What is a functional addict?

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

In our society, the word “addict” may bring up many stereotypical assumptions. In our culture, being an addict is often viewed as being homeless or unable to care for oneself. While this may be true some of the time, addiction truly has no bias. Addiction to substances does not discriminate based on background, occupation, or family status. People who are able to hold down jobs, provide for their families, or drive nice cars are often times the people who struggle the most with addiction to substances. A functional addict is defined as someone who is addicted to a substance but still able to project an outward appearance of normalcy. They are still able to maintain their day to day activities.

According to the National Institute of Health, functional alcoholics are typically “middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families.” They are able to take care of responsibilities, provide for their families, and maintain what is perceived as stability from the outside. Consequently, these are usually the people that are suffering in silence from addiction to substances. Functional addicts may feel like they have an image to maintain in their communities and within their family structure. This can lead to sneaky behavior in order to feed their addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Several signs of a high functioning addict include:

● Isolating when coming home from work to use or drink

● Drinking or using more than intended

● Obsessive thoughts about drinking and/or using

● Spending time with other people who use or drink/use

It is important to note that a “high functioning addict” is not a medical diagnosis. It is a term used to describe someone who is addicted to substances, but still able to function in society. Addiction manifests itself in many different ways and there is no one-size-fits-all. It is also important to notice the early signs of a high functioning addict. Functioning addicts may also engage in risky behavior, such as drinking and driving, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, and blacking out.

The National Institute for Health also states, “We find that young adults comprise the largest group of alcoholics in this country, and nearly 20 percent of alcoholics are highly functional and well-educated with good incomes. More than half of the alcoholics in the United States have no multigenerational family history of the disease, suggesting that their form of alcoholism was unlikely to have genetic causes.” In a society where alcohol consumption is accepted and even encouraged, it is easy to fall into the vicious cycle of addiction. It may be hard for individuals to realize that they have a problem because they are still able to show up to work and take care of responsibilities. However, over time it becomes increasingly more difficult to uphold their image and live a stable, content life.

Finding help for a functioning addict should be treated the same as other addicts struggling to find sobriety. It is necessary to consult your doctor and see what treatment options may be best for you or your loved one. Outpatient programs are a great option for people who still need to work and take care of their families. Although, each person requires a case-by-case analysis and each individual’s recovery is unique to their situation. Recovery from addiction to substances is possible and requires medical attention and diagnosis.


Works Cited

Bienvenu, Melissa. “Am I a High-Functioning Alcoholic? Know the Signs.” WebMD,

WebMD, 3 May 2021,


“Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes.” National Institutes of Health, U.S.

Department of Health and Human Services, 29 Sept. 2015,


Written by: American Addiction Centers Editorial StaffLast updated on June 11,

2021{ "@context": "". “5 Telltale Signs of a High-Functioning

Addict.”, 11 June 2021,


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