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The Distance from High Functioning to Rock Bottom Isn’t All That Far

High Functioning to Rock Bottom

For folks who are dead set on denying they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, there are two distinct lies they may tell themselves (and others).

The first is: Look how well my life is going. There is no way I have a problem!

The second is: Things have been a little rocky lately. But there is no way I’m at rock bottom!

You could think of these two lies as flip sides of a coin. 

Heads: I’m doing so well! Tails: I’m not doing that bad!

In the end, however, whether you believe things are too good or not bad enough to indicate a problem, you are simply fooling yourself. And you will not be able to do so forever.

Let’s take a look at the highs and lows of those who try to deny having a substance use disorder—and what the consequences might be.

The High-Functioning Alcoholic (or Drug User) is an Illusion

Some people manage to drink alcohol or use drugs to excess without immediately exhibiting any of the usual symptoms or behaviors we generally associate with substance use disorders.

In fact, these high-functioning individuals may seem like they are coasting through life. They might have a great job, a wonderful family, and a prominent role in their faith community or social circle. And because things seem to be going so well for them, no one really notices that they may be developing a problem. The person themselves might suspect something is amiss, but they may also dismiss it and put it out of their minds. With things going so well, they couldn’t really have a problem, right?

Wrong. The signs of a problem might be hard to spot in a high-functioning alcoholic, but they are there. Some of those symptoms and behaviors include:

  • A tendency to drink alone and an inability to stick to self-imposed limits
  • Hiding alcohol in a variety of places and arranging one’s personal schedule around time to drink
  • Using alcohol as a primary means to relax or as a personal reward system
  • Mood swings or physical symptoms like palpitations when alcohol is unavailable
  • The development of higher levels of tolerance—meaning it takes more alcohol to achieve the sought after effects

Ideally, a person who is developing a substance use disorder—even if they are maintaining a high level of function in the early going—will seek out treatment sooner rather than later. The illusion that a person can overuse drugs or alcohol and indefinitely maintain their day-to-day lives is a dangerous one. Getting help right away could prevent terrible outcomes that might arise when it is no longer possible to pretend everything is okay. 

The Notion of Rock Bottom is a Mirage

On the other side of our metaphorical coin is the idea that a person doesn’t really have a problem with drugs or alcohol until they hit “rock bottom.” But despite sounding like a quite solid and definable place or condition, “rock bottom” is easily redefined by a person who wants to keep using drugs or drinking.

For example, a person might say to themselves that they will get help for a substance use disorder if they ever get picked up for driving under the influence. Then, when they do, in fact, get picked up for driving under the influence, they may tell themselves that they will get help if they are ever in an accident. And then, when they do, in fact, get in an accident, they might convince themselves that since no one was hurt they clearly have not hit rock bottom. The next step along this path, of course, is terrible to even consider.

It should be easy to see that this process of redefining rock bottom can ultimately lead to real, irreversible tragedy—for the person with the substance use issue or for someone who happens to cross their path at the wrong moment.

Meet Us In The Middle – We Can Help You Reclaim Your Sobriety

It can be extremely challenging to admit to having a problem with drugs or alcohol. But the consequences of not facing up to a substance use disorder can be truly devastating. At Bel Aire Recovery Center in Kansas, we are committed to helping people reclaim their sobriety and their lives through a personalized approach to treatment grounded in expertise, experience, and empathy.

If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, don’t wait for the problem to get worse or for the consequences to be irreversible. Instead, let our team help you regain and maintain your sobriety. 

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