It is not always easy being at the top. High functioning addicts (HFAs) lead double lives for years, appearing professional and successful while addiction takes a hold inside.

high functioning addict

A new report released in Singapore reveals that business owners and other top level managers and professionals experience the highest rates of alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorders. The report also found that top managers had high rates of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety compared to other professions.

The nature of business meetings in Singapore are arguably conducive to alcohol consumption, as frequent dinners, drinks and entertaining are common and even seen as necessary in business practices. However, the stress of high-level positions and the ability to afford alcohol can also lead to using alcohol more frequently, as well as eventually crossing the line from social drinking to problem drinking.

Drinking excessively to relieve stress, either consciously or unconsciously, can lead to increased risk for developing dependence. While rates of alcoholism in Singapore are reported to be relatively low, a high functioning addict is hard to spot.

Many people with alcohol use disorders, including addiction, do not fit into the stereotypical picture of an addict as the drunkard on the street. These high functioning addicts may hold high paying and successful positions within their business and community while their addiction lies hidden behind layers of denial.

What is a High Functioning Addict?

A high functioning addict is the person who seems to have it all together. From the outside they are successful in their careers and productive members of society. In terms of their substance use, people may see them as someone who enjoys and deserves to let loose from time to time, but whose alcohol or drug abuse never seems out of control.

On the inside, however, the high functioning addict is often battling with obsessive thoughts about their next drink or high, and suffers from stress, shame and insecurity that lead to a cycle of excessive substance abuse. They live a life of denial, and are so good at denying and hiding their problematic behaviour that their friends and family may not be able to detect it.

The high functioning addict is also hard to spot because they do not fit into the pictures that common addiction stereotypes often paint. They may get away with unhealthy patterns of alcohol use for years without experiencing any of the negative consequences we equate with addiction such as job loss, property loss, trouble with the law and breakdown of relationships.

While they may be able to keep up appearances for a while, addiction will eventually start to interfere with the addict’s quality of life, even if they do not ever hit ‘rock bottom.’

Signs to look for in a High Functioning Addict

In Singapore, some of society’s highest achievers consume alcohol at an alarming rate. But where is the line when it comes to dependence? How can loved ones spot an addiction in someone who seemingly experiences few of the stereotypical consequences? The following are some typical indicators that suggest someone is a high functioning addict.

1. Considering substance use as a reward.

The high functioning addict will almost always consider their substance abuse a reward for their hard work. They will excuse their behaviour and note that they deserve to let loose. However, when substance use becomes the only reward someone cares about and occurs more and more often, dependence may be developing.

2. Using substances to cope with daily stress.

Most people in Singapore are faced with the significant stress of modern life and some will use alcohol to cope from time to time. When alcohol use becomes the only way someone copes with their daily stressors, dependence is more likely to develop.

3. Obsessing about the next drink or high.

This is often a hidden internal struggle, but can also show in subtle ways such as frequently referring to their anticipation for when they can enjoy that glass — or bottle — of wine after work.

4. Leading a double life.

A high functioning addict will be very good at keeping up appearances as a successful professional and family man (or woman), but may spend more and more time with other heavy drinkers. Inside, they may also struggle with cravings, failed attempts to cut back, and other tell-tale signs of addiction, but will rationalise their problems and continue to project the perfect life on the outside.

5. Often drinking more than planned.

The high functioning addict may intend to have one cocktail at a business meeting, but before they know it they have had 5 or 6. Drinking more than expected and binge-drinking to the point of intoxication are signs that alcohol use has gotten out of control.

6. Denying the consequences of substance abuse.

Denial is very strong in the functioning addict. When they do experience a consequence such as lost productivity, or fights with their spouse, they will rarely connect this to their substance use. They often have many layers of denial built around their substance abuse, and use their ability to achieve success and power as further denial that they do not have a drinking problem.

Addiction Treatment for the High Functioning Addict

Just because they appear to keep it together does not mean that the business owner, CEO, doctor, or successful housewife’s substance use is not dangerous. Addiction is a progressive disease and can cause serious health and personal problems if left untreated. If you notice the signs of a functioning addict in your loved one, they may need your intervention in order to seek help. Treatment has to be accessible and appealing for the high functioning addict, which is why Asia’s leading addiction treatment centre, The Cabin, recently opened an outpatient alcohol rehab in Singapore.

The Cabin’s addiction treatment centre in Singapore caters to high level professionals by offering flexible treatment times that will help functioning addicts stay committed to both career and family goals while entering an effective addiction recovery programme. If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s substance use contact one of our addiction specialists today for a no-obligation assessment which can help you determine what type of treatment may be right for you.