All rehab centers follow strict guidelines to protect the privacy of a client’s personal medical information. However, for someone who is worried about damaging their professional reputation or community standing by attending rehab, an out-of-state facility may make them more comfortable by providing a higher level of anonymity.
- Fear of the unknown. Many people view addiction treatment centers as being harsh and sterile environments. However, St. Joseph Institute’s Pennsylvania residential treatment center makes residents feel like they are in an exclusive, executive rehab with the relaxed atmosphere of a resort. Our amenities include a spacious atrium with skylights and special features, such as a computerized massage bed, Jacuzzi, saunas, and a pool.
We Are Here to Help
Substance use disorders can’t be cured in the traditional sense of the word because there will always be the potential for relapse. However, with access to our evidence-based care personalized to fit their unique needs, your loved one can build the foundation for a future free from the burdens of substance abuse.