Don’t Be Fooled: Signs of a Functioning Addict

Last Updated: Sep 20th 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

With tens of millions of people around the country dealing with addiction, there are plenty of people who keep their lives and even their marriages together.

If you’ve noticed subtle changes in your partner or friend’s behavior but don’t know what’s going on, you might be dealing with a functioning addict. A functioning addict is going to continue going to work or school, maintain their lifestyle, and keep most everything together despite their addiction.

Watch for these five signs before things go off the rails.

1. They Have an Explanation for Everything

When you’re dealing with a highly functioning addict, it’s easy to feel gaslit about everything that they do. Highly functional addicts are going to be able to explain everything that you might feel strange about or be uncomfortable with. If they forget an important date or make a dangerous decision, they’re going to have an explanation all worked out.

In a way, a high-functioning addict is going to feel like a bit of a know-it-all. They’re going to have answers for any question you have an even be able to turn around the questioning on you. You’ll be asking yourself why you’re questioning them so much in the first place.

Most of us aren’t going to be able to come up with a good alibi if we’re late for something. We’ll admit we were just sitting around, though we had more time, or just didn’t plan carefully enough. A highly functioning addict would never do this.

They’ll have a long and drawn out story about how so-and-so did such-and-such a thing and why it caused them to be late. You’ll never be left without an explanation when you’re dealing with a functional drug addict.

2. Always Using Too Much

When you’re going out with your friend on a Friday night, if you can anticipate that they’re going to be trouble, you might be dealing with an addict. If they somehow seem to land on their feet every time, you might just shrug your shoulders and let them be. However, there may be times when they didn’t land on their feet so neatly and you weren’t there to see it. 

We all go out for “just one drink” and allow our entire night to go wherever the group goes. We meet up with a friend or colleague to blow off some steam but then it turns into a whole evening out. This can be healthy when we’re tense, but it’s not usually a regular occurrence. 

For highly functional addicts, this is going to happen over and over. It’ll be a regular occurrence for them to experience doing more drugs or drinking more than they meant to. When someone is addicted, they really don’t have control over how much they take of any substance.

This might seem innocuous to them, but it will become noticeable to everyone around them over time.

3. Everyone Around Them Is Addicted

When someone is a functional addict, they might surround themselves with other people who struggle with addiction. This is a common method for ensuring that there is no one around to check their behavior. It also gives them a yardstick for measuring their own behavior against.

Many addicts will say “I don’t drink as much as they do” so that they never have to confront their drinking. While it might be easy to point the finger at other people, it’s not a good way to measure their own addiction.

If your loved one doesn’t want to go anywhere or do anything unless drugs or alcohol are present, they probably have an addiction issue. There are often deep underlying issues when someone needs to be drunk or high just to be around people who they know and like.

When you help your loved one get off of drugs, you also need to commit to helping them find a new group of people to spend time with.

4. They Always Seem Sick in the Morning

While it’s natural to wake up a little off of your normal rhythm, if every morning your loved one wakes up looking sick or ill, that’s not good. A functional addict is going to have constant headaches when they wake up in the morning. They’re also going to struggle with feeling lethargic and say that they’re a low-energy person.

Many functional addicts try to convince themselves and others that they’re simply not a morning person. While this might have been true at one point, hangovers might have become a regular fixture of waking up in the morning.

There’s also the potential for withdrawal symptoms to take hold. Withdrawal can start to happen in under 12 hours. If someone went to be high or drunk, wakes up, and doesn’t drink or use drugs for another few hours, they might start to suffer withdrawals.

5. Their Interests Change

We all go through ebbs and flows in life, where our interests come and go. Things that we loved might not spark the same interest a few years later. However, those of us with curiosity never really lose that energy.

If you notice that your loved one has dropped all of their interests and now seems disinterested in just about everything, then they might be a functional addict. It could be that their substance abuse has taken over all of their time and has now made it so nothing else matters in their life.

A Functioning Addict Can Fool You

If you’re dealing with a functioning addict, don’t blame yourself for not noticing. The whole point of a functional addiction is that somehow everything manages to still stand despite the uncertainty of addiction.

If you want to know what’s happening with the future of addiction research, check out our guide for more.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.