High Functioning Addict (HFA) – London Bridge

High Functioning Addict (HFA) – counselling and psychotherapy in London Bridge

There is always hope that one day an addict will be able to control their drinking and at the same time find pleasure in it. This obsession is faced by every person with an addiction. The illusion is surprisingly strong, very lively and usually long lived. Most will hold on to it even when facing a mental health breakdown or even death.

We all know people who use a lot of alcohol or drugs and seem to be doing just fine. We hear from time to time that they have made a horrible scene in public, they got stopped by the police or that they hurt themselves but for one reason or another they have somehow managed to get away unharmed and with no major consequences.

We also know people who despite leading intensely drugs and alcohol fueled lives seem active and happy. However, when we take a closer look, or perhaps we simply allow ourselves to spend more time with them, we will hear about pressures at work, unhappy marriage, difficulties growing up, feelings of being unable to fit in. Sounds familiar? Well, let’s think about high functioning addicts (HFA).

There are a few characteristics we will need to consider:

  • Denial – this is a phase of any addiction where one is not able to recognise that the habit has already got out of hand. There are already negative consequences in one’s life, usually minor ones to begin with. However they are usually attributed to bad luck or to the fact that everyone experiences setbacks in life. Family members, friends and employers know very well how scary and frustrating it is to be around someone who denies they have a problem. How many times have they believed that they will see a change in behaviour as promised? How many times have they felt betrayed and ignored? And how many times have they felt disappointment which has begun to corrode their own sense of self? It is very painful to observe a loved one who is clearly getting sicker and sicker and who continues to say confidently that they are just fine.

  • Leading a double life – sooner or later HFA will begin to disguise the negative consequences of their addiction. They will begin to lead a double life with lies filling every space of their existence. This will lead to extreme tiredness, forgetfulness and irritability. The person will become less reliable and more and more withdrawn.

  • Work and finances – the high functioning addict continues to work and does it effectively. They tend to earn a decent amount and can afford to be discreet with their addiction. However as it is with any addiction, the use (or behaviour) will begin to increase in time, be it alcohol, drugs, gambling or any other type. Sooner or later the HFA will reach a stage when they cannot see life without their substance.

  • Increased tolerance – as mentioned above the tolerance of the substance or behaviour will change and the person will feel the need to use more and more in order to feel the same effects as they did when they started using. Health will begin to suffer. It will become more and more difficult to go through the day without using (e.g. beer, wine, cocaine, tablets, a quick visit to bookies) and it also becomes impossible not to have anything at the end of the working day, perhaps even in the train on the way home. At some point even more serious psychological consequences will begin to surface – anxiety, depression, low confidence, anger.

  • Relationships – they are socially active and manage to keep their relationships and often are viewed as charming and friendly. Unfortunately the overwhelming tiredness of having to lie, pretend and come up with excuses will slowly but consequently begin to feel like a very lonely existence.

  • Law – they break the law often but there are still no serious consequences in relation to their actions.

I have recently heard someone say that there isn’t anything helpful that could be offered to addicts as they simply do not know their limits. There is some truth in it, however the issue is much more complicated. Addiction can be viewed from both subjective and objective points of view.

Subjectively one can say, ‘well I drink a lot, in fact every day and it’s never caused any problem to me or anyone else’. The same person can say it even when there is a long list of negative consequences associated with their behaviour when under the influence. From their subjective point of view they are no addicts. And here lies the challenge – how does one convince an addict that what they do is harmful and is leading them to a lonely and painful existence?

A subjective perspective allows us to notice negative consequences and often accurately predict that if the behaviour continues the negatives will be even more dire and unpleasant.

One of the consequences a high functioning addict (HFA) will fail to notice is an increasing dependence on the substance or behaviour (e.g. gambling, shopping. facebook(ing)). There will be gradually more of it, there will be unsuccessful attempts to stop or control, occupational or recreational activities will reduce over time, more and more time will be spent in activities necessary to obtain, to use or to simply recover from the effects of using, and there will be withdrawal symptoms as well – irritability, tiredness, inability to concentrate, sweatiness, shakiness, vomiting, inability to eat, inability to relax, etc.

I hope the above is already showing that the high functioning addict stops being able to exercise their choice and will, and that at some point they will enter a phase of their lives where they are simply unable to make a choice to stop. How could they if they are not able to notice all the negative effects that have been already mentioned here? This is the time when they will need professional help.

So what support is there?

There are quite a few options ranging from private treatment, fellowship meetings to specialist institutions. However, the effectiveness will greatly depend on the person’s readiness and involvement in the treatment. Family members and anyone else who is close to a HFA could also consider treatment, which for the most part would support the person to not be engaged in psychological games, which can also take place. Here it would be useful to read about the drama trange. I will present the principles of it in the next text.

Take care,