As the leading mental healthcare provider in Northwest Indiana, we here at 219 Health Network have seen firsthand how certain myths surrounding addiction can prevail over the truth. One of the reasons why myths about addiction have become so ubiquitous is because there is still a strong stigma attached to those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction.

When people think of addiction, they sometimes refer to depictions they have seen on television. While some aspects of these depictions might be true, they do not always accurately capture the experience of every person who suffers from a substance-use disorder.

This is where the myth of the “high-functioning addict” enters the conversation. Someone who considers themselves high functioning in their addiction may believe that they can sustain their careers, responsibilities and relationships with their family despite abusing substances. The ability to sustain these aspects of one’s life is often cited as a reason why someone struggling with substance abuse does not seek treatment. This could lead to them continuing to abuse substances which could have long-term consequences. The sequence of events outlined here is why we feel that the phrase “high-functioning addict” can be dangerous and misleading.

What is addiction?

Before we explore some of the issues associated with the phrase “high-functioning addict,” it is important to define what it is to have an addiction. When defined by a mental healthcare provider in Northwest Indiana, addiction is:

  1. Taking the substance in greater quantities or for a longer period than initially intended.
  2. Being unable to limit or quit substance-use despite a strong desire to do so.
  3. Spending a fair bit of time acquiring, using and/or recovering from the use of a substance.
  4. Having a strong craving to consume a substance.
  5. Not being able to fulfill personal and professional responsibilities due to substance-use.
  6. Continuing substance-use even if it leads to relationship woes.
  7. Ignoring valuable social, professional or recreational activities due to substance-use.
  8. Using a substance regularly, even when doing so puts you in danger.
  9. Continue using a substance even after you know that you have a physical or psychological condition that might have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  10. Building tolerance to the substance and using more of it to achieve the desired effect.
  11. Increased occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, which is only eased by using more of the substance.

According to licensed mental healthcare providers in Northwest Indiana, people with mild substance-use disorders meet two criteria. In comparison, those who meet three to five criteria have a moderate substance-use disorder and those who meet six or more criteria have a severe substance-use disorder.

Including diagnostic criteria for substance-use disorders is essential because it conveys the wide range of symptoms contributing to maladaptive addiction. The only signs of addiction associated with personal and professional responsibilities are those listed in criteria numbers 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. The implications of this are that someone could be doing a good job in each of those areas and still meet the criteria for a severe substance-use disorder.

This reality can be dangerous since there is a greater risk of negative consequences associated with continued substance-use:

  • First and foremost, there are the negative consequences of using the substance in question. For example, chewing tobacco can develop mouth cancer and alcohol abuse can damage the liver.
  • One of the most common side effects of substance-use is impaired balance and coordination, resulting in falls or other types of injuries.
  • There also is the risk of overdosing. If used in large quantities, many abused substances can result in death. Furthermore, street drugs are often laced with lethal substances like fentanyl.
  • Continuing to use substances can result in a weakened cardiovascular system, leading to a stroke or heart attack (myocardial infarction).
  • Many substances can also interfere with the receptors in our brains that are responsible for emotions such as pleasure and joy. Because of this interference, the brain may be unable to produce the chemicals needed to feel these emotions, which is why there is a higher prevalence of mental illness among addicts.

Looking for an Affordable Mental Healthcare Provider in Northwest Indiana?

Are you or someone you know struggling with a substance-use disorder? If so, and if you are looking for an affordable mental healthcare provider in Northwest Indiana who can offer the help you need, look no further than 219 Health Network. We have licensed behavioral health professionals on staff who are trained to treat a wide range of substance-use disorders. Please do not hesitate to contact us today at 219-398-9265 to schedule an appointment.

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