What is a functional addict? We hear about this concept mainly with alcoholism, although it can happen with other substances as well. Essentially this is the idea that in spite of using the substance frequently, the person is able to function “normally” in other areas of life. We often hear statements such as, “I can’t have a real problem, I’ve had a stable job for 30 years”, or “I’m not out there living on the street so it can’t be that much of a problem for me” etc. This type of thinking can be incredibly problematic because it tends to prevent (or more often delay for long periods of time), people getting the help they need.
We absolutely can be struggling with addiction without every aspect of the rest of our lives falling apart. When we are dealing with addiction, our minds want to rationalize our use, and if there are parts of our lives that are going well in spite of using, this can be fairly easy to accomplish. Many of us also have a tendency to think of the absolute worst case scenario when we think of addiction, making it easier to rationalize any struggles less than that as not being a problem.
The reality is that addiction exists, like so many other things, on a continuum. Addiction will not look exactly the same way for everyone, and not all the struggles will be the same. When we categorize addiction in this black and white way, we do a huge disservice to people struggling with addiction. Looking at addiction this way prevents us from giving people struggling with addiction the treatment that is going to be the most beneficial to them as an individual. Recovery should look as unique as addiction does. One person’s recovery may not (and probably should not) look exactly the same as the next person. Taking the time to really experiment to find what is helpful for each individual person is so important. We do not expect all human beings to be the same so we should not expect recovery from addiction to look exactly the same either.