We have all seen the stories on the news about the CEOs, celebrities, or even heard about the neighbor, who was a high achieving person, yet suffered a tragic setback due to their secret addiction. “I had no idea,” is the typical quote surrounding the event; or “how could I not have known?” those closest often say. Well, it’s not as uncommon as some might think – they were a high-functioning addict. Up to 20 percent of alcoholics are considered high-functioning, and - be it cocaine or heroin, or abuse of a prescription to Oxycontin, Adderall, Xanax, or Vicodin - there are plenty of high-functioning drug addicts as well. But the tragedy that often follows is preventable.
A High-Functioning Addict is the description for an individual who may appear (key word: appear) to have it all together – they’re productive and seem to be managing their life at a high level. At times these people appear to live an almost idyllic life, on the outside. Behind the success, however, is what often is later found out to be their secret – that they were living a dual life.
On the other side of the productivity is a life of escape, through alcohol, drugs, and possibly other addictions. Often the cover-up is so successful because the achievements of the individual (accolades at work, new promotions, ability to manage a household, honors and awards) tend to create a veil to their dysfunction. People fixate on the achievements, and ignore – or don’t see – the cracks in the armor.
Clients of mine have said that their career success, wealth, power or social status is what fueled their addiction even longer. Their career may necessitate social situations, it may even seem to require over-indulgence and make certain otherwise questionable behavior acceptable – for “the good of the firm”, or “to stay in the press”. Their “friends” were either in denial or “along for the ride”, because the alternative meant an end to their “fun” as well. Throw in wealth and often it seems as though protection from addiction pain can be bought – with new cars, vacations, even new friends.
Then what unfortunately happens all too often is we hear about the horror stories, PR nightmares, and deaths - tragedies that could have been avoided. Whether a musician or a professional athlete, a celebrity or CEO, the high-functioning addict needs help. What often stops them is the perception that the price of recovery is too high; that their fall from grace would be too far. Couple this with their denial that is so strengthened by their network or fame that they shrug off any need for help. Either way, they don’t get help prior to a substantial or tragic event.
Having worked with high-functioning clients in prominent positions, I can assure that the fall can be broken. Whether it’s voluntary or through an dignified confidential intervention, the price of recovery is never too high for even the highest functioning of addicts. While the addict may be high-functioning now, time always runs out on them when it comes to alcoholism, drug abuse, or dual diagnosis.
Getting help does not need to be a public admission of a struggle with addiction. It is very possible to discretely seek out help and begin the path to recovery. There are plenty of high-profile celebrities and executives who were once high-functioning addicts and are now happily and privately recovered. Certainly their lifestyles may have experienced some change, and probably relationships were pruned, but their achievements continue to be their achievements regardless.
There are also many who recover and want to go public with their plight. What often happens in this case is an outpouring of support for the positive strides this person has taken, and compassion for the difficulties they’ve overcome. Being public with their battle might be the best recovery decision they make, while helping others who may look up to these people to learn more about recovery or better understand what the person is experiencing.
Regardless of the decision made about one’s personal recovery exposure, the important part is to get started. A proper plan, sometimes including an intervention, will foster a positive outcome and help a high-functioning alcoholic or drug addict begin to recover and take the steps they need in order to prevent the otherwise tragic from happening. If you or someone you know is on the fence about getting help – and fear that the fall will be too hard – seek help now from a qualified professional who understands how to work with high-achieving addicts. Have faith that the decision will do more than save a prestigious reputation – it may very well save a life.